Fetterman Says Critical Race Theory Doesn't Matter. His Backers Disagree.

Pennsylvania lieutenant governor John Fetterman (D.) / Getty Images
June 23, 2022

Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman has dismissed critical race theory as a nonissue. His teachers' union allies disagree—and they want to put it in Pennsylvania schools.

Fetterman, Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, said in February that critical race theory is "just not an issue" of importance. He said the theory was not taught in Pennsylvania schools and had just been overblown by "divisive dog-whistling" Republicans. But Fetterman's latest union backers, the National Education Association and Pennsylvania State Education Association, have come out staunchly in favor of the controversial curriculum.

National Education Association president Becky Pringle, who on Wednesday endorsed Fetterman as a "champion for America's students," said last year that union members were "not going to be afraid" of teaching critical race theory. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, an affiliate of the national union, has pushed critical race theory on its members through seminars on how to "implement" the theory and other social justice teachings in the classroom and "work toward fostering increased equity for all students."

The endorsements from the National Education Association and Pennsylvania State Education Association could put pressure on Fetterman to stake out a position on the merits of critical race theory, which teaches that America is fundamentally racist. And that could open up old wounds for Fetterman, who as the mayor of the predominantly black town of Braddock in 2013 pulled a shotgun on an unarmed black jogger.

Fetterman, who accepted the endorsements, has defended his actions and denied claims of racism. He has said he believed the unarmed black jogger, Christopher Miyares, had just fired a gun and would shoot up a nearby school. Police did not find a weapon on Miyares. The incident occurred on a Saturday, when school was out of session.

Critical race theory has played a role in elections in other battleground states. Concerns about the doctrine likely helped Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R., Va.) beat Democrat Terry McAuliffe last November. McAuliffe, who was also endorsed by the National Education Association, called critical race theory a "right-wing conspiracy theory" that was "totally made up by Donald Trump."

Democrats and their union allies have dismissed reports of critical race theory in American classrooms, even as many of them want it taught to schoolkids. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, denied last July that critical race theory was being taught to K-12 students. A union official said a month earlier that critical race theory provided students "the opportunity to understand the full breadth and depth of American society."

Fetterman, who last month suffered a near-fatal stroke, will face off against Republican Mehmet Oz in the general election in November. Fetterman's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.