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NEW YORK CITY —“Critical race theory” is a polarizing and often not-very-well-defined term, and now, Republican Curtis Sliwa is bringing it front and center in the race for New York City mayor.

Advocates say the decades-old theory is essentially legal and academic writings designed to take a critical look at the role race plays in every aspect of society. Conservative critics say teaching it in schools needlessly pits children against each other.

A few weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a more than $200 million redesign of the school curriculum, among other changes designed to help children recover from the pandemic in schools. The goal, he said, is to reflect the diversity of the city in the learning materials used for English and math.

On the steps of the Department of Education Tuesday, Republican candidate for mayor Curtis Sliwa called the de Blasio plan critical race theory by another name.

“I have no problem focusing on particular groups and their histories and their backgrounds,” Sliwa said. “But to create this CRT program that pits people against each other, that in the same classroom you say ‘Those are your oppressors, those are the people that put you in this condition, that’s why you’re not learning.’”

PIX11 pressed Sliwa about exactly what was wrong with the mayor’s plans, asking specifically:

  1. What was wrong with a school system that has majority children of color encouraging students to see more of themselves in reading material?
  2. Looking at incarceration rates, graduation rates, and achievement gaps, why not talk about race in schools?

Sliwa said resources should be focused on making sure all children get up to proficiency. Testing in 2019 showed more than half of 3rd graders did not read up to standards.

“Why not give our children the basics, give them the tools, let their minds develop, so the discourse can get into those subjects [of race] when they’re in the later years of high school, when they’re in college taking courses,” Sliwa said.

Mayor de Blasio’s spokesman tweeted in response to Sliwa:

“As usual, I can barely comprehend what Curtis is railing on about. NYC public schools will have an unprecedented universal curriculum to help students recover. If Curtis thinks it’s wrong that racism and slavery are discussed in schools than there is something wrong with him.”

A spokesman for Sliwa’s opponent in the race for mayor, Eric Adams, said he would not comment on the de Blasio policy, nor Sliwa’s comments.

However, if you look at the Adams campaign website, the Democrat certainly seems at least somewhat aligned with the current mayor. The education section reads in part:

“Teachers will be trained in how to adapt to the cultural perspectives their students may bring to the classroom… he materials that are provided to our students in the classroom will also be more responsive to their full personhood.”

Any curriculum changes could end up taking a couple of years to implement, meaning the next mayor will have a strong say over to what extent any tenants of critical race theory are or are not included inside public school classrooms.