Bias Bigotry Race Racism

States and Districts Impose Bans on “Critical Race Theory”: Why They Should Not

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State legislatures and even school districts are banning ”critical race theory,” typically based on misinformation about what it is and what it isn’t. The laws and bans are sweeping, and many teachers assume they are prohibiting
discussions of racism, slavery, the KKK, or anything that might make white students feel uncomfortable. Where such views become law, the accurate teaching of American and world history becomes impossible. There have been many shameful episodes in history, and students deserve to learn about them honestly, not sugar-coated.

The National Education Policy Center posted an interview with Professor Adrienne Dixson, a scholar of CRT, who explained what CRT is and what it isn’t. Here is a small part.

Q: In just a few sentences, what is critical race theory?

A: CRT is a theoretical framework that originated in legal scholarship in the late 1980s. The founding CRT scholars were dissatisfied with anti-discrimination laws and the legal scholarship that informed it because they felt it didn’t adequately address the role of race and racism and relied too heavily on incremental change. CRT was introduced to education in the 1990s to address similar dissatisfaction with research in education that scholars believed did not fully account for race and racism. Moreover, scholars felt that multicultural education had become co-opted and no longer had the potential to adequately address inequities in education writ large.

Q: There are a lot of misconceptions out there about CRT. In a few sentences, please tell us what critical race theory IS NOT.

A: It is not about training people to “be” anti-racist. It is not a static or pre-packaged cur-riculum that is sold to K-12 schools or even universities. It is not focused on making White people feel guilty. It is not Black, Asian, Latinx or Indigenous Supremacy. It is not Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.

Q: What does critical race theory add to our thinking?

A: Critical Race Theory helps us think more carefully about how our policies and practices create barriers that prevent equitable participation and success in the educational enterprise

Education Week posted a story by Stephen Sawchuk about seven local school boards that have passed resolutions to ban CRT. There is quite a lot of confusion about what it is, and districts are taking actions that have a chilling effect on discussions of racism, inclusion, and diversity, as well as honest teaching of history.

Sawchuk writes:

This year’s tumultous debates over whether American racism exists, who perpetuates it, and how it should be taught in K-12 classroom settings has saturated the nation’s thousands of school districts. 

About 26 states now have taken steps to curb various aspects of how teachers discuss with students America’s racist past and how districts fight systemic racism. Many take effect this fall, and some of them contain penalties for teachers and administrators, including the loss of their license or fines. 

But as some of the fiercest critics of race-related teaching acknowledge, the most important level of governance over what is taught, which materials are selected, and what training is provided is at the school district level

Communities are defining “critical race theory” in different ways, drawing on everything from scholarly sources, to popular bestsellers on race, to talking points from conservative pundits and critics.

Jinnie Spiegler of the Anti-Defamation League writes in Education Week about the importance of teaching anti-bias education and the history of systemic oppression.

She writes:

As of August 12, 26 states have introduced bills or taken steps to restrict or limit the teaching of racism, sexism, bias, and the contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to U.S. history. Twelve states have enacted bans, either through legislation or other avenues. Amid the pandemic, these laws add a consequential layer of intimidation, fear, and disrespect for educators. It’s a hard time to be a teacher right now.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that seeks to understand and examine how the law and policies perpetuate racial disparities in society (e.g., health care, education, legal, criminal justice, housing, voting, etc.). We know that CRT is notwidely taught in K-12 schools, nor is CRT a curriculum or teaching methodology. However, the purpose of these laws—beyond politics and inciting energy for upcoming elections—is an attempt to restrict or prevent teachers from teaching about racism, sexism, equity, and other forms of systemic oppression.

These laws can potentially prevent teachers from reading a children’s book about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, reflecting on Black Lives Matter and what to do about police violence, understanding current day hate symbols like noose incidents and their historical context of racial terror, and much more.

Why We Need to Teach About Systemic Racism and Other Oppression

These restrictions are concerning precisely because they contradict one of the most important goals of education—to teach young people how to think critically and foster a more just and equitable society so that all people can learn, live, and thrive. To do that, students need to understand what bias and injustice are, how they manifest in society—particularly in systemic ways through our institutions—the historical roots of bias and oppression, and how those injustices have been historically and continue to be challenged and disrupted.

The laws and resolutions now being passed by states and districts will have a chilling effect on what teachers think they are allowed to teach. Given the vagueness of these laws, many students will be deprived of honest history.

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