Teachers concerned about critical debate over racial theory

Teachers across the country are on edge amid the heated national debate over critical race theory, as Republican lawmakers in several states have passed or introduced legislation that would limit how race and racism are discussed in classrooms.

Leaders of professional educators’ associations and unions say the measures have sparked unease among some educators about what the legislative push means for classroom discussions in the future, while others are using their collective voice. to oppose bills they deem unnecessary and dangerous.

Colin Sharkey – executive director of the Association of American Educators, a national association of non-union, non-partisan professional educators with about 25,000 members – said the pressure to regulate classroom discussions about race and racism worried some teachers of possible retaliation.

“When you feel in the middle or in the hot seat or you’re being pulled in different directions or parents want one thing but the school needs something else, teachers are concerned with very practical matters,” he said. Sharkey said, adding that “Am I going to be sued or fired if I say or don’t say something?” is one of those questions.

Bills proposed by Republicans prohibit teaching that the United States is “fundamentally or systematically racist”, that traits such as “a hard work ethic” were created by “one race to oppress another. race ”, or that individuals because of their race are“ inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members ”of the same race, among others.

Nearly two dozen states have introduced such bills in recent months, and five GOP-led states – Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and Iowa – have passed them.

Republican governors who have given the green light to the legislation have presented the bills as thwarting “discriminatory indoctrination” and concepts that they say will divide students on race, while denouncing the decades-old construction known as Critical Race Theory, although the majority of Bills avoid using the term.

Amanda Curtis – president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, a union with more than 20,000 members, more than half of whom are educators – told The Hill that the “biggest response” she has seen is educators’ part is “really just a confusion” about the legislative push for racial discussions and the conservative storm over critical race theory.

“Our members wanted to know, what does this really mean? What does this really say? How does this actually affect me? And should I change what I’m doing now? Curtis told The Hill. “And the answer to these questions is, nothing. It doesn’t affect you. And no, you don’t need to change it.

Lisa Covington – an educator in Iowa and leader of Black Lives Matter at School, a national coalition committed to racial justice in education – said some educators she works with have already reported “a chilling effect” among his colleagues concerning the teaching of the breed.

Covington said educators have noticed the change in the months since lawmakers in Iowa introduced a bill banning diversity training, including teaching the concept that the state and the United States “are fundamentally or systematically racist or sexist”.

“Teachers are afraid to teach the truth about American history. … You have a kind of self-control of a few educators, especially white educators who have tried to teach race and racism, going back to that old way of teaching, ”she said. declared.

In Oklahoma, where Gov. Kevin Stitt (right) signed a law last month prohibiting classrooms from teaching concepts about race, a school cited the law as canceling a teacher’s class on white privilege.

An Oklahoma City Community College spokesperson confirmed to the Washington Post that the school canceled the course after “learning more” about recent law and “how it essentially revokes any ability to teach critical theory of race, including discussions of white privilege, compulsory courses in Oklahoma.

While the law does not include the term “critical race theory,” it does include language seen in other bills prohibiting schools from teaching that “the moral character of an individual is necessarily determined by his race or sex ”or that“ an individual should be discriminated against or receive unfavorable treatment solely or in part on the basis of race or sex.

Experts say Republicans are using the phrase Critical Race Theory as a catch-all for uncomfortable race conversations and misleading the public with a new term bogeyman in order to appeal to their base.

Richard Benson, who teaches critical race theory as an associate professor in the education department at Spelman College, described the concept as a theoretical sociological construct that emerged in the legal sphere in the early to mid-1980s.

Construction, Benson said, “simply states that racism is rampant in all sectors of American society.”

“If anyone really wants to get a glimpse of [critical race theory], they would look at some of the principles and say it theorizes how race and racism challenge and affect society as a whole, ”he said.

Benson said the principles of the theory are not the same as concepts criticized and forbidden by Republicans and noted that critical race theory is typically only taught in graduate schools or law schools.

In Montana, Curtis said some educators had expressed concerns about lawsuits after state attorney general Austin Knudsen (R) last month issued an advisory saying that “teaching the theory criticism of race or so-called “anti-racism” in Montana schools violates the US Constitution. “

Curtis lambasted Knudsen for his “ridiculous” opinion and said any legal action that arises “will be of no value.”

“The Attorney General even quoted at the end of his opinion [that it] will have no effect or encroachment on academic freedom or freedom of expression, ”she said. “So he even somehow acknowledges, in his opinion, that this document is really just political demagoguery and will have no effect on teachers and schools.”

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said her group feared parents and administrators “would respond based on media coverage” as opposed to “the actual language” of her state’s law.

“These concerns are that some parents may allege that a teacher is teaching content prohibited by the bill on the sole basis of what has been said and posted on the matter,” she said.

Laura Renée Chandler, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Oglethorpe University, said that when discussing critical race theory people “should reject or at least be a bit more critical of having this conversation “on Tory terms that are targeting him, which she noted don’t even” define it correctly. “

“It’s really important that we have informed voices who understand this work and who understand what teachers are actually doing in the classroom,” she said. “These are the people who should be having the conversation and not these politicians.”

Chandler said she believed the Republican push against critical race theory was in part a “reaction” to national attention to racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek. Chauvin, who pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest in May 2020.

“As a nation, we’ve had more conversations about race and racial injustice and police violence than I think we ever had really, certainly in my lifetime, and I think these people are very uncomfortable with these conversations, ”she said. mentionned.

She pointed to the Trump administration’s controversial executive order last year that targeted “divisive concepts” in some diversity training for government employees as the “precursor” to recent GOP-backed legislation banning concepts formulated similarly in schools.

“Now you have all these state lawmakers trying to keep this going,” she said.

Some of the laws that have been introduced or advanced in some states, including West Virginia and Tennessee, include provisions that threaten to suspend funding to agencies or schools in the state that violate restrictions on racial discussions.

In recent months, Republican lawmakers have also tabled legislation to impose budget and budget cuts on schools that include New York Times Project 1619 in their history curriculum.

The New York Times Magazine launched Project 1619, which examines the role slavery played in the founding of the nation, in 2019. The project has garnered praise and support from historians and has since been used as an educational tool in classrooms across the country. .

However, the project and its creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, have been criticized by the former President TrumpDonald Trump White House denies suspension of military aid to Ukraine Poll: 30% of GOP voters believe Trump will ‘likely’ be reinstated this year Black secret service agent tells Trump he’s offensive to organize a rally in Tulsa on June 17: PLUS report and other prominent Republicans who claim the project is “rewriting American history.”

Becky Pringle – president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union – said the bills would not prevent teachers from having discussions about race, noting that educators her organization has heard of remain determined to teach students “the truth” about race.

She also noted that educators are professionals who are equipped to handle discussions about race in classrooms and “to ensure that we prepare our students with the knowledge and skills and the ability to think critically about difficult problems ”.

“As an eighth grade science teacher for over 30 years, I can tell you that there is nothing I would like less than a politician to make educational decisions for our students,” she said. declared. “It’s for us, the educators, the professionals.”

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