BOISE, Idaho — For weeks, a group of Idaho lawmakers have declared broadly that across all levels of Idaho public education there is curriculum being taught to indoctrinate students with “liberal” views on topics like race and social justice. As a result, education budgets have been turned down several times in the Idaho House. Idaho Democratic lawmakers say they heard enough of broad and generic claims and decided to investigate the issue themselves.
“I’ve spoken to professors, I’ve spoken to university administrators, they were all absolutely perplexed as to where this hysteria about critical race theory is coming from,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel.
Rubel says through her work she found a common theme, especially in higher education, about the debate of controversial ideas inside the classroom.
“I haven’t been in every classroom for every minute for the past year, but from the investigation I’ve been able to do it’s certainly clearly is the policy of our universities to embrace divergent viewpoints and to allow every student to have their say with no punishment or retribution whatsoever,” Rubel said.
Boise Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking says conversations about social justice theories in classrooms have seemed vague.
“It’s not even defined, we don’t even have a definition for what critical race theory is which is pretty frightening. It’s being thrown out there like a boogeyman that we have in our children’s bed and the reality is, it might scare them but it’s not real,” Ward-Engelking said.
Ward-Engelking says she was unable to find any evidence to substantiate general claims about leftist ideology being forced on students. Her work did find complaints, but not directly related to the continued claims by Republican lawmakers that Idaho classrooms are teaching nationally-based curriculum meant to form specific opinions for students about race and social justice.
“We have seen a couple of complaints by students that they felt intimidated in a classroom, but these are university classrooms, these are adults. They didn’t want to complain because they were afraid that it might impact their grade. None of that, that I know of, dealt with critical race theory, it was more that they felt like their opinions weren’t being heard,” Ward-Engelking said.
So, where is this all coming from? Rubel and Ward-Engelking say the narrative is being used as an attack on funding education as a whole by special interest group that doesn't believe in publicly-funded state education.
“It really is the result of a lobbying group throwing these terms out there and they’ve got all this misinformation and they’ve got people afraid of something that is not even real. It’s not happening in Idaho,” Ward-Engelking said.
There are also concerns from some lawmakers that pending legislation on how curriculum is handled by Idaho public schools could push future and current teachers away from teaching in Idaho. Rubel says some teachers have expressed frustration about the actions of the Legislature after their efforts over the last year navigating a pandemic while continuing to do their best to serve students.
This isn’t about simply liberal or conservative values Ward-Engelking said, it’s a serious accusation that Idaho teachers would force any social ideals onto students.
“We would all be horrified but that is just not happening. We have contacted schools, universities, professors, teachers and this just is not happening in Idaho and it’s frightening to see how it’s taking hold,” Ward-Engelking said.
Democratic leaders say intelligent debates, especially in higher education, are very valuable and shouldn’t be censored.
“The mere fact that included in the mix of ideas are some ideas that some of our legislators don’t like to me does not mean that we should be defunding our universities or we should be muzzling what teachers and professors are allowed to discuss,” Rubel said.
Going forward as education budgets and topics are being considered over the next few weeks, Ward-Engelking says Democrats will be making a point to speak out loudly about misinformation and that they have not been as forceful on the topic as they should have been.
“Sometimes that’s hard to do, there is this vocal minority and we need a vocal majority. We need people to stand up and say this isn’t happening here in Idaho, here is what is really happening. Here is what our schools do for us and here is the value in public education and higher education,” Ward-Engelking said.
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