It’s place in the classroom
As I have previously mentioned, elementary education is my sister college. While teaching isn’t the path for me, I have to take some of the same classes as students studying elementary education, so I know a thing or two about learning and what students may or may not be ready to learn.
Critical Race Theory and education, in general, have been an incredibly hot topic. States all over the country are passing new laws and legislation pertaining to students and their learning, and what’s most concerning to me is that the people writing these bills have no idea what it’s like to be a teacher and have no classroom experience. Often they write and draft these bills without the input of our educators.
On the other hand, I understand why some parents are deeply concerned about their kids’ learning in public schools. With two younger brothers in school right now, I care about what they are learning. But, I think with 24-hour news coverage, some issues have become more political than they aught, and educating our future, our kids, is not something that we as a nation should be so deeply divided about.
I will not mince my words, our education system is flawed, and it needs to change. But banning and censoring our educators is not the right choice. One overwhelming divisive example is the narrative being spun about CRT.
What is Critical Race Theory?
No topic has been more divisive in our nation than that of Critical Race Theory. Britannica defines this concept as “an intellectual movement and a framework of legal analysis according to which (1) race is a culturally invented category used to oppress people of colour and (2) the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, political and economic inequalities between white and nonwhite people.”
Racism is a social construct
When we break down this definition into two parts, the first would be that race is a social construct and that race is embedded in our legal systems. First, let’s discuss the idea that race is a social construct.
Science will tell you that race is, in fact, a social construct. W.E.B. Du Bois, an American sociologist, psychologist and civil rights activist, knew this over 100 years ago. Often, race and skin color are used to identify people for genetic research purposes. Current science is moving away from that.
Michael Yudell, a professor of public health, said, “It’s a concept we think is too crude to provide useful information, it’s a concept that has social meaning that interferes in the scientific understanding of human genetic diversity and it’s a concept that we are not the first to call upon moving away from.”
Genetic diversity among the human race is incredibly narrow.
Lynn B. Jorde said in her research paper entitled “Genetic variation and human evolution” that, “Human genetic diversity is substantially lower than that of many other species, including our nearest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee.” She goes on to say, “Human populations can be defined along geographic, political, linguistic, religious or ethnic boundaries”.
Here’s the thing that a lot of people don’t understand about race — ethnicity and race are not the same thing. Mirriam Webster says, “Today, race refers to a group sharing some outward physical characteristics and commonalities of culture and history. Ethnicity refers to markers acquired from the group with which one shares cultural, traditional and familial bonds.”
Ethnicity adds a lot more value to the human experience than race does. Race is often determined by a single physical trait, your skin color, and people make a lot of assumptions about who you are, what you believe and what kind of person you are based on that single physical characteristic.
Furthermore, you can’t always tell someone’s race based on someone’s skin color, and someone can be of mixed race. For example, someone may “look white” and be Hispanic. Someone who is considered “mixed” could be white and Asian or black and Hispanic.
Race is little more than a human-invented classification system, and it’s a poor one. We don’t need to classify ourselves by one single characteristic. Our skin color does affect our human experience, but that has to do far more with sociology than it does biology.
One of the ways this idea of race harms us is in medicine. You often hear that (insert race) is more susceptible to (insert disease) and that’s because we look at medicine through a lens of race instead of geography.
The example given by the center for health progress is sickle cell anemia. This disease came about by exposure to malaria. So areas of the world where this disease was more common in people of sub-Saharan Africa but also those of Indian and Middle Eastern descent. Calling it a “black” disease is just incorrect.
This isn’t the only way racism impacts people medically, but you get the idea. We should not view the entirety of someone’s biological makeup based on how they may appear on the outside because race is a human construct, and someone’s social and physical environment and accessory all will affect their health.
The United States’ relationship with race
Now that we have determined that racism is a social construct, is it built into our nation? Oh, absolutely.
The heritage foundation will have you believe that the constitution, in and of itself, was not a racist document. For example, the document never said the words white or black. But that does not mean that the constitution didn’t turn a blind eye to all the people suffering in the nation because of slavery.
Even though it was written after we went to war for freedom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, these freedoms were only guaranteed to white men. These freedoms were not considered the same for women of any background but also for people of any race besides white.
To think that racism did not affect the founding fathers is nonsense. Even back then, abolition was not a new concept. But it was something that the founding fathers were willing to compromise on, which ultimately only hurt the nation. Like it or not, race was a huge factor in causing the Civil War.
The injustices against African Americans, against the native populations that were here long before the colonists and the way the country has treated anyone who wasn’t pale-skinned and of African descent have left much to be desired. To deny that racism is a modern problem would be naive at best. Discrimination, police brutality, hate crimes and the failings of the criminal justice system are all still alive and well.
So what’s wrong with teaching this to students? The narrative spun by far-right media, like Fox News, is summarized well by Brookings, “Opponents fear that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims.”
But if you truly look into the definition of CRT, it’s hard for that argument to hold water. CRT doesn’t teach people that white people are the enemy, and it doesn’t cause a racial divide. The banning of CRT will likely do lasting damage in schools.
CRT, at its heart, actually teaches that racism is a part of our country’s history, and race isn’t as important as someone’s ethnic identity and culture. Disappointingly, 16 states have already banned it, including Washington, Montana, Georgia and Alabama. Seven other states have legislation that has yet to pass, including banning CRT.
This means that we are essentially going to stop teaching kids accurate history about how racist ideology has affected our nation and continues to affect our country. Brookings further proves that is true, stating, “The legislations mostly ban the discussion, training and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist and any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination and oppression.”
What does this tell us about our nation?
I think it’s deeply concerning that the Republican party, a party that is supposed to be based on the constitution and the idea of free speech, has turned to censorship to continue its political agenda.
Furthermore, the idea that kids are too young to understand racism is a stupid argument. Children are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. My ten-year-old brother understands the concept that we should treat all people fairly and equally.
To say that CRT is radical teaching is frankly a gross misunderstanding about what the theory is and what it teaches. It tells me quickly a lot about someone’s ability to dig past the surface of what far-right media circles would like you to believe.
It goes without saying that CRT can be taken too far when you teach young children that they are either oppressors or the oppressed. It goes too far when you teach young children that they won’t ever be successful because of their race and the way this country is founded.
Not to keep beating a dead horse, but that isn’t what the theory teaches. Teaching our kids accurate, truthful, unbiased history is essential. I believe in honesty above all else. Suppose your republican representatives are trying to tell you that this isn’t important but that keeping confederate statues up in the south is important because that does teach accurate history. In that case, it’s hard not to see the immense hypocrisy.
If you feel that CRT does not have a place in the classroom, I would encourage you to look into the word’s actual meaning and the role race has played in the country before deciding where you fall on this issue.
Marybeth Gasman said in her Forbes article, “Within colleges and universities, free speech and academic freedom are considered essential to learning and are the foundation for new ideas and exploration.”
I think what it boils down to is that adults, parents and politicians are uncomfortable with discussing America’s sordid past, especially pertaining to race. Our country has done terrible things. Though our nation does have good values, democracy, individual freedoms and hard work, our government and nation are far from perfect.
We need to celebrate our wins and mourn our losses equally. We need to make peace with our country’s history so that we can continue building a better future. And building this future will be hindered if we can’t get over our shame and pride to educate our children properly.