Critical Race Theory made headlines across Wisconsin this week as state lawmakers voted to ban Critical Race Theory from K-12 programs. This decision has sparked many opinions about education in our schools, but more than anything, perhaps it should spark more action around education in our homes and hearts as well as in schools.
When I was trained to be a high school history teacher over 20 years ago, I studied how to help young people develop critical thinking while learning the facts of history. The process was simple: describe the basic facts of a historical event, examine the primary sources of the period that exposed students to various perspectives, then challenge them to consider how the event related to other parts. of history and human experience. What were its causes? What were its impacts, in the short and long term? What parts of the story were missing?
For this process to run smoothly, certain terms needed to be defined and understood, such as prejudice, racism, sexism and classism. Students were expected to have the skills to interpret information accurately, including reading tables and maps. In addition, students had to be able to identify propaganda and its dangers. All of these basic skills are essential for understanding the story and drawing conclusions. In many ways, these are also basic civic engagement skills these days.
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This standard pedagogy used in history and social studies classes is currently under attack, not only in Wisconsin, but across the United States. Given the current political landscape, this is not surprising: knowledge is power, and if teaching methods and curriculum may be restricted in history classes, then the ways in which young people understand. and interpret the past are checked. If knowledge is limited or chaos creates confusion, it weakens the collective ability to organize to resist injustice, help protect human rights, and oppose the status quo.
I am no longer a history teacher, but I am deeply concerned about the impact of political unrest on educators, like my former colleagues. If you are also concerned about peace, fairness and justice, then you should be too.
What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical race theory is a very poorly understood academic term. Kimberlé Crenshaw (one of the law professors who helped invent the term in the 1980s) defined critical race theory as “a way of examining the role of law in platform, facilitation, the production and even the isolation of racial inequalities in our country “. This means that analyzing injustice in our nation’s history requires a study of the laws and policies that created the structures, events, and systems that impact people’s lives and experiences.
African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate for African Americans on drug charges is almost six times that of whites. Compared to whites, why are so many people of color incarcerated? Probably because racial prejudice influences the criminal justice system.
The GI Bill signed in 1944 provided for federal assistance to veterans in the form of housing and unemployment benefits. Yet many banks have refused to approve loans to black veterans, resulting in less than 100 of the 67,000 mortgages made to non-white borrowers in some suburbs. Why are so many people of color poor? Probably because it was more difficult for them to get loans or housing.
In other words, Critical Race Theory aims to answer one of my former history teacher’s favorite questions: “Why? This is one of the most important questions any educator can ask.
But what hits the media on critical race theory is based on invented definitions of an academic term. “Critical race theory says that every white person is racist,” said Senator Ted Cruz. This, however, is not true. And as the foundations of good education are under attack across the country, we must resist chaotic propaganda, let our lawmakers know we don’t want education policy to be tampered with, and promote the truth: Racism is systemic. and history. We are at the time of accounts, of reconciliation and of reconstruction.
The education most needed to combat racism in our society extends far beyond our schools. It starts with each of us asking “why”. It begins with critical self-reflection, identifying our unintentional microaggressions and exposing our own white privilege. It starts with recognizing racism (even unintentional) within ourselves and learning how our societal systems, including schools, perpetuate it. It is only with this knowledge that we can resolve to do and be better and do our part to change the systems that perpetuate racism.
In photos: The Great River Road in Wisconsin and Minnesota