As you’re no doubt aware, the political right’s ongoing effort to whitewash American history through legislative efforts to micromanage public school history curricula continues apace.
Here in North Carolina, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson joined in the effort this week by trumpeting their opposition to a once obscure academic concept that’s never been taught in North Carolina public schools called Critical Race Theory.
Berger even went to the trouble of giving a big speech on the topic that was, sadly, chock full of wildly inaccurate claims and frightening ideas – including a proposal to amend the state constitution.
Happily even as this cynical, Trump-inspired campaign at manipulating white voters in anticipation of the 2022 elections persists, educators across the country are forcefully pushing back.
For a great example, check out the fine essay that appeared earlier this week in the Tennessee Lookout by veteran public school teacher Gabe Hart. As Hart explains to his state’s conservative Republican governor, Bill Lee, in “Educators will continue to teach the truth of America’s racial history,” the campaign against Critical Race Theory, will ultimately fail — both because it’s a solution in search of a nonexistent problem and, more importantly, because teachers will keep telling the truth about American history. Here’s Hart:
While no conservative lawmaker could explain exactly what CRT was or how exactly it was being taught in Tennessee classrooms (spoiler alert: it wasn’t being taught in Tennessee classrooms), the basis of CRT deals with the inherent racism of many of our social constructs such the criminal justice system and policies put into place by lawmakers who have been predominantly Caucasian males. To see the modern day effects of CRT at play, one needs to look no further than the recent voting laws enacted in many southern states.
By the time CRT had made it through the wash cycle of conservative media, the banning of teaching CRT was brought to the floor for a vote in Tennessee and other red states like Texas, Arkansas, and Florida even though no one seemed to be able to provide examples of how or where it was being taught. It passed in each state.
The problem with banning the teaching of CRT, however, is that CRT was never taught directly in classrooms to begin with. There are no Tennessee State Academic Standards requiring the teaching of CRT or standards pointing out inherent racism within societal structures in our state or country. Those ideas are illuminated naturally if a teacher is teaching students to think critically based on the facts that are provided. It doesn’t take a lot of searching to see that bias and racism are intertwined in most of our societal structures.
When asked for a reason for banning the teaching of CRT, Gov. Lee responded, “We need to make sure that our kids recognize that this country is moving toward a more perfect union, that we should teach the exceptionalism of our nation and how people can live together and work together to make a greater nation, and to not teach things that inherently divide or pit either Americans against Americans or people groups against people groups.”
But, Gov. Lee, are we “moving toward a more perfect union”? Our criminal justice system is still heavily slanted against African-Americans. We are only two generations removed from the Civil Rights movement. In my town of Jackson, Tennessee, there has essentially been legal resegregation of our local education system due to the inordinate amount of private schools and white flight to the county north of Jackson. These are precisely the examples of collateral damage from our systems of inherent racism that CRT highlights. Asking public educators to turn a blind eye to those truths is like asking a firefighter to drive past a burning building – we, as educators, must address the inequities of our societal structure to keep them from continuing to occur. We don’t have time to cradle your white fragility.
As Hart concluded:
Earlier this summer, I took my daughter to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. From the beginning of the museum when we looked at the transatlantic slave map to the end where we stared at the room Martin Luther King, Jr. was in moments before he was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, the evidence for some of the truths taught in CRT is overwhelming. To state otherwise would be simply ignorant or abhorrently racist.
As a middle school Language Arts teacher in a predominantly African-American school district, I will continue to ask my students to think critically. When we read about the sugar plantations in Louisiana, we’ll continue to connect the dots of the beginnings of slavery and modern day capitalism. When we read Langston Hughes’s words in “Mother to Son”, we will have honest conversations in my classroom about the uneven playing field our national history has wrought. I will continue to be unflinchingly honest despite what a few white men in suits in Nashville have decided to be appropriate to teach or not teach in a classroom.
And I’m not the only teacher who will continue to teach truth to our students. Good luck with your enforcement, Gov. Lee.
Click here to read the entire essay.