The Fire This Time: The Insurrection of American Public Education Is Being Fueled by Racism

Sister Syllabus
8 min readAug 7, 2023

By Mia Street, MEd and Dr. William Garcia-Medina

Insurrection: rebellion, revolt, uprising, mutiny, revolution, insurgence, rising, rioting, riot, sedition, civil disobedience, civil disorder, unrest, anarchy…

Pedagogy of the Oppressor…

In July of 2022, a group of nine Texas educators submitted an idea to the State Board of Education that would be the beginning of dismantling truth-telling in public education. The idea? Public schools in Texas would now begin to learn to describe slavery as “involuntary relocation” under new social studies standards proposed to the state’s education board. A few phone calls and social media posts later condemning this false interpretation of enslavement resulted in going viral. The responses made me feel like perhaps Texas would not fall to the erosion of truth-telling in schools. I was wrong. Since then, legislators across the country have created policies that tear down decades of equity gains in education work. Texas NAACP Education Chair, Councilwoman Kimberley Yancy quite accurately called this an Insurrection of Public Education and it is.

In recent years, a disturbing trend has been emerging within American public education — a surge of racist ideologies and practices that undermine the goal of creating inclusive and equitable learning environments. From anti CRT bills to anti DEI legislation- this insurrection has rolled back years of progress. The insurrection of public education is fueled by racism within schools and has far-reaching consequences that perpetuate systemic racism and hinder the progress towards a truly just society. Several incidents and policy decisions across the country serve as evidence of this vitriol permeating our education system.

One of the most egregious examples can be found in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis recently ignited a firestorm of controversy by attacking the teaching of slavery in schools. As reported by Politico, even Black Republicans were left livid and disgusted by DeSantis’ comments, which attempt to downplay the significance and effects of slavery in American history. This attempt to whitewash the curriculum not only erases the suffering and contributions of Black Americans but also perpetuates a distorted narrative that minimizes the impact of white supremacy and systemic racism.

The Guardian, in a scathing critique, highlights the harmful consequences of DeSantis’ stance on curriculum about enslavement in America. By refusing to acknowledge the full extent of the horrors inflicted upon enslaved individuals, Florida risks perpetuating a cycle of ignorance and denial. This insurrection not only undermines the education of students but also hampers efforts to foster empathy and understanding among future generations.

Echoing those concerns, The New York Times argues that DeSantis’ actions are part of a broader pattern of continuing to perpetuate lies to hide the aspects of American history that show how disgusting, degrading and dehumanizing slavery really was. Now more than ever, we need for an accurate and comprehensive understanding of slavery, as it is an essential pillar in comprehending the foundations of racial inequity in the United States. By denying this history, DeSantis and others contribute to a poisonous atmosphere that perpetuates racism via a manufactured erosion of democratic principles attributed to free-thinking institutions such as schools. To borrow a quote from David Berliner and Bruce J Biddle’s book titled The Manufactured Crisis (1996), “the American tragedy of racism poses serious problems for our public schools, problems that are less evident in other Western countries that have lower levels of prejudice (pp.230).” Although this quote was written during the 90’s, it remains true to this day. The January 6th insurrection of the White House is integrally connected to the nefarious legislation seeking to do away with truth-telling in public education and more generally, America.

Currently, we are facing extreme polarization fueled by direct acknowledgement and support for hatred against Black and Brown communities. DeSantis’ display of racism, for instance, takes shape via both direct racism and another subtle form of vitriol commonly known as color-blind racism.

Beyond the books…

The January 6th insurrection demonstrates how racism has shifted back into its direct racism while claiming to be saving the United States from wokeism and extreme leftism. While many politicians holding political power are behaving as ventriloquists, controlling uninformed folks across the country for political gain, far-right political groups are working hard to shift power to shape, distort and censor the curriculum that is taught to our students. The impact of this insurrection against inclusive education extends beyond Florida. Across the country, legislation is being introduced that seeks to limit diversity and equity efforts in schools. The Associated Press reports on the dangerous ramifications of such legislation, which undermines the progress made in creating safe and inclusive spaces for students who are marginalized. These policies disregard the needs of students from disenfranchised communities and also perpetuate systems of oppression and discrimination for the purpose of continued racial domination. Sociologists Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer refer to racial domination being based on: 1) Institutional Racism: Systemic White privilege in institutions such as schools, corporations, universities, etc, and 2) Interpersonal Racism: Racism in everyday interactions. The impact of recent insurrections against inclusive education and the dismantling of affirmative action are prime examples of racial domination.

By using “wokeism” as an excuse to pass racist legislations against the teaching of inclusive history and ignoring the incitement of racial domination, it adheres to fallacies that garner support by many people in the country, thus increasing divisions and social mayhem. Beyond the books, the insurrection of public education is having detrimental effects on discipline practices and exacerbating racial disparities within the system. Dallas CORE Chief Executive Officer and Community Organizer, Jazmyn Ferguson stated, “when attempting to understand discipline, it is clear that those with power have a stake in ensuring that society functions as it does because it preserves their power and ability to survive and thrive.”

In a joint effort between the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), Lubbock NAACP and families of Lubbock, Texas, demand for an end to school-based racial discrimination. One of the key concerns raised by these organizations and families is the disproportionate discipline practices being employed in schools. Historically, African American and LatinX students are subjected to harsher disciplinary actions compared to their white counterparts. After the district’s inaction and flat out lying and denial of receiving complaints, students and families of the Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District and Slaton ISD, along with the Lubbock NAACP and the IDRA filed civil right complaints against the school districts. The violation claims have been submitted to the US Department of Education.

The case of the Mamaroneck School District in New York, as reported by Gothamist, serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of inaction. Black students and other students of color were regularly the targets of racial epithets and sexually offensive harassment. According to OAG Leticia James:

The OAG’s investigation concluded that Mamaroneck UFSD’s failure to address student bullying and harassment constituted a violation of Title VI and Title IX. Black students and other students of color were regularly the targets of racial epithets and sexually offensive harassment. The OAG found that Mamaroneck UFSD, despite promptly investigating these incidents, failed to engage in necessary responses to limit this behavior in the future.

The district faced criticism for its failure to address racial bullying effectively, prompting calls for reform. Instances like these highlight the urgent need for schools and districts to prioritize the development of anti-racist policies and procedures that ensure the safety and well-being of all students. White denial from school administrators and policy makers reveal a return to Jim Crow ideologies in terms of surveilling and restricting disenfranchised communities via racial domination.

Similar to Mamaroneck, Carrollton Farmers Branch Independent School District (CFBISD), a suburb of Dallas, Texas has recently come under scrutiny, again, due to allegations of racial bias and discrimination. In a disturbing incident that went viral the spring of 2021, a middle school quiz administered in CFBISD contained derogatory anti-Asian stereotypes. Then in 2022, OCR complaints were filed because district leadership blatantly segregated their district administrators. Just last month, their new superintendent, was allegedly quoted saying derogatory statements about African American and LatinX students and their parents. Even after being brought to light, school leadership and the school board allowed for these clear acts of discrimination to go unchecked. The Texas State Historical Association reveals that the district was part of a segregated system until the late 1960s. This historical background (and most recent incidents) raise questions about how deeply ingrained and prevalent systemic racism is within the district’s policies and practices. Instances like these highlight the urgent need for schools and districts to prioritize the development of anti-racist policies and procedures that ensure the safety and well-being of all students and educators.

The insurrection of American public education fueled by racism is not only attacking inclusive pedagogy, continuing unjust discipline practices but in some states, Black and Brown communities are fighting against the erosion of democracy of public education. This week, Texas Education Agency (TEA) imposed a state takeover of Houston ISD by dismantling local control, replacing the superintendent and elected school board members. Thus, diminishing the influence of parents, students and local educators who intimately understand the needs of their community. This top-down approach undermines the very essence of democracy and denies students, especially those from historically marginalized backgrounds, the chance to shape their own educational experiences. It perpetuates a cycle of inequity that hinders the progress of Black and Brown children, who already face systemic barriers within education. In response to the takeover, activist and parent, Lauren Ashley Simmons in a now viral video, passionately expressed the concerns of her community with the newly appointed superintendent Mike Miles. Our “good sis” Simmons concerns included HISD falling into the same charter school pitfall that New Orleans went into after Katrina and the loss of the community being able to choose their school board. Also, another concern is that the takeover is a strategy executed by Texas republicans as a way to punish a very democratic leaning city and its Black and Brown majority. Additionally, Superintendent Mike Miles is also under fire for his recent decision to convert some school libraries into “team centers” where students placed in these centers for disciplinary actions will watch their class on Zoom and complete individual assignments. State takeovers, such as the one imposed on HISD, often lack evidence of their effectiveness in improving student outcomes.

Collective action…

At such challenging times, it is crucial for parents and supporters like Lauren Ashley to speak out against the actions of TEA and individuals like Mike Miles. By raising our collective voices and advocating for equitable policies and practices, we can push back against the erosion of democracy and demand a fair and just education system for all students. It is imperative for policymakers, educators and communities to confront the insurrection of education head-on by implementing anti-racist curriculum, supporting inclusive policies and creating safe spaces for all students, educators and parents. Only through collective action can we dismantle the structures that perpetuate racism within our schools and pave the way for a truly equitable education system.

We cannot fail to heed the warnings of the January 6th insurrection. If we do not take this time to atone as a country and work towards racial equity the chickens will come home to roost. As they always do.

About the Authors:

Mia Street, MEd

An award winning educator, her journey in education led her to teaching and eventually becoming a district administrator leading transformational work. Her work inside and outside of the classroom has helped to create equitable educational spaces. She currently consults with different organizations and specializes in leveraging partnerships with educational agencies and industry professionals to promote, create and increase equity in education. She currently holds the following roles: Kidada Education Design, Founder, BH365 Foundation, Executive Director, Dallas CORE Chief Growth Officer, NAACP Texas State Education Committee Member and co-author of the upcoming book entitled Sister Syllabus. Website KidadaEd.com

Dr. William Garcia-Medina

Dr. García-Medina is currently a Charles Phelps Taft Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Cincinnati. His research focuses on Black diasporic public humanities, AfroLatinx education, cultural studies, and museum studies. García-Medina has provided educational consulting,training, and workshops for numerous organizations, universities, school districts, and museums. He has taught courses in Latino Studies, American Studies, and Black Studies and has published in these fields in academic journals, blogs, and podcasts. García-Medina has contributed to Latino Rebels since 2015 and has been a guest on national broadcast radio such as Latino USA and NPR. He tweets from @afrolatinoed.

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