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New Anti-Critical Race Theory Group Likely Further Republican Disinformation Effort

June 29th, 2021 13:32

A new orga­ni­za­tion known as the Free to Learn Coali­tion has announced that it has launched with an ini­tial “ini­tial sev­en-fig­ure nation­al ad cam­paign of well over $1 mil­lion” to com­bat what it describes as polit­i­cal influ­ence in US schools. Accord­ing to the announce­ment:

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2021 /PRNewswire/ —  Today, the Free to Learn Coali­tion launched with an ini­tial sev­en-fig­ure nation­al ad cam­paign of well over $1 mil­lion advo­cat­ing for class­rooms inde­pen­dent from polit­i­cal influ­ence. The ad will air nation­al­ly on cable and in local mar­kets in New York, Vir­ginia, and Ari­zona, as schools across the nation have become increas­ing­ly polit­i­cal while the U.S. falls behind oth­er nations in basic skills like read­ing, writ­ing, math, and sci­ence. The ad specif­i­cal­ly calls out Grace Church School in New York, Fair­fax Coun­ty Pub­lic Schools in Vir­ginia, and the Peo­ria Uni­fied School Dis­trict in Ari­zona. The Free to Learn Coali­tion is a non-par­ti­san orga­ni­za­tion estab­lished to sup­port par­ents, care­givers, and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions in their advo­ca­cy for qual­i­ty K‑12 edu­ca­tion. The coali­tion sup­ports the basic prin­ci­ple that stu­dents should be Free to Learn: Free to ask ques­tions, free to devel­op indi­vid­ual thoughts and opin­ions, free to think crit­i­cal­ly of ideas and con­cepts, and free to achieve. All while being free from pres­sure or require­ments to sub­scribe to a sin­gu­lar world­view. This prin­ci­ple is the back­bone for ade­quate­ly prepar­ing stu­dents for life out­side the class­room. “After a year of vir­tu­al learn­ing and hav­ing a front-row seat in the class­room, par­ents are wak­ing up to the increas­ing­ly polit­i­cal cli­mate in their chil­dren’s schools,” said Alleigh Mar­ré, Pres­i­dent of the Free to Learn Coali­tion. “As we grow our part­ner­ships with par­ent and com­mu­ni­ty groups, the Free to Learn Coali­tion will pro­vide a plat­form and tai­lored resources to those ready to take on polit­i­cal activism by school boards and administrators.”

US media has report­ed that the ad cam­paign blames declines in US stu­dents’ edu­ca­tion­al per­for­mance on a “polit­i­cal curriculum.”

The Free to Learn Coali­tion web­site describes the orga­ni­za­tion as:

…a non­par­ti­san orga­ni­za­tion estab­lished to sup­port par­ents, care­givers, and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions in their advo­ca­cy for qual­i­ty K‑12 education.

Alleigh Marre, Pres­i­dent of the Coali­tion, told US media that the orga­ni­za­tion and its ad cam­paign are fund­ed by:

… pri­vate donors who oppose crit­i­cal race the­o­ry and aim to orga­nize par­ent groups to that end.

While it was not pos­si­ble to iden­ti­fy these donors nor even where or if the Free to Learn Coali­tion is reg­is­tered, there is good rea­son to believe that the group is, in fact, a Repub­li­can Par­ty dis­in­for­ma­tion effort. Based on her LinkedIn resume, Alleigh Marre can be char­ac­ter­ized as a Repub­li­can oper­a­tive who dur­ing 2015–2016 was Nation­al Press Sec­re­tary for the Nation­al Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­r­i­al Com­mit­tee. Although ear­ly in her career, Marre held a vari­ety of posi­tions on the staff of var­i­ous mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans, from 2016–2019, she held posi­tions in the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion includ­ing as part of the Trim Pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion team and as Nation­al Spokesper­son for the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices and Senior Advi­sor & Chief of Staff to the Sec­re­tary of the Air Force. Her resume lists her cur­rent role as the Founder of HIck­o­ry Strate­gies, described on its web­site as a media management/PR firm.

A US edu­ca­tion­al pub­li­ca­tion defines Crit­i­cal Race The­o­ry (CRT) as follows:

Crit­i­cal race the­o­ry is an aca­d­e­m­ic con­cept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that racism is a social con­struct, and that it is not mere­ly the prod­uct of indi­vid­ual bias or prej­u­dice, but also some­thing embed­ded in legal sys­tems and poli­cies. The basic tenets of crit­i­cal race the­o­ry, or CRT, emerged out of a frame­work for legal analy­sis in the late 1970s and ear­ly 1980s cre­at­ed by legal schol­ars Der­rick Bell, Kim­ber­lé Cren­shaw, and Richard Del­ga­do, among oth­ers. A good exam­ple is when, in the 1930s, gov­ern­ment offi­cials lit­er­al­ly drew lines around areas deemed poor finan­cial risks, often explic­it­ly due to the racial com­po­si­tion of inhab­i­tants. Banks sub­se­quent­ly refused to offer mort­gages to Black peo­ple in those areas.

How­ev­er, as the Wash­ing­ton Post has recent­ly report­ed, one influ­en­tial con­ser­v­a­tive anti-CRT activist has tweet­ed that his goal was to use CRT as a catchall con­cept “to annex the entire range of cul­tur­al con­struc­tions that are unpop­u­lar with Amer­i­cans. Con­flicts over CRT have rapid­ly esca­lat­ed in the US, appar­ent­ly stoked by what NBC news describes as the rise of nation­al groups aim­ing to dis­rupt edu­ca­tion on face and gen­der and aid­ed by “con­ser­v­a­tive think tanks, law firms and activist parents”:

Con­flicts like this are play­ing out in cities and towns across the coun­try, amid the rise of at least 165 local and nation­al groups that aim to dis­rupt lessons on race and gen­der, accord­ing to an NBC News analy­sis of media reports and orga­ni­za­tions’ pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als. Rein­forced by con­ser­v­a­tive think tanks, law firms and activist par­ents, these groups have found allies in fam­i­lies frus­trat­ed over Covid-19 restric­tions in schools and have weaponized the right’s oppo­si­tion to crit­i­cal race the­o­ry, turn­ing it into a polit­i­cal ral­ly­ing point. While the efforts vary, they share strate­gies of dis­rup­tion, pub­lic­i­ty and mobi­liza­tion. The groups swarm school board meet­ings, inun­date dis­tricts with time-con­sum­ing pub­lic records requests and file law­suits and fed­er­al com­plaints alleg­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against white stu­dents. They have become media dar­lings in con­ser­v­a­tive cir­cles and made the debate over crit­i­cal race the­o­ry a nation­al issue.

In the absence of any trans­paren­cy con­cern­ing the Free to Learn Coali­tion, there is every rea­son to believe that the group and its ad cam­paign are yet anoth­er addi­tion to the grow­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion sur­round­ing CRT and its role in the US school sys­tem, sup­port­ed by rightwing ele­ments in the US.

The Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) report­ed yes­ter­day that the Russ­ian TV chan­nel known as RT (for­mer­ly Rus­sia Today) has jumped into the grow­ing con­tro­ver­sy over CRT in the US.