The murky waters of American politics are roiled again, with hyperpartisans warning each other to beware of the monsters that hover beneath their surface.

The newest whirlpool of controversy carries the title “critical race theory” and formed amid the stormy aftermath of 2020’s racial unrest. To those who have been conditioned to abhor it, the concept means that the facts of American history as they know them are being assailed by propaganda that puts a negative spin on our nation’s founding and development.

The debate quickly overflowed into schools, where boards, administrators and teachers find themselves under siege from conservative activists attempting to have anything resembling critical race theory banned from K-12 classrooms.

More than 20 states have already encountered proposed legislation that attempts to ban the concept in K-12 schools. Illinois is not one of them, but legal action has been filed against one northern Illinois school district in an effort to challenge teaching methods surrounding race. Fortunately, Gov. JB Pritzker has shown nothing but disdain for the movement.

Still, everywhere you look, the battle is taking shape. Conservative firebrands such as Attorney General Todd Rokita in neighboring Indiana have entered the fray.

Rokita’s tactic was to offer up what he called a “Parent Bill of Rights” that he said would allow parents to get involved with school boards to review curriculum and state standards in search of what he sees as “dangerous ideologies.” He wrote in a published commentary that critical race theory aims to “co-opt America’s traditional U.S. history and civics curriculum by imposing deeply flawed, factually deficient instruction and racial division in the classroom.”

What is it exactly that has Rokita and other conservatives so riled up?

Critical race theory is an academic concept introduced about 40 years ago in higher education. It explores the idea that racism was not just something practiced by prejudiced individuals, but was embedded in legal systems and public policy.

The concept fosters a constructive academic discussion around the issue of race and racism in America.

Nothing should be scary or frightening about it. And it’s important to acknowledge what it is and what it’s not.

The consensus among educators is that critical race theory is not a concept that is “taught” in K-12 classrooms. The backlash, it seems, has more to do with the fractured state of political discourse in this country and less about where discussions surrounding the theory might lead us.

Racism and white supremacy have coursed their way through American history. The savage institution of slavery is a terrible blight on our country’s past and must continue to be examined and recognized for its long-term effects on American society. Any honest appraisal of U.S. history cannot brush it aside or ignore it.

Those who engage in this debate often struggle to keep their emotions in check. While we appreciate passion in espousing one’s beliefs, it’s wise to temper those emotions. When it comes to considering and understanding issues of race in America, everyone could stand to do a little less talking and a lot more listening.

This editorial was written by the Terre Haute, Ind., Tribune-Star and has been adapted for use in the Commercial-News.

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