Tennessee is the latest state to ban teachers from teaching certain concepts of race and racism in public schools. Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill into law on May 24, 2021.
“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,” Lee told reporters at the time.
In other words, don’t teach students how white people were, and perhaps still are, racists.
Critical race theory, an academic concept about systemic racism, has become a target of Republican legislators in states across the country. At least six states have introduced bills that aim to place limitations on lessons about race and inequality being taught in American schools.
In Texas, a bill that has passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled legislature would impose restrictions banning public universities from requiring students to take diversity trainings. That bill, H.B. 3979, was written by Republican Steve Toth, who often rails against critical race theory as anti-white, anti-Christian, and anti-American.
“Critical race theory says I’m a white supremacist,” Toth told ABC affiliate KVUE in a recent interview. “Anyone that is not a person on color is a white supremacist…That’s ridiculous.”
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founding critical race theorist and Columbia Law School professor, said the concept of critical race theory is being misrepresented and used as a political tool.
Critical race theory is a study in academia based on the concepts of systemic and institutional racism. Systemic racism refers to how the government has discriminated against Black, Indigenous and other people of color through unjust policies concerning housing, employment, criminal justice, education and more.
Critical race theory, she said, “is a discipline that seeks to understand how racism has shaped U.S. laws and how those laws have continued to impact the lives of non-white people.”
The 1619 Project was developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, writers from The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States‘ national narrative.” The project was first published in The New York Times Magazine in August 2019 for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the English colony of Virginia.
“In every aspect of our lives, we encounter race,” said Jane Bolgatz, the associate dean for academic affairs at Fordham University Graduate School of Education. “If we aren’t talking about race, we aren’t noticing the ways in which society pushes white people forward. And so, then we’re not noticing the fact that these winds are not only pushing them forward but pushing people of color backward.”
According to Beverly McKittrick, Director, Government Affairs at Altria Monday, May 17, 2021, “Virtually all white people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism.”
Prominent Critical Race Scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia Williams share an interest in recognizing racism as a quotidian component of American life (manifested in textual sources like literature, film, law, etc.). In doing so, they attempt to confront the beliefs and practices that enable racism to persist, while also challenging these practices in order to seek liberation from systemic racism.
Once again, according to Ms. McKittrick, “There is racism in America. It must be addressed and thwarted at every turn. We can all agree that students should be exposed to the bad and the ugly as well as the good. But CRT denies the great progress of America, which many courageous Americans have fought to achieve; and the great promise of America, which many risk their lives to be a part of, to be an American.”
Ronald J. Krotoszynski Jr., a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and author of “The Disappearing First Amendment,” argues that “These laws (recently introduced and signed into law) are both misguided and unconstitutional; they constitute bad educational policy, and in the higher education context, they violate the First Amendment.
At a time when we desperately need to have more frank and open conversations about race, class, social justice and the concept of ‘the other,’ they hamstring educators charged with preparing young people to live and work in an increasingly diverse society.”
In Keyishian v. Board of Regents, decided in 1967, the court invalidated New York’s Feinberg Law,which imposed a loyalty oath and proscribed the teaching of “subversive” doctrines in the state’s colleges and universities. Writing for the majority, Justice William Brennan Jr. observed, “Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom … a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.” A unanimous Supreme Court reaffirmed Keyishian in the 1985 University of Michigan v. Ewingdecision, holding that “academic freedom thrives not only on the independent and uninhibited exchange of ideas among teachers and students, but also … on autonomous decisionmaking by the academy itself.” And, in 2000′s University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, Justice David Souter cited a bevy of precedents while observing that “we have long recognized the constitutional importance of academic freedom.”
In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — better known as the Kerner Commission — put out a report that attempted to address systemic racism in the US, including police violence against Black people.
At the time, the commission’s findings shocked many Americans because for the first time, “White racism” was noted as a major cause for the unequal status and living conditions of Black Americans, said the commission’s last surviving member, former Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris.
Adrian Florida wrote on May 28, 2021 in an NPR column that “Teachers Say Laws Banning Critical Race Theory Are Putting A Chill on Their Lessons.”
“Educators say the newly adopted and proposed laws are already forcing teachers to second guess whether they can lead students in conversations about race and structural racism that many feel are critical at a time the nation is navigating an important reckoning on those issues.
“We need to do it, because our students desire it,” she said. “But how do we do that without opening Oklahoma City public schools up to a lawsuit?” Paula Lewis, chair of the Oklahoma City School Board, said “What if they (the teacher) say the wrong thing? What if somebody in their class brings up the word oppression or systemic racism? Are they in danger? Is their job in danger?”
According to an article by Elliott C. McLaughlin on May 29, 2012 in CNN, the teachings of the Critical race theory and the 1619 Project emphasize 11 key truths:
Land was taken.
Slavery was the law.
Interracial marriage was banned.
Voting was restricted.
Jim Crow was accepted.
Lynching was tolerated.
Immigration was biased.
Education was curtailed.
Good jobs were elusive.
Housing was exclusionary.
Health care was inferior.
The debate over Critical race theory and the 1619 project had made its way to Indian River County, FL..
Rosemary Wilson, a Sebastian, FL Republican advocate, spoke at a May, 11, 2012 Indian River County FL school board meeting saying “the new (critical race) curriculum for millions of dollars, is objectionable due to its content of indoctrination.”
She asked “Do you support teaching that all white people play a part in systemic racism?”
While it is true former President Trump banned the federal government and federal contractors from using CRT-based trainings that promote racial stereotyping or scapegoating, President Biden reversed Mr. Trump’s executive order, thus permitting these concepts to again be used in federal employee trainings — he doubled down by proposing to provide federal money to develop these types of programs in public schools.
Ms. Wilson seems to imply the Critical race theory has already made it into text books and the school board needs to take a stand. President Biden has only been president for five months.
Joseph Parr, an 18-year-old political science minor at Stetson University also addressed the school board the same evening. “Teaching about this (Critical race theory) is not indoctrination…it happened; it should be taught. You don’t re-write history. That won’t work anymore. We all know the truth.” (Apparently he was booed in the lobby.)
Aside from differing points of view at our local school board meeting, Laura Zork, a former school board member is advocating against teaching the theory in schools by holding community meetings.
In December, 2020, Zorc was, hired by FreedomWorks, a Washington-based, nationally recognized conservative advocacy group founded in 1984 to enlist and mobilize activists.
A tenant of Freedomworks is the following as posted on their site:
“Critical Race Theory, the 1619 project, and Common Core standards have paved the way for biased, anti-American, subjective curricula. With a decline in students’ reading on grade level and increased high school dropout rates, it is more important than ever to get back to teaching the basics and spend less time socially engineering children with vicious, destructive propaganda. We must counter the anti-America narrative by regaining local control of the curriculum through parent involvement, legislative action, transparent textbook and content adoption, and the election of high-quality school board members, district by district.”
These words stick out: “Biased, anti-American, subjective, socially engineering children with vicious, destructive propaganda and anti-American narrative. Apparently Ms. Zork is traveling district to district advocating these tenants distributing handbooks to instruct parental groups on how to advocate these beliefs before school boards.