6 Responses for People in Your Life Who Want to Ban Critical Race Theory
By Kara Cisco
This piece was co-written by Jen Goepfert, Cristina Benz, Jill Merkle, and Kara Cisco
It is possible that in the last few weeks, you may have heard some negative things about Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the news cycle—from op-eds to Facebook memes, the entire state of Idaho banning CRT in the classroom to similar bills sitting on the governor’s desk in Iowa. This is a topic that is on everyone’s minds.
I co-facilitate an equity-focused book club for educators called Class Hacks, and CRT is a topic that deeply intersects with our work. For this reason, my Class Hacks co-facilitators Jen Goepfert, Cristina Benz, Jill Merkle, and I came up with this list of things you can say when someone in your life tells you that CRT should be banned.
1. What is CRT? Can students bring their own perspectives to the table?
CRT is an umbrella term originated by legal scholars. It could be applied to any study of the present examined through the lens of the past. I tell my students often that whatever is in the roots of the country inevitably will show up in its leaves in one form or another. That being said, one of the most central keystone concepts of CRT is the idea of criticality—or developing a critical consciousness. What that means, in layman’s terms, is that students examine myriad primary and secondary sources about a topic in history from multiple perspectives and are asked to form their own conclusions. There is no room for “indoctrination” in this type of activity.
2. Schools that disengage from these important discussions are setting their students up for failure.
Our job as educators is to prepare students for the 21st-century workforce, and there is no post-secondary institution or place of employment in the U.S. today that is not talking about race. By refusing to talk about race, so many schools across the nation—including many here in Minnesota—are denying their students the skills to function in a post-secondary academic or work setting no matter where they are on the political spectrum. When every employer from Target and Best Buy to Starbucks and McDonald’s is centering race in their employee development, it is short-sighted for schools to ignore the same topics they must be comfortable with discussing in the workforce.
3. Our children are experiencing racism in practice, regardless of what is in our curriculum.
Students of color are directly impacted by racism. All students, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, are witnesses to racist incidents, whether it is up close and in person or they see it on social media or in the news. Every student is affected by racism. Our job as educators is to give them frameworks for understanding their world and in this case, CRT offers the theory and framework to be able to process, engage in discourse, and understand these incidents and their impact.
4. Hearing only one narrative is decidedly un-American.
We would be doing our students a massive disservice by perpetuating the idea that America is a “melting pot,” while simultaneously centering our education lens in a predominantly white Euro-centric lens. We have long taught primarily white authors, focused on white scientists, highlighted the achievements of white politicians, inventors, etc. all while ignoring wholesale entire contributions of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to our collective American society and culture. How can we call our education doctrine “American” when there are missing truths and perspectives? Patriotism, at its core, means loving our country wholly and part of that love has to include reckoning with the parts of our past that are painful and that continue to cause pain today. Loving one’s country isn’t a buffet where you pick and choose what parts to love and what parts to ignore. True patriotism means embracing the whole, as messy and painful as parts of it are, and that means examining the past holistically and including everyone’s experience.
5. CRT isn’t divisive; in fact, it’s the opposite.
Banning CRT actually serves to further divide us because BIPOC narratives, history, and feelings are disregarded completely in favor of a whitewashed, more palatable version of history that caters to the white narrative—which is the definition of racism. A holistic curriculum that embraces CRT would actually serve to bring our students closer together by promoting empathy and understanding between students of different backgrounds. It would no longer approach “American Civics” in a way that highlights one perspective. Rather, “American Civics” would become “Our American Civics”—everyone’s. CRT promotes mutual understanding and a way to move forward as a collective. Banning CRT is in fact upholding systemic racism by favoring only one version of our history.
6. This is not new.
CRT has been around as a concept in education since Gloria Ladson-Billings published her first article on the topic in 1996. So, why now, are we suddenly reading vitriolic op-eds in the Star Tribune about a topic that is older than some of our students’ parents? Why is the entire state of Idaho (along with many other states) rushing to ban a topic that has been on the top of the reading list in the majority of teachers’ preparation programs for over thirty years? In many ways, this feels like what in my ethnic studies class we would call a counter-revolution. Last year, was a landmark in terms of racial justice, and it only stands to reason that 2021 would be the year that the forces who fear that reckoning fight back—even if fighting back means a Quixotic attack against an education concept that even the most conservative teacher preparation programs spoke neither for nor against as recently as last year.
We think about counter-revolution a lot when we think about another major year of racial reckoning that is headed our way—2042. 2042 is the year that the United States’ projected demographic shift will take place. It is the year we become a nation that is majority Black and Brown. How will we react to that shift?
The students we are teaching right now are the very people who will be in positions of power and influence in 2042. They will be the ones to usher the country through that mighty transition. And they will be the ones who dictate whether that transition will be something that happens with the friction and bloodshed of counterrevolution or with the ease and grace of a nation that chooses to live up to its founding principles in their purest sense.
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