The three-ring circus which is the start of school


Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends! 

I was trying to come up with an appropriate metaphor for the beginning of the new school year. The only one that seem to fit the bill for me was a circus, and the ringmaster has already started the fun. 

As was covered in last weeks‘ newspaper, Jefferson County schools has announced that there are new mask rules this year. And now there seems to be a growing push nationwide to not only push a mask mandate, but to specify that those masks have to be of the high-tech K 95 brand. What further guidance, regarding student interactions and quarantines, I have not been made privy to yet, but I’m sure they will add to the fun.

You’re going to hear a lot this year about learning loss because of what has happened over the last two years. Hopefully, nobody suggests addressing it the way Clark County schools in Nevada has: eliminating all non-academic criteria from student grading. Included in these “non-academic criteria” are things like coming to class and turning in work.

There is also a decent chance that Jefferson County schools will become embroiled in the national debate over critical race theory (CRT). And, maybe, before we all get our hackles up and retreat to our tribal corners, it would be good to treat with that subject not as a bogeyman, but with what it actually is. So, to wit, these are the six tenets of CRT, according to the encyclopedia Britannica online.

1. Race is a social construct, not a biological reality. That has been explained to me to mean that the demographic groupings that statisticians use to classify people are a shorthand, which do not fully convey the realities of a given subset (consider the differences between a Japanese immigrant and a Vietnamese refugee, both of whom are labeled “Asian-American”)

2. Racism is the normal, every day experience of people of color

3. Even good things (Brown v. Board) can be bad things if they reinforce existing systems

4. Minorities periodically have different negative stereotypes attached to them based on the needs of the white majority at the time

5. No person is adequately described by their belonging to just one group

6. People of color are uniquely qualified to speak about racism in America.

And if that were the end of it, that would be one thing. But it’s not — at its summer convention, the National Education Association passed a resolution explicitly coupling CRT with the “1619 Project“ and “Anti-racism.“ So it’s worth looking at aspects of those two efforts, also. 

In the words of Nikole Hannah-Jones, the founder of the 1619 Project when she was a staffer at the New York Times, “I’ve always said that the 1619 Project is not a history. It is a work of journalism that explicitly seeks to challenge the national narrative and, therefore, the national memory. The project has always been as much about the present as it is the past.”

And in the words of Ibram X. Kendi, director of the AntiRacist Research and Policy Center, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”

If we’re going to have the debate, let’s at least debate what things actually are, not just bogeymen. 

There’s no certainty that any or all of these issues will become a part of the conversation in Jefferson County this year. But if they are, let’s try to keep it in the realm of knowledge and logic, and not fear and misinformation. 

And with that, Send in the Clowns. 

By the way, have a little patience with teachers, staff, and administrators in the buildings this year. In this extended metaphor of mine, they are the people walking behind the elephants in the parade.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

Michael Alcorn, back to school, mask mandate, critical race theory


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