Teachers often receive mixed signals when it comes to discussing race in the classroom.
We are told to treat our students fairly, no matter who they are or where they come from. Yet we are given a program that emphasizes white experiences over everyone else’s.
In college, my curriculum required only one multicultural literature course. While Shakespeare’s classes were compulsory, African-American literature classes were optional. But I taught in South Florida, where 86 percent of the students in my school were not white, three-quarters were from low-income households. Many did not speak English as their mother tongue.
Nowhere in my training to be a high school English teacher have I had the tools to educate my students about the role of racism in society – certainly not in a way that allowed them to make sense of the issue. world in which they currently live.
Of course, that was around 2014. Florida public schools would surely have advanced their views to align with the current awareness of social justice. Right?
Enter the current political debate on Critical Race Theory, a set of ideas examining how racism is embedded in American society and institutions. Across the country, debate has exploded in legislative space, causing a division between those who support the teaching of racism in schools and those who believe it is a divisive discourse that can transform schools. students of color versus white students.
Can you guess which side of the debate Florida Republican lawmakers are on?
In March, Governor Ron DeSantis offered $ 116 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to reshape civics education in schools or, in his words, to “remove politicization from the program.” Following in his footsteps, state education commissioner Richard Corcoran proposed a rule that would impose strict guidelines on the teaching of US history in public schools, prohibiting teachers from sharing ” their personal opinions âor to attemptâ to indoctrinate students with a particular point of view â.
The State Board of Education will vote on the proposal at its June 10 meeting at Florida State College in Jacksonville. Corcoran’s proposal doesn’t sound too outrageous on paper, but his public comments reveal a broader goal of eliminating educational texts and ideas that allow students to think critically about the history of the systemic marginalization of the world. America in our schools.
At a recent event ironically titled “Education is Freedom,” Corcoran told a crowd at Hillsdale College in Michigan, “you have to watch ‘teachers’ on a daily basis” to make sure things as critical race theory is not taught to students, WJCT reported.
Check teachers daily to make sure they don’t make white people look bad in their lesson plans? Don’t be surprised if English teachers spend a few extra weeks at Orwell and Bradbury next year.
In the past, DeSantis has said that “critical race theory” teaches children “to hate their country and to hate each other.”
The problem is, hate already exists in our public schools. But, this does not follow from learning about existing racial divisions. That’s not possible, many K-12 schools don’t even teach Critical Race Theory, according to PolitiFact reports.
The first step in easing tensions between our students is to educate them, early and often, about diverse racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic perspectives – not just those that support a false notion of patriotism. But, don’t take it from me. Take it from someone who has been racially bullied throughout their school experience.
A few months after the start of the pandemic, I woke up to an Instagram message from my former students, Shay Asad, a 12-year-old student at the time, whom I was teaching in Tallahassee during my teaching internship.
âApart from my CM1 teacher, you were the only one to have ever arrested a student for saying racism [stuff] for me, âthe post read.
With Asad’s help, the memory came running back. In a class, Asad, a Palestinian student who arrived in America at the age of 5, helped me translate a line of text I had forgotten the meaning of.
âBismillah,â I said out loud. “Does anyone know what this means?” Asad raised his hand and translated the Arabic phrase for the class. Not two seconds later, a white student next to her joked, “You would know that, because you are a terrorist.”
My jaw dropped. Without really thinking, I discovered the kid, almost to shame him and I made him apologize on the spot.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Asad used to hear comments like that. Every September 11, whenever the Middle East made headlines, Asad and his sisters suffered because of their appearance and their background. A parent of one of his school friends once asked him to speak out against jihadism, according to Asad. You know, just to make sure she wasn’t aligned with militant Islamic terrorists. A completely normal experience for an elementary school child growing up in white America.
âIt got to the point where I would come home without even telling my mom about these kinds of experiences, because she would get so excited,â Asad said. “She would go to the headmaster and demand an apology that just turned into something else to intimidate me.”
I remember this incident not to brag, but to illustrate the hatred that is already ingrained in our public schools.
âI felt so good that you said something,â Asad said. “I felt so good that you looked visibly shocked and disgusted because I can’t tell you how many times the teachers heard these things and completely ignored it because they probably agreed.”
Florida lawmakers fear that teaching students things like “white privilege” and “discrimination” will make them hate America. Sorry, Desantis, but this ship has sailed.
“The way we do it now, it seems like the trust isn’t really in the system anymore, âAsad said. “There are a lot of people who wake up and see that there is a very different version of America.”
Asad and other minority students are shown that it is okay for whites to dehumanize people of color. And white students are shown that there are no real consequences to acting on their prejudices. I asked Asad if she thought this student had learned her lesson. His honest answer, âNo. ”
âYou hope that at some point they look inside themselves and become a better person,â Asad said. “But, they end up having really successful careers and a very good life because the system is designed for them.”
Asad’s experience illustrates the need to teach problems from multiple perspectives, so that students can draw accurate and inclusive conclusions about the world around us.
As a former teacher, I understand how important it is to equip students with a critical mind. I understand that making certain taboo subjects to discuss in class for fear of being fired threatens any chance of creating a truly fair learning environment. What I don’t understand is why lawmakers like DeSantis and private schools like Coral Gables’ Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart are so afraid of critical race theory.
It’s almost as if they want to maintain the power structure that benefits people like them by depriving students, especially those of color, of the tools they need to think for themselves.
The debate on critical race theory should not remain abstract. Here are some concrete resources teachers can draw on to help create a culturally appropriate classroom:
Lauren Costantino is an audience engagement producer for the Miami Herald Editorial Board. She is a former Palm Beach County teacher.