(Brendan Clarey, The Center Square) Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used federal pandemic relief funds to create virtual courses for teachers about anti-racism and social justice, which encouraged teachers to engage with sources espousing critical race theory.
The CARES Act in 2020 included funds for governors to award to education-related entities via the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. Whitmer and state officials allotted $1.4 million to Michigan State University College of Education, the University of Michigan’s School of Education and Michigan Virtual to create professional learning modules for K-12 teachers.
According to an email from MSU’s Office of K-12 Outreach sent out Monday, educators are able to take a “newly relaunched” course developed in partnership with MSU’s educator school for free.
Republican lawmakers have previously introduced legislation to the Michigan Legislature that would ban the teaching of critical race theory in classrooms. Other states have passed laws that prohibit its teaching.
The way the program was funded has come under scrutiny from federal oversight agencies. The Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General said in a report released in September that the state could not support the process it used to select Michigan Virtual, MSU and UM to develop the modules.
“The purpose of the program was to train teachers on how to implement the teacher professional learning standards developed by the Governor’s Education Advisory Council,” said a report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, which investigated how federal money was spent by the state.
The Governor’s Education Advisory Council was created by Whitmer via executive order in 2019, and she handpicked all 15 members of the public who serve on it. She signed off on granting the money to Michigan Virtual, MSU and UM to develop the teacher professional learning programs and other entities, according to the federal watchdog report.
The courses include “Anti-Racism and Social Justice Teaching and Leadership” and “Anti-Racist Trauma-Informed Practice in PreK-12 Education,” “Social-Emotional Learning: Equity Elaborations,” “Social-Emotional Learning: Assessment Mechanisms” and 11 others.
The “Anti-Racism and Social Justice Teaching and Leadership” module developed with MSU staff aims to teach educators about how to see racism and privilege and how they play out in school and society, analyze theoretical frameworks for anti-racist and social justice teaching, recognize system oppression and apply strategies to dismantle it and examine how to connect with staff and communities.
The material in that course asked teachers about how they could respond to a classroom situation in the most anti-racist way possible.
That course linked to materials including a video of Bettina Love explaining “spirit murdering” and its explicit origin in critical race theory.
“I really wanted to put language, and take it out of critical race theory, and put it in education to say this is what’s happening to our schools,” Love said in the video educators were told to view as part of the course and apply what they learn to their own schools.
Another resource cited this key principle of critical judgement: “I will take responsibility for what I don’t directly control – structural racism, systemic oppression, and all forms of bias – and attempt to influence transformative change within seemingly entrenched systems.”
The second module developed in conjunction with UM seeks to heighten educators “awareness of trauma and oppression” and support them in “individually and collectively imagining ways to disrupt sources of oppression and harm in order to transform classrooms and schools, to facilitate the learning and well-being of students in a holistic way.”
One of the required readings in that course was an article by healing justice trainer Candice Valenzuela, which argued educators need to look at unresolved historical trauma.
“Trauma-informed training cannot be facilitated by anyone who has not faced the generational, historical trauma of racism, White supremacy, heteropatriarchy, ableism and capitalism within their own bodies, communities and practices,” Valenzuela writes. “We must not only hyper focus on the trauma of youth of color, but also ‘research up’ into the traumatic implications of White dominant society’s historical narcissism, historical amnesia and colonialist perpetration of violence.”
Other resources included in both modules offered less contentious views of how educators and administrators can evaluate their practices to help students who have suffered traumatic experiences or approach marginalized communities with empathy while continuing conversations about race and racism.
For example, in the anti-racism module’s scenarios, respondents were encouraged to find ways to handle a racist incident in a classroom or talk to a student who was wearing a confederate flag T-shirt with the goal of helping students understand that racism is not acceptable and that their actions affect those around them.
Regardless, the federal education watchdog was critical of how the state had allotted federal money to the entities that developed the modules.
“Congress intended the GEER grant to be an emergency appropriation to address coronavirus-related disruptions and support a state’s ability to continue to provide educational services to students and to support the ongoing functionality of [local educational agencies and institutions of higher education],” the OIG report said.
Whitmer made the decision to award funds to the four entities without using “selection criteria” or include the “names of all the entities that were evaluated and did not document the evaluation of the 14 external requests” as is required.
The state never made information about the other entities who applied for the grants available to the agency, according to the report.
“Michigan did not maintain sufficient documentation related to its decisions to award funds to any of the education-related entities selected and not to award funds to other entities that submitted requests for GEER grant funds,” the report found.
In 2021, The Center Square reported that federal taxpayers paid millions for a critical race theory program for future educators, called RISE, which was awarded funds in 2016.
That program gave teaching students a $5,000 stipend and encouraged participants to use critical race theory as a way to to evaluate teacher quality, according to The Center Square.