GUILFORD — A crowd of several hundred people gathered at the Guilford Community Center on Thursday evening to listen to a talk warning against the dangers of Critical Race Theory and urging parents to push back against the teaching of systemic racism in the local schools.
The talk was organized by Truth in Education, a self-described grassroots movement founded by a group of Guilford parents and community members. In a pamphlet that accompanied the talk, the group listed its goals. They include: “end critical race theory indoctrination,” “embrace capitalism,” “explain explicitly that systemic racism is a lie and does not exist in America” and “energize patriotic education.”
“Guilford students must understand that America is exceptional, not because we are better than anybody else, but because of our God-given freedoms which are enumerated and codified in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights,” the pamphlet reads. “Guilford students must study these documents, revere them and resolve to protect them from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.”
Critical Race Theory, which has its roots in legal studies, is based in part on the idea that race is a social construct, and that racism is embedded systematically within society, law and its institutions.
The teaching of this theory in K-12 schools has been a heated topic across the country, with at least 27 states considering or passing legislation that restricts teaching around race, bias or related matters.
The topic has fallen under serious scrutiny in Guilford as Superintendent Paul Freeman and the Board of Education have openly committed to initiatives that address equity and social justice both in the curriculum and in the wider school community.
“Our students deserve to learn to think critically, by grappling with nuance and complexity, reconsidering inherent assumptions, and considering deeply the merits of the evidence before them,” Freeman said in a letter from September 2020.
In June of last year, Guilford’s Board of Education voted to discontinue the use of the Native American as the school’s mascot. The district has also started a curriculum audit and is preparing to hire an equity liaison, and to participate, along with 20 other school districts, in the student teacher residency program, which will bring a teacher of color into the district.
“Guilford Public Schools must strive to be a community in which all students feel safe, supported, and recognized, and must support critical thinking about all aspects of our history and current experience,” the Board of Education wrote in a letter to the community in April. “None of our students is responsible for this history, but each will be responsible for their own participation in our local, national, and global communities as they emerge into adulthood.”
Outside on the green in front of the Community Center on Thursday, about 30 parents showed up early to protest the talk, holding handmade signs that expressed support for the district’s Board of Education.
“We want our kids to learn critical thinking skills,” said Tina Fiasconaro, a former 2nd grade teacher in New Haven. She said she wanted to see equal education for all students.
“I support the Board of Education,” added Maria Lachance, who has two children in Guilford schools. “I think they are doing a good job. Our school systems have had a lot to work through [this year]. They don’t need this.”
Lachance said she thought there was a lot of misinformation around Critical Race Theory and what was being taught. She said they did need to confront issues of race.
“We shouldn’t hide from it,” she said. “These are hard topics, but they are reality.”
Dawn Carafeno, a parent of 4th and 6th graders in Guilford schools, agreed that it was important to teach kids about race.
“I think it’s a necessity. This is just how our society is going to grow and will continue to grow,” she said. “I want my kids to go to a district that values [race], celebrates it, teaches it and teaches it honestly.”
Inside the auditorium, parents who came to attend the talk expressed everything from curiosity to concern to anger.
One parent of two children, ages eight and 10, said she came to the talk because she wanted to understand “what might be brought into our schools.” She said she was concerned about the focus being put on race.
Another parent said she did not want her elementary-age children to “be subjected to ridiculous indoctrination” and be in an environment that was “making them feel as though … basically because of the color of their skin, they are being judged.”
In addition to Truth in Education, an organization called No Left Turn Connecticut sponsored the talk. According to its website the group’s goals are, among other things, to “educate the public about the radical indoctrination in k-12 and its existential threats” and “mobilize parents, families, educators, professionals and concerned citizens to push back against the radical indoctrination and injection of political agendas in K-12 education.”
The talk began with a Guilford student who spoke about being bullied and mocked by his classmates for having conservative views. He said his teachers didn’t support him and that they were biased against conservative thinking.
Tony Dinse, a 2013 graduate of Guilford High School, then spoke about his experiences with racism. Dinse was adopted into a family in Guilford when he was in elementary school. Dinse, who is bi-racial, said he felt offended in college when white professors spoke to him about the minority experience.
“As a black man, I’m very proud to say, I don’t feel like I’m oppressed. I am very proud of that. And as I tried to offer that opinion … I was shut down. I was dismissed,” he said.
The main speaker of the evening was Mike Breen, a former police lieutenant in East Hartford. For 50 minutes, he laid out claims that Critical Race Theory was propaganda, that Critical Race Theory had its roots in Marxism, and that it was racist. Breen called it “neo-eugenics.”
“These people reject rational science,” he said. “They disagree with the scientific method.”
Breen said that Critical Race Theory was against the nuclear family and called Ibram X. Kendi, author of the book “How to be an Anti-Racist” and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, a “faux scholar” and said his book was “stunningly stupid.”
Breen’s talk was followed by Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, a crisis management and travel risk company, and a parent of two elementary school students. He said he started speaking out against Critical Race Theory after his children’s school district in New Hampshire began teaching about race and racism.
After hiring lobbyists and three sets of attorneys, he succeeded in having language inserted into the state’s budget bill that would effectively ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory.
The room burst periodically into applause throughout each of the speeches, sometimes rising to their feet in a standing ovation.
“So we want our black children to think they’re oppressed. We want our white children to think they are oppressors,” said one woman as she was walking out.
State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello, R-Greenwich, who attended the talk, said she was hearing from parents in her own district who have had a similar experience.
“I was thrilled to come,” she said, adding that she would like to invite the speakers to give a talk in her area.
Another parent, Tim Chamberlain, said he thought the speakers did a good job in their presentation.
“Critical Race Theory is a problem in Guilford,” he said. “Silencing the opposition to it is dangerous.”
Another attendee, a young woman who does not have children in the schools, disagreed with the points that were made.
“I heard so many lies from the speakers,” she said. “I read those books, and he was lying.”
In his talk, Richards encouraged parents to recruit others to their causes, write letters to elected officials, work on getting new school board members elected and “support the termination of radical teachers.”
“Those of you who are going to embark [on this course of action] … you’re going to get called terrible names,” he said, “But take heart. You are in the right.”