Back to the Basics
By Governor Pete Ricketts
June 21, 2021
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Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said that “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.” For generations, Nebraskans have supported our public schools to do just this—to help build the next generation of educated and involved citizens in our state. To that end, our public schools have generally focused on teaching material that supports our communities, and have steered away from hot button political issues.
Here in Nebraska, the Department of Education does not report to the Governor. Our public schools are independently governed by local school boards with oversight from the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE). Unlike many other state agencies where I appoint the directors, I do not manage NDE. NDE is governed by the Nebraska State Board of Education, which is elected by the voters of Nebraska. The elected members of the board set the vision, hire the employees, and make all management decisions.
It’s in this context that I want to bring to light two major issues that are threatening to inject politics into the classroom and to steer our public schools away from their core mission. Right now, NDE is weighing radical sex education material and has also started promoting controversial civics material that tries to rewrite our country’s history. I’ll briefly comment on both issues, and share how you can take action.
First, Nebraskans have been speaking out against the proposed sex education topics in NDE’s draft health standards. The standards would inject non-scientific, political ideas into curriculum standards. That’s why I, along with many others, have called on NDE to scrap the proposed sex education topics in the standards.
It’s important to understand just how radical the draft NDE standards are. The standards say that first graders should be taught to define gender identity. Fifth graders would be educated to “explain that gender expression and gender identity exist along a spectrum.” At 12 years old, students would be taught about anal and oral sex when many kids that age haven’t yet reached puberty. This material not only sexualizes our kids, it goes far beyond basic biological facts about reproduction and clearly crosses the boundary of what’s appropriate to discuss in the classroom.
Over the last few months, hundreds of Nebraskans have testified against the standards at State Board of Education meetings. NDE is still taking feedback on the standards. You can read the standards for yourself by visiting www.education.ne.gov. I encourage you to mark your calendar for their next meeting, which will be held on August 6th at a location that is to be announced.
The second issue confronting schools is critical race theory (CRT). Before I comment, I want to briefly share a definition of what this is. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, it is an “intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour. Critical race theorists hold that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.”
Make no mistake: critical race theory is an attack on our country’s core values. The American founding is based on the idea that “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While America has fallen short of this aspiration at times, we must all work together to live up to this ideal. The effect of CRT is to pit Americans against one another, rather than building a more perfect union that promotes the dignity of all Americans and respect for people of all backgrounds.
I am concerned that CRT ideology will be pushed in our schools. NDE’s website promotes the 1619 Project, a project of the New York Times that presents a revisionist history of the American founding. Last week after I posted a statement on social media opposing CRT, the founder of the 1619 Project responded to my statement claiming that white supremacy is a “core value” of America. Furthermore, NDE’s website promotes the Zinn Education Project, an organization carrying on the work of self-described socialist Howard Zinn. The Zinn Education Project has been a vocal opponent of states who have sought to ban CRT from being applied in K-12 public schools.
Some have tried to say that teaching CRT is necessary to rooting out racism in our country. This simply isn’t true. CRT is a philosophy of history that is fundamentally anti-capitalist and that aims to destroy our country’s institutions. The ugly parts of American history should be taught and racism must be rooted out. Students should learn about the evils of slavery, the lynching of Will Brown, and the Tulsa Race Massacre. All of this can be done without CRT. We can do this by identifying specific instances of racism and addressing them—without tearing our country apart and pitting people against each other.
It’s not too late. The State Board of Education can take action to address both of these issues. It is important for parents to get involved. You can find the contact information for your board representative at https://www.education.ne.gov/stateboard/members/. Local school boards can also step up and make their voices heard. Make sure you reach out to your school board members.
In the coming weeks, I will be hosting a series of town halls across Nebraska to talk about the proposed health education standards and the political ideology that has informed them. All the details about the town halls will be posted at www.Governor.Nebraska.gov. If you have questions about these important issues or any others, you are welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244. Together, we can protect our kids and help our schools get back to the basics.
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