Does Teaching Critical Race Theory Feed Hatred or Unite People?

Caroline de Braganza

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Florida Gov. Ron deSantisGage Skidmore/wikimedia

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The Florida State Education Board voted to ban this topic in public schools, amid protests from many educators.

This shouldn’t surprise Florida residents, as lawmakers in at least 16 states have introduced bills that seek to restrict how teachers can discuss racism, sexism, and other social issues.

Legislation in Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, bans teachers from discussing concepts such as

  • One race or sex is inherently superior
  • An individual can be consciously or unconsciously racist or sexist because of their race or sex
  • A person should suffer discomfort or guilt because of their race or sex.

Idaho specifically bans critical race theory.

The draft Florida bill stated teaching “may not suppress or distort significant historical events”. An amendment offered by Board member Tom Grady to specify “critical race theory” appeared in the final bill.

A similar law passed in Arkansas, but only applies to state agencies and not public schools.

In Arizona a recent bill passed the House that will fine teachers $5,000 for promoting one side of a controversial issue.

A bill has passed the House in Texas that would ban schools from giving course credit for internships in social or public policy advocacy, and limit how teachers discuss controversial issues.

Proposed legislation in Missouri, will ban specific resources, including the 1619 Project, Learning for Justice Curriculum of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Lives Matter at School, Teaching for Change, and the Zinn Education Project.

Over the years, since legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term critical race theory (CRT) in the late 1980s, we have seen proponents and opponents. The latter sees it as divisive. Many have broadened how they define CRT to include more radical views, and this makes people nervous.

In Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, published in 2001, they define the critical race theory movement as “a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis quoted Martin Luther King Jr as justification for the bill in his video address.

“We should judge someone on the content of his character rather than the color of his skin.”

Martin Luther King Jr emphasized discrimination and economic inequality in other speeches. These
still exist today.

Last month the board of trustees at the University of North Carolina (UNC) denied acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones a tenured position, despite backing by the university’s tenure committee.

The board based its decision on the belief that Hannah-Jones had become too controversial because of the New York Times Magazine “1619 Project”, a series she edited that re-examined the legacy of slavery in the US—for which she won a Pulitzer Prize.

(As stated earlier, proposed legislation in Missouri specifically bans the 1619 project.)

...

The Florida Education Association had called on the Board to reject the proposal.

Most Central Florida School Districts don’t teach critical race theory. The school systems of Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola and Seminole instruct with standards provided by the Florida Department of Education.

(The Department of Education is still concluding the new educational materials under the BEST Standards for the 2021-22 school year, pending approval before release.)

In an email by Brevard Federation of Teachers Vice President Vanessa L. Skipper, she writes:

“Whether we’re Black or white, Latino or Asian, Native or newcomer, we want our students to have an education that encourages them to dig deeper into who we are, where we came from and what we’re capable of being. Our teachers come from very diverse political backgrounds, and whether they’re Republican, Democrat or somewhere in between, our teachers work hard every day to encourage students to become critical thinkers. Our students do not have an R or D after their names on our rosters, and to politicize education by accusing Florida’s teachers of indoctrination is extremely disappointing.”

Teachers from other states have expressed their concern.

“I don’t know whether or not I’m going to have the academic freedom as an African American male to tell the truth,” says Lawrence Lane, a high school government and world history teacher at Checotah High School in Oklahoma.
“It’s unfortunate, because it's going to have the biggest impact on students of color. It’s saying we know you have a history, but we’re not going to discuss it in this classroom,” says Daven Oglesby, an elementary special education teacher in Nashville, Tennessee.

Emerson Sykes, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union is of the opinion these bills “overstep the government’s legitimate authority” in K-12 schools.

Could teachers be breaking the law if students feel ‘discomfort’?

Does critical race theory push people from different cultures apart, or unite them in a common understanding of their diverse history and life experiences?

The heated political debate continues.

Sting performed this song in Miami, Florida in 1988 - the lyrics stil resonate today.

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