Across America, school boards have become the latest battleground on the issue of mask mandates in schools. People have been threatened one another, even coming to the point of physical violence. In some states like Florida and New Hampshire, local anti-maskers are teaming up with white supremacist groups like The Proud Boys to intimidate school board members to allow students and staff to enter schools maskless. While the fight rages on, there was another issue that ignited controversy in schools and school board meetings before the mask protests—Critical Race Theory (CRT).
Spearheaded by FOX news hosts like Tucker Carlson, protesters have demanded that CRT not be taught in their schools because it, in part, teaches white children to hate themselves. Republican governors like Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt signed legislation banning its teaching, stating that “we need policies that bring us together, not rip us apart” and that “not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex.” In short, as Oklahoma City Public Schools School Board President Paula Lewis stated, the ban is an “outright racist and oppressive piece of legislation.”
As anti-CRT legislation is pushed nationwide, few realize what CRT actually is and that it is not being taught in K-12 institutions. Critical race theory is, well, a theory created in the 1970s by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others. Its main goal is to analyze the impact of America’s policies from a racial lens, such as the racial implications of housing policies that denied mortgages to black people. CRT has also been used as a lens across other fields of study, according to Education Week. Although simply a theory utilized in college, CRT has become the catch phrase for anything related to protest racial injustice. The question I find myself asking is how far do CRT protesters want to take their fight?
As a diversity, equity, and inclusion expert, I work with private, public, and charter schools across America. At one school, I met a teacher who told me how frustrated he was with a parent’s preference for teaching about Dr. King but not Malcolm X because Malcolm was, in his words, “the villain”. Have we come to a point where parents can now make a menu of their favorite historical figures that make them feel nice and wholesome like their favorite television shows growing up? Furthermore, where were these so-called CRT activists when I along with millions of nonwhite students were being taught to hate ourselves via the ways we were depicted in the school curriculum? In reality, these misrepresentations still occur today as schools across the country look for more representation of diverse perspectives and stories in their classrooms.
If we refuse to teach history in its totality, we will create the ultimate whitewash through an educational brainwash. I find myself thinking about World War II. What would removing Hitler from the history books look like? Would our books only write about the actions of then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt without talking about the evil Roosevelt helped to defeat and the millions of Jewish and other people liberated from concentration camps? Would we only talk about the heroism of the “Greatest Generation” and ignore the stories of sexual assault by American soldiers on European women? The list is endless but the main point is that we ultimately do our students a disservice when do not teach a complete and intersectional picture of history.
A recent survey by Axios survey showed that across the board, college students, including over half of college republicans, believe that legislatures should not block the teaching of history in its totality. Moreover, most college students surveyed including almost half of college republicans believe that teaching about institutional racism is necessary. In Pennsylvania, students are protesting a move by a schoolboard to ban books and videos just featuring nonwhite people like kids’ books on Rosa Parks and Malala. This generation of students do not want to have history sugarcoated. As an American University professor, I have seen first-hand the anger in the eyes of students when they learn about aspects of history that they should have learned in their K-12 experience such as how The 13th Amendment to The Constitution did not fully ban slavery or that America had a nonwhite Vice President by the name of Charles Curtis in the 1930s decades before Vice President Kamala Harris. We build a better America by raising a better informed America and that starts with teaching our full history in schools. Rather than cherry-pick history, we need to teach it all for the sake of our future.