Much of the rhetoric concerning critical race theory (CRT) has come from politicians and parents, many of whom are white. Missouri serves as an example. But educators have offered some commentary as well. Nine out of 10 teachers never taught CRT in their classrooms.
Thankfully, both the National Educational Association and the American Federation of Teachers both pledged to defend teachers facing legal action for teaching CRT or anything “related” to it. I say “related” because “The 1619 Project” specifically, which is not CRT, is being lumped into the banned curriculum. What “The 1619 Project” actually is, is a piece of journalism that chronicles the United States as a nation rooted in African enslavement, while exploring the remaining vestiges of such in our nation’s institutions and systems — and the impact on Black and brown peoples.
Although white politicians and parents alike are pointing the finger at CRT, at the root of their ire is the fear of the elimination of whiteness and the power and privilege that comes with it. They are also nervous that white children and others will look at America, its racist beginnings, and the racist legacies that endure through critical eyes, and think it might just lead to systemic change – how scary for those in love with the racist status quo! For them, teaching that racism and white supremacy were foundational in the formation of the nation and remain rooted in the institutions and systems in our society is threatening to the social order, which has benefited them.
Many educators agree.
Many educators believe that conservative activists are weaponizing the legal scholarship term, using the trumped-up charge as a convenient way to ban diversity and equity initiatives among school staff and curtail teachings on race and U.S. history that they find too progressive.
In addition to the scholarship on CRT, the political rhetoric filtered through the lens of educators provides a level of insight into the thinking of teachers – the individuals who have the most direct contact with students. However, much teacher voice displayed in surveys and questionnaires, about CRT and other issues (particularly along the lines of race), tend to reflect current teacher demographics.
Roughly 80% of all teachers are white and so what do educators of color have to say about CRT and the teaching of race and American history?
What Do Black and Brown Teachers Say?
A recent study conducted by the Center for American Progress and Educolor elevated the voices of teachers of color on the subject. According to their study, educators of color felt that there was a heightened awareness of racial justice issues, that students were impacted, and that there needs to be more training, more conversations, and more guidance from schools on how to talk about racial justice issues.
- 80% of teachers surveyed did not receive any professional development or support with teaching in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubery and Breonna Taylor.
- 70% of teachers surveyed did their own readings and research to better understand racial justice and equity in education.
When asked ‘When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, what steps would you like to see your school or school district take, if any, to promote racial justice and equity in education?’, some of the teacher responses included:
- “Making sure HISTORY is taught to ALL students not just a piece of history. This country is made up of all types of people, and everyone should be represented good and bad.”
- “Provide more training for students and staff; acknowledge the inequities and open up conversations.”
- “Create a diverse teacher population that reflects our students. For example, if a school is 60% Latino kids, then teaching staff should be of a similar background.”
- “Racial justice needs to be a part of the curriculum in every school.”
While less than 10% of teachers have ever taught CRT, the percentage jumps to 20% for teachers in urban schools. That’s interesting of note, not only because more Black students attend school in urban school districts, but because the majority of Black teachers, as well as other teachers of color, teach in urban districts.
In short, teachers of color, specifically Black and Latino/a teachers, are more capable of providing alternative perspectives on curricula, pedagogy, and schooling and are likely to challenge the system that has oppressed marginalized communities. Many believe they are responsible to challenge the status quo and promote social justice through their teaching and instructions in classrooms.
I can attest to that.
As a teacher, it was my responsibility to teach young people the truth about their country. I taught in an urban school district. My children were Black and Latino/a. It was important that they could connect history with the realities of their community. It was my role to make history real for them so that they could make such a connection.
I advocated for professional development that both supported Black and Latino/a teachers, as well as equipping white teachers for teaching Black and Latino/a students in historically accurate and culturally responsive ways. I was privileged with the opportunity to facilitate a number of those sessions. I also advocated for hiring additional Black and Latino/a teachers and retaining others.
I did those things because I understood the role educators have in the life of students. Teachers are to serve as truthtellers. I don’t mean to suggest that no one else tells the truth, or that all teachers tell the truth, but teachers have an opportunity to use their content to confront racism and injustice in society with a response rooted in skills and competencies that are taught to students – so that they may change the world.
Black teachers understand this having navigated an anti-Black society.
Reading comprehension in the primary grades is foundational for analyzing and responding critically to essay pieces that challenge the worth of Black humanity. This is the connection that Black educators, and other educators of color, make, positioning themselves as revolutionaries using the schoolhouse as the training ground for future revolutionaries to secure justice in our nation.
Black educators, as well as others, recognize the danger of failing to teach the history of our nation, as well as how to interpret acts of racial injustice in society. Currently, 26 states have introduced bills to restrict the teaching of CRT and racism; 11 states have enacted bans of teaching either. Twelve states have enacted these bans, either through legislation or other avenues. However, our work doesn’t change or stop because some are fearful of irrelevance, retribution or even justice.
Our role is critical to the outcomes of all students, particularly Black and brown students. Our expertise and perspective must be sought out and applied in ways that improve educational spaces for all.
Fear cannot dictate the narrative about truth and the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” cannot simply be a thing we teach children to recite.
We must tell the truth and walk it like we talk it.