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Minnesota policy group discusses critical race theory during stop in Grand Forks

About 40 people gathered in a ballroom at the Ramada Inn in Grand Forks on Tuesday evening, May 24, to listen to an American Experiment speaker discuss how the organization believes certain principles of CRT are being used in K-12 curricula.

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Catrin Wigfall, a policy fellow at the American Experiment, discusses Critical Race Theory in Grand Forks on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Adam Kurtz / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – Members of the Minnesota-based Center of the American Experiment are making a sweep through a few North Dakota cities to discuss critical race theory with residents.

About 40 people gathered in a ballroom at the Ramada Inn in Grand Forks on Tuesday evening, May 24, to listen to an American Experiment speaker discuss how the organization believes certain principles of CRT are being used in K-12 curricula — principles the organization believes are divisive, or otherwise not appropriate for elementary school students. The American Experiment is a nonprofit that bills itself as a small government think tank. The group is trying to make inroads in North Dakota.

Grand Forks Public Schools borrows the definition of CRT from Education Week, a K-12 news and information publication, which defines the theory as: “... 'an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.' It is a legal theory taught in law school or graduate school.”

Catrin Wigfall, a policy fellow at the American Experiment, began her presentation with a thought experiment that had attendees imagine themselves as a shop owner who had to decide which customer to serve first — a Black person or a white person. Applying principles of CRT to the interaction, Wigfall said, would find the hypothetical shopkeeper to be a racist in either case: serving the Black person first signifies a distrust of leaving them alone in the store, while serving the white person means the shopkeeper thinks Black people are second-class citizens.

Wigfall said the problem with CRT is that it casts every interaction through a “race-based lens,” and that all disparities between people of different racial backgrounds can only be attributed to racism.

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“This is a very limiting perspective, that does not help us make meaningful progress toward eliminating these disparities, and it does not help us engage in the important work of addressing racism, which of course has no place in society,” she said.

North Dakota law prohibits the teaching of CRT in K-12 schools. The law was worked out during the last special legislative session, and was signed by Gov. Doug Burgum on Nov. 12 last year.

Dale Wetzel, public information specialist with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, said the law does not prohibit teaching the history of slavery in the country or other racial difficulties, but keeps teachers limited to “factual history.”

“You can't teach that one race of people is better than another, and you also cannot teach that racism is something that is encouraged,” Wetzel said.

When contacted, Tracy Jentz, communications and community engagement coordinator with Grand Forks Public Schools, said CRT is not part of the North Dakota K-12 Education Content Standards, and is not taught locally.

“... Critical race theory is not part of Grand Forks Public Schools curriculum and is not a framework that is used in curricular or teaching and learning decisions,” Jentz said.

Still, Wigfall said parents need to be on guard against ideas that may not appear to fall under the CRT rubric at first glance. She said certain pro-CRT books are in school libraries in North Dakota, including the book “Antiracist Baby,” by Ibram X. Kendi. Wigfall referred to the author as a “CRT popularizer,” and said the book was found in a Wahpeton school’s library.

Literature distributed at the event urged parents to attend school board meetings to make sure they are aware of curriculum changes, and to run for positions on the board, as well as sit on board committees, among other ideas.

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Tuesday's meeting was the first to be held in North Dakota. A meeting was set to be held in Wahpeton, but was canceled, presumably due to low turnout. Two other meetings will be held in West Fargo and Fargo on Wednesday. People in and around Wahpeton who paid the $5 attendance fee can attend one of those meetings

The American Experiment’s North Dakota tour represents the group’s first foray into establishing an office in a state outside of Minnesota. Charles Nickoloff, the group’s finance director, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting, said the organization has not yet found an office space in the state. He said one or two staff members will be located in North Dakota, with at least one person being located in Fargo.

According to its website, the American Experiment organization “produces papers on Minnesota’s economy, education, health care, the family, employee freedom and state and local governance. It also crafts and proposes creative solutions that emphasize free enterprise, limited government, personal responsibility and government accountability.”

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If there's some red line that Trump could cross, some depth he could stoop to in words or action, that would cost him the support of North Dakota's delegation, he doesn't seem to have crossed it yet.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
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