Dangerous Times in Carmel

I have long thought, as I’ve written before, that the schools are the single most important political entity we have. Running for and serving on a school board is a big deal.

And the Carmel School Board, in recent years, hasn’t done itself any favors. It made a martyr out of board member John Curzio II a few years back. He had spoken out vocally against a school bond issue, but other board members took issue and said he had committed misconduct by speaking out against it after the board had made its decision. The other School Board members even took him to a formal disciplinary hearing process. He was on the board, then ousted by voters, then ran again for the board this year and won. So he returns, even stronger.

As for the bond issue, it went through what was ultimately three iterations, with voters finally approving it on the third try — pared down — in 2019. And a hearing officer ruled in 2018 that Curzio with actions had “violated school law but not to the extent that would cause the Board of Education to remove him from office.”

So it’s not especially surprising that trust isn’t high right now in the Carmel district. And the cynics who are now trading in attacks have gleefully turned their attention to Critical Race Theory, drawing adoring, fawning wouldn’t be too strong a word, attention from some conservative news outlets. Is this being taught in our schools? Is communism being taught? My goodness, is anything at all being taught? A crowd descended on last Tuesday’s board meeting (ostensibly it was a public hearing on the budget, but no matter) to take the board to task over this Critical Race Theory and its supposed presence in Carmel.

This theory essentially posits, as Charles Blow wrote in the New York Times on Sunday, “The theory, born in the 1970s among legal scholars, uses race as a lens through which to examine structures of power.” But, it is widely misunderstood: “In fact, I don’t even believe that most people have any real concept of what critical race theory is.” Maybe we should understand that first. What are we talking about exactly, and what exactly is being taught in Carmel?

For that matter, isn’t this the very basis of a liberal arts education? To think about big issues, like, Are some of societal structures affected by race, for good or ill? How did this come about? What can or should be done, if anything? Critical Race Theory is an approach to analyzing questions like that. Redlining. Incarceration. Interactions with police. Innocent people being lynched (decades ago) or jailed (more recently).

Strikingly, at this school board meeting, there wasn’t any discussion of what actually is being taught in the Carmel district. Right now, we’re just discussing a term of art, a buzzword.

Were Iaparentthere,Iwould want my children to know about the full spectrum of race relations in our nation, from early days until now. About the Tulsa Race Massacre. About the South, and its resistance to the outcome of the Civil War. About slavery and its tie to our economy for decades. About our other examples of racism — they weren’t just against Black people. The early archives of the Courier depict horrible instances of racism toward people of Italian descent, too. Right here, in our Putnam County.

What I wouldn’t like to hear is one of the rallying cries from last week, “Defund the teachers, not the police.”

That doesn’t sound to me like a cry for debate and discussion about what children in the Carmel district are being taught, for a careful examination of their learning materials and the teaching methods used.

Instead, it sounds to me like a desire for authoritarianism. My friends, we are indeed in dangerous times. I hope they are not as dangerous as I fear.

Until next week.

This column is my opinion. You are free to disagree.

I’m Douglas Cunningham, and I’m the editor of the Putnam County Courier and the Putnam County News and Recorder, in Cold Spring. Reach me at 845- 265-2468 (usually in the office at least part of Saturday and Sunday) or by email at Letters are always welcome: 500 words or less, Word document or plain text, please include the word Letter in the subject line. Send to

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