FAULKENBERRY FAMILY: Mother Gwen Ford Faulkenberry reaches out to Arkansas's leading gubernatorial candidate to advocate for public schools.

Dear Sarah (may I call you Sarah?),

We’ve never met in person, but on Twitter you describe yourself as, “Christian. Wife. Mom. Arkansan. Former White House Secretary. Republican Candidate for Governor.” I’m not famous, but we have those first four things in common. Also, I was once an aspiring politician, and have a soft spot for anyone else who enters the arena. I’ve seen you treated badly at times and that’s wrong no matter who does it. I thought you handled yourself with grace at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

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I’m reaching out in hopes of finding enough common ground to create a place for dialogue. I ran for office as a Democrat after being recruited, but I’ll vote for whomever I think is best regardless of party. Like you, I’m anti-abortion and pro-Second Amendment. Unlike you, it appears, I am very much pro-public schools. My approach to these and any other issues is through the lenses we share: Christian, wife, mom, Arkansan.

A fellow educator sent me your recent tweet that read: “Our public schools should never indoctrinate our kids with the lie that America is a racist and evil country. Critical Race Theory pushes a radical left agenda that will further tear us apart, not bring us together.”

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I agree with that first sentence, but I have to wonder, why is this something you are focused on? Is it a real problem? Do you think it is happening widely in public schools in Arkansas? If so, why? Have you been in any of our public schools lately? Have you spoken with public school educators about this? Do you know any students who are being indoctrinated that “America is a racist and evil country”?

I realize you get hateful, baiting questions on social media. I’ve read them. But I asked you on Twitter if you could name a public school in Arkansas where this is happening, and received no answer. I’m not being facetious with my questions. I’m serious. I really want to know. Because this is not my experience with public school, nor has it happened to any of my four children. I doubt it would ever happen in our community full of patriotic Americans who stand and salute the flag at school events. Some of us even sing along with the band when it plays the national anthem. If teachers in our school tried to make students hate America they’d be met with fierce resistance from parents, administration and the democratically elected local school board who would get it stopped.

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That brings me to another question. How many teachers here in Arkansas do you believe have a radical left agenda? Do you know any? I can’t think of one in Ozark Schools, and I know nearly all of them. The history my kids are being taught is great stuff that makes them better thinkers, problem solvers and citizens. I have so much confidence in their education that I’d like to personally invite you to visit our school in the fall and see for yourself the kind of magic that happens there. In fact, my husband, who teaches U.S. History, could give you a tour. I’d even cook you dinner and have a bunch of teacher and administrator friends over to visit afterward if you’d like.

Finally, I’d like to ask you how you define critical race theory. I don’t understand why you think it would tear us apart. I think of it as defined in Ed Weekly: “Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is … that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.” 

CRT is a type of analysis created by the late legal scholar Derrick Bell and others. I mention him because like you and me, he openly discussed how his Christian faith was the first lens through which he viewed the world. In “Ethical Ambition,” Bell writes: “I have relied on my faith. Particularly in hard times, my Christian faith provides reassurance that is unseen but no less real. It never fails to give me the fortitude I need when opposing injustice.” Bell often quoted Angela P. Harris, such as in “Who’s Afraid of Critical Theory,” where he writes: “Despite the difficulty of separating legal reasoning and institutions from their racist roots, [critical race theory’s] ultimate vision is redemptive, not deconstructive.”

It seems to me that the idea of CRT is to consider whether the rules we go by in American society perpetuate racism. If we study one system or policy and find out it doesn’t, then great. That makes us proud. But, when we learn in history class that, for example, in the 1930s, government officials drew lines around areas they called poor financial risks, specifically because Black people lived in those areas, and thus banks refused to offer mortgages to Black people there, we find a problem that bears looking into. A policy that needs to change, in order to make things right. In my experience making things right brings people together.

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It’s the most Christian thing ever to believe in redemption. That’s who Jesus is — the Redeemer. It seems to me an opportunity to live out our faith by being honest about what’s wrong and trying to make it right. That doesn’t mean we hate America. It means we love it enough to redeem, and keep redeeming it, just like as Christians we believe Jesus does us.

As an Arkansan, I don’t believe we have a big anti-American indoctrination problem in our public schools. What I do see is that public educators are disrespected by politicians who blame them for problems like this one, in places where it really doesn’t exist, and do not often do enough to empower schools to tackle problems that do. I would love to see a state government that takes on the challenge of making Arkansas No. 1 in education, instead of close to last. We could do that by expanding pre-K and after-school programs; paying teachers well, which would attract high achievers into the field; and reducing regulations that choke schools to death. Instead this year we’ve seen our government seek to heap on more regulation, and increase funding for charters — which are not credibly regulated — at the expense of already strapped rural schools.

As a Christian, wife, mom and Arkansan, I hope you can relate to my concerns. I sincerely want to know where you’re coming from, and what experience or research led you to offer those thoughts in your tweet.

Thank you,

Gwen