Lesson of the day: “Critical Race Theory: A Brief History”


For example, in June, the Florida State Board of Education passed amendments banning Critical Race Theory and Project 1619 in its classrooms. One amendment read:

Instructions on the subjects required should be factual and objective, and should not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, slavery, civil war and reconstruction, the civil rights movement and contributions of women, African Americans and Hispanics to our country, as already provided for in Section 1003.42 (2), FS Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with standards approved by the State Council include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust and the teaching of critical race theory, that is, the theory that racism is not simply the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to maintain the supremacy of white people. Instruction cannot use materials from Project 1619 and cannot define American history as anything other than the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles set out in the Declaration of Independence.

Tennessee House Bill SB 0623 prohibits any teaching which could cause an individual to “experience discomfort, guilt, anguish or other form of psychological distress solely because of the race or gender of the individual” and restricts teaching which leads to “division between, or resentment of, a race, gender, religion, creed, non-violent political affiliation, social class, or class of people.”

Texas House Bill 3979 prohibits teaching that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations, betrayals, or breaches of the genuine founding principles of the United States.”

Carefully read, analyze, and interpret any of the above amendments, proposals, or bills, or one from your own state or local school board. Then answer the following questions:

  • What do you notice in the text? What words, expressions and language stand out and why? What questions do you have about the proposal or the legislation?

  • Do your best to sort through the jargon and legal jargon to try to rephrase what you have read in your own words and combat their implications. For example, what does the Florida Amendment mean to “distort significant historical events”? What do you think this might look like in practice? Or take a look at the Tennessee bill. How will students, teachers, parents and interested citizens determine whether teaching results in “a division or resentment between race, gender, religion, creed, non-violent political affiliation, social class or a class of people ”?

  • What impact do you think the legislation or the proposal will have on teachers, pupils and classrooms? Do you think these rules and laws will help or hinder a safe, healthy and productive learning environment? Will they ensure an accurate understanding of race and American history, or will they have the opposite effect and deny it? Are these laws and amendments too broad or vague – with language like “divisive concepts” – and therefore will they easily be misused? Or are they so broad that they are mostly symbolic and are likely to have little real impact in the classroom?

Option 3: Imagine you were invited to your local school board or the state capital to speak out for or against anti-CRT laws.

Meetings of local school boards have become central battlegrounds in the fight against CRT. But one important perspective that has been largely missing from the current debate is that of students and adolescents: What do you think adults are missing in this conversation? What would you want them to understand from a teenager’s perspective? How to do you do you think schools should teach race and racism?

Working individually or as a team, write the opening statement to present to your local school board. Be sure to build on your own specific experiences studying race and racism in school that you began to articulate in the warm-up activity.

To help you frame your point of view, you can take a look at the growing list of resources available on this topic, inside and outside of The Times.


About Leslie Schwartz

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