Efforts to Ban Critical Race Theory in Classrooms are Harmful for All Students
Jessica On (PPS ‘24)
T o the 36 states that are pushing for anti-Critical Race Theory legislation in education: Is it accountability you are avoiding? Is it an informed youth and equipped democracy you fear? Is it the truth that you are hiding from?
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a framework which “asserts that racism is embedded in the legal system and government policy as opposed to individual prejudice”. CRT is a way to understand how racism in America has influenced the design and implementation of public policy. It recognizes the harm that systemic and institutional racism have imposed on people of color.
Conversations and discourse guided by CRT function best in classrooms, where teachers are equipped with skills to facilitate discussion. However, many schools are not teaching CRT and students are actually upset to find how little they have learned about inequality when they reach college. For those that do not pursue a postsecondary education, they may never get a chance to unlearn these misguided narratives about American inequality.
The reality is that creating legislation that bans racism from being taught in schools is yet another example of racism being embedded into American institutions and policy. As of the 2022 legislative session, there are efforts in at least 36 states to restrict anti-racist and anti-bias education, as well as discussions on the contributions that specific racial or ethnic groups have made in U.S. history. For those who know about CRT, there is a clear partisan divide with 81% of Democrats in favor of it in contrast to just 17% of Republicans.
A proposed New Hampshire bill would ban “any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America.” However, 83% of Americans do not agree that books should be banned for criticizing U.S. history. Opponents call CRT “unpatriotic”, but utilizing our country’s history to understand how to improve is the most patriotic thing you can do. The reality is that our nation that has committed wrongdoings in the past, but what matters now is how they are addressed, acknowledged, and prevented from happening again.
At the root of it, opponents of CRT are anxious to shift power dynamics in the classroom and curriculum. American society has focused on a Eurocentric, white-washed version of history that reinforces the culture of white supremacy and glorifies America’s flawed history. CRT favors post-modernist thoughts, which contradict traditional conservative values prevalent in American society. This crusade against CRT reaffirms the fact that preserving the image of whiteness will always supersede accountability and that truth will be sacrificed to maintain power.
The arguments against CRT frame it as “divisive,” yet scholars of the framework emphasize that its purpose is not to argue that one race is better than the other or that individuals are racist themselves. Its purpose is not to pit people of color against white people. CRT is not arguing that white people now are to blame for the past, but rather that they have an inherent responsibility to address and acknowledge how racism affects marginalized communities today. If white people are personally offended by the truth of systemic racism and privilege, that itself is an inherent privilege in positionality to reflect upon.
Instead of ignoring America’s racialized history, we must address the realities of it. The best way to do so is in classrooms, where children are already being socialized to interact with individuals of different races. Students deserve to know the good and bad sides of history, which includes diverse and critical analyses of the U.S.
Teaching CRT has important effects on all students. Students of color will feel validated about their identities when they learn about the historical contributions of their communities. White students, who may not always be cognizant of race, unlearn implicit biases through multicultural education. Equipping them with historical understandings of discrimination and race can mitigate racist behavior from a young age.
Educating about racism can have the power to fix systemic oppression. Young students are learning to navigate and understand these systems and will grow up to transform them. CRT deserves a space in classrooms and legislators must continue to fight against anti-CRT sentiments. California has succeeded in making ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement. Delaware is beginning to implement Black history into courses beyond social studies. Illinois is now the first state to mandate the teaching of Asian American history in schools. Instead of banning CRT, expand it.
Jessica On (PPS ’24) is a Public Policy Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ’22 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.