Between banning books and limiting classroom instruction on Black history and racism, America’s public school educators have taken a beating. Thirty-five states introduced legislation or started taking other steps to restrict teaching critical race theory (CRT). In the past year, 14 states imposed restrictions on how history is being taught in the classroom. The conservative-based movement’s objective is to remove students’ access to topics that make adults feel uncomfortable or are contrary to their dogma, writes Lauren Camera for U.S. News and World Report.
Some of these anti-CRT movements are also promoted under the guise of the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” and Republican lawmakers have made this a talking point. During the 2020-21 school year, a time of pandemic shutdowns and Zoom classes, politicians responded to a handful of concerned parents. They encouraged all constituents to pay closer attention to their child’s daily lesson plans.
Then, the world watched as a brave young woman videotaped the murder of George Floyd at the hands of three police officers. The mistreatment of Blacks in the United States became a hot topic, as did systemic racism. Gaining an understanding of how Black history affects the present became crucial.
Children had questions about topics typically only adults would discuss, such as Jim Crow laws, police brutality, people of color being treated differently than whites by those in authority, and how slavery was to blame. These are questions most adults cannot satisfactorily answer for themselves, let alone someone else.
The problem teachers are facing now is directly related to most white American adults’ lack of answers. In their lack of understanding of Black history and how it led to the murder of a Black man at the hands of three white cops, they became uncomfortable. Unfortunately, in the past 50 years, society has gradually made it easier to turn a blind eye to things people cannot explain. This is being played out in more than half of the United States.
State representatives said the new bills are designed to keep teachers from telling their pupils what to think and keep them from encouraging students to see divisions. Teachers are also not allowed to ask their pupils to temporarily adopt perspectives that differ from their parents on topics like Black Lives Matter, Black history, slavery, systemic racism, in-equity, gender identity, and human sexuality.
Most of these bills mimicked an executive order signed in September 2020 by then-President Donald Trump that banned certain types of diversity training within the federal government and its agencies. In addition, it contained a list of “divisive concepts,” explains EducationWeek.
In some states, proposed laws expand the boundaries of what educators are allowed to teach. The legislation also would empower parents by giving them more oversight of their child’s curriculum and challenge books available to children in school libraries, according to those polled by EducationWeek. The 14 states where a “bill was signed into law or a similar state-level action were approved” are: New Hampshire, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, Utah, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
The harshest crackdowns could keep students from learning Black history that happened in their states or communities, according to AXIOS author Russell Contreras. For example:
- In South Dakota, the governor recently introduced legislation prohibiting K-12 and colleges from teaching a litany of lessons on racial horrors, including the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre of Lakota people by the U.S. Army.
- State politicians in Alabama are expected to discuss a bill to stop colleges from teaching critical race theory. Thus, it would not allow teachers to take about why John Lewis was beaten during a voting rights march in 1965 or why knowing this part of Black history is important.
- In Mississippi and Florida, legislators are considering bills that would ban history lessons if they will cause students discomfort, especially about their race.
- The New Hampshire bill signed by its Republican governor in June 2021 prohibits “any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America.”
Black history is part of American history. The two cannot be separated and no one should try to rewrite the past or prevent others from learning about who they are or from where they came — especially not government officials.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
The Washington Post: Black History Month is not critical race theory, Alabama educator says in response to complaints; by Timothy Bella
AXIOS: New rules are limiting how teachers can teach Black History Month; by Russell Contreras
Newsweek: Death Threats and Fights Over Critical Race Theory Have Driven at Least Six Educators to Resignl; by Daniel Villarreal
EducationWeek: Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack
EducationWeek: Here’s the Long List of Topics Republicans Want Banned From the Classroom; by Sarah Schwartz and Eesha Pendharkar
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