Why Is Teaching Critical Race Theory in Schools Important to Healing the Division In the United States?
One of the biggest debates erupting on state legislator floors around the country is whether or not to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public K-12 schools, and public colleges/universities. According to Stephen Sawchuk, “ Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.” Part of the curriculum for the education of Critical Race Theory is teaching about the history of racism in the United States and its origins, which would include the true and accurate history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, slavery, Jim Crow, and other subjects. Critical Race Theory being taught in schools is the best solution to the racial divide in this country. The more people know about the truth, the more we can grow and the faster we can heal.
Opposing views claim that teaching Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools would make white children feel “discomfort, guilt and anguish” (Foster). One cannot deny that there may be a level of discomfort that could be felt amongst white children, especially when learning about some of the horrible things that have happened to people of color more specifically African Americans in the hands of their white oppressors. At the same time, with a subject like this, it is necessary for children to feel discomfort, and anguish so that it isn’t repeated in the future and rather teaches them to have more compassion, understanding, and respect for people of color. The United States is not the only country that has to come to terms with a dark past, “barely three generations ago, Germany hosted horrors that killed millions and left the nation split in two. This was not a legacy that most Germans were inclined to honor. And yet, today, less than 100 years after the rise of Adolf Hitler, Germany has made a prodigious effort to come to terms with its past with regularized rituals of repentance and understanding” (Norris). As a result of teaching Critical Race Theory to children in K-12 schools, it will give a more positive impact in helping children to understand racism in the United States. The more that is known and taught the better chances that history won’t repeat itself.
Recently, within the United States “eight states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, and South Carolina) have passed legislation banning Critical Race Theory …. none of these state’s bills that have passed even actually mention the words ‘Critical Race Theory’ explicitly with the exception of Idaho” (Ray and Gibbons). Some other states such as Montana and South Dakota “have denounced teaching concepts associated with Critical Race Theory. The state school boards in Florida, Georgia, Utah, and Oklahoma introduced new guidelines barring Critical Race Theory related discussions” (Ray and Gibbons). Many other states around the country have also been discussing legislation and guidelines such as these. Passing such laws is another ploy by GOP conservatives to change the narrative so that education continues to be whitewashed in history. Criteria such as this would not be the first time this country has seen curriculum in schools be less than honest about the ugliness of this country.
Our history books have been whitewashed for a long time. I am currently earning my degree in history, the more I learn right now the more I am realizing just how much history has been erased throughout my childhood in school. I never learned about W.E.B. De Bois or Thurgood Marshall. I don’t ever remember learning about red summer. I don’t even believe I remember learning about Emmitt Till. So many stories such as these are important pieces when learning about the history of this country, but they are just erased as if they don’t matter. Some of the wording to some state legislators is shocking, some suggest that schools should teach about history that doesn’t show more of one side of any particular race than another. However, if one were to look back at more school textbooks from different times of history one will see the history books in the U.S. have already been one-sided. Most history books at least when I was a kid taught us that all white men did the discovering, that white men did all the exploring and were wonderful people. They glorify white men in most historical accounts or write history in a way that makes white men more particularly those who colonized North and South America seem like noblemen looking for a new home. For a quick example, we were taught Christopher Columbus landed in the newfound land as if he was there first despite the overwhelming Native population that had been there for centuries. They also glorify Columbus as being a peacemaker of some sort with the Natives as if they willingly allowed Columbus and his men to take over their land. When in reality it was the very opposite, Columbus had ideas of taking over by force the moment he set foot on land. For me, I find this difference important. Glorifying any traumatizing point in history teaches lies, and creates false narratives, this is also what contributed to the creation of stereotypes. Critical Race Theory being taught in K-12 schools is important so that children are able to understand early on.
Children begin to process all kinds of information at a very young age. This concept is the same when talking about how young a child should be for it to be acceptable to talk to about race. According to Jessica Sullivan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Skidmore College, “children are capable of thinking about all sorts of complex topics at a very young age. Even if adults don’t talk to children about race, children will work to make sense of their world and come up with their own ideas, which may be inaccurate or detrimental” (qtd. in “Children Notice”). This ties into another opposition when Critical Race Theory is talked about in deciding whether or not educators should be teaching it in K-12 schools and in some cases public colleges and universities as well. It is not enough to say that parents should be allowed to say if and when their child learns about Critical Race Theory. A lot of parents, primarily ones with white children (some white parents of biracial children as well) don’t know how to properly talk about race and concepts that go along with Critical Race Theory because they themselves don’t have a true understanding of it either. According to Leigh Wilton, Ph.D., also an assistant professor of psychology at Skidmore College, “many white parents use well-meaning but ineffective strategies that ignore the realities of racism in the United States. …Some harmful approaches include a colorblind strategy (e.g., telling children ‘skin color doesn’t matter’ or ‘we’re all the same on the inside.’) or refusing to discuss it (e.g., ‘it’s not polite to talk about that.’)” (qtd. in “Children Notice”). Lawmakers primarily GOP conservative lawmakers and elected leaders have made a nasty habit of creating false narratives as to not only what Critical Race Theory is but also its purpose and how it would affect the mindset of children.
A variety of statements and comments from high profile elected officials such as Former President Donald Trump, Florida State Governor Ron DeSantis, and others also in opposition to teaching Critical Race Theory, have influence within the GOP conservative support of society to protest and push for the legislation to ban teaching Critical Race Theory within their communities and states. According to Jack Dutten in his Newsweek article, “Speaking ahead of the education board meeting (a meeting discussing the states legislation’s passing which bans the teaching of Critical Race Theory), Governor Ron DeSantis said critical race theory would teach children that ‘the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate.’” Politicians pushing for legislation “claim critical race theory is divisive, hostile and anti-American obsessed with race and ‘hateful lies,’ and teaches kids to hate each other” (Dutten). Reality although it may seem to some as a true statement is actually a misguided representation of what actually would be taught and how. Unfortunately, due to the lack of education on the truth about not only Critical Race Theory and how it would be taught but also because of the lack of education about the true and accurate history of the United States from before and after its founding, and so on. So much history is either whitewashed or removed from the history books that people tend to confuse facts from fiction. It would not come as a surprise to find out that the majority if not all who read this didn’t know anything about the Tulsa Race Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma until stories started coming out about it in 2020. Unfortunately, state, and local governments intentionally pass laws and policies such as ones recently passed in some states as a way to continue the false narrative to hide the truth or just completely erase relevant content.
For the United States to heal the division everyone especially children need to be educated on Critical Race Theory. Sweeping the truth about our Nation’s ugliness under the rug will not heal the division rather, it allows the false narrative to continue. The anguish and discomfort that may be felt by white children is nothing compared to the amount of anguish and discomfort a child of color feels on a day-to-day basis going into adulthood and beyond. Children will always learn about race one way or another. Let’s set the narrative for them to be able to learn about race in a more truthful form. The knowledge of truth is power, the more knowledge and education on the truth the more this country can begin to heal. Until we acknowledge and accept the truth, we will never fully heal from this division. As stated best by Ray and Gibbons, “If we love America, we should want it to be the best it can be. Rather than run from the issue of racism in America, we should confront it head-on. Our kids and country will be better for it.” GOP conservatives and other opposers will never stop trying to eliminate the truth from coming out, it is up to us to show them we are strong, and we will overcome. Let’s show them America is ready for true healing.
“Children Notice Race Several Years Before Adults Want To Talk About It.” American Psychological Association. 27 Aug 2020, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/08/children-notice-race. Accessed 11 Sept 2021.
Cokley, Kevin. “Teaching Critical Race Theory is Patriotic, Not Anti-American.” USA TODAY, 06 Jul 2021. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://explore-proquest-com.lcc.idm.oclc.org/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2559522651?accountid=1599
Dutton, Jack. “Critical Race Theory Is Banned In These States.” Newsweek, 11 Jun 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/critical-race-theory-banned-these-states-1599712. Accessed 11 Sept 2021
Foster, Kmele. “The Misguided Bans on Critical Race Theory.” New York Times, 06 Jul 2021. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://explore-proquest-com.lcc.idm.oclc.org/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2559522662?accountid=1599. Accessed 08 Sept 2021
Long, Heather and Andrew Van Damn. “The Black-White Economic Divide Is As Wide As It Was In 1968.” Washington Post, 4 Jun 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/06/04/economic-divide-black-households/. Accessed 11 Sept 2021
Norris, Michele L. “Germany Faced Its Horrible Past. Can We Do The Same?” The Washington Post, 3 Jun 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/03/slavery-us-germany-holocaust-reckoning/. Accessed 29 Nov 2021
Ray, Rashawn and Alexandra Gibbons. “Why Are States Banning Critical Race Theory?” Brookings, Aug 2021, https://brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/. Accessed 14 Sept 2021
Sawchuk, Stephen. “What is Critical Race Theory, and Why is it Under Attack?” Educationweek, 18 May 2021, https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05.
*Note this is a recording of the first half of the essay. Thank you for listening!