As back-to-school season inches closer and closer (or in some states is already here *insert sob here*), teachers this year are preparing a little differently, particularly in states like Texas where a bill (HB 3979) denouncing critical race theory was recently signed into law. For a party that is hell-bent on limited government and self-autonomy, this Republican-backed bill limits the way teachers can discuss current events in class. In addition, students are banned from receiving credit for participating in civic activities. It will go into effect on September 1, 2021.
Critical race theory has been a hot topic since the spring, but the discussion began last fall, when a right-wing thinker spoke on the topic, which captured the attention of the former president. Since then, it has become a new area of interest and focus for Republicans. Multiple states have introduced bills similar to Texas HB 3979.
Critical race theory (CRT) holds that race is a social construct that is used to oppress marginalized communities and communities of color. Early work on CRT dates back to the 1970’s, and became official in 1989 at the first annual Workshop on Critical Race Theory. Many scholars have contributed to the study of CRT, one of the most notable being Kimberlé Crenshaw, who recently talked about how she is dealing with the right-wing attacks on her work. The main work of CRT is the examination of existing structures in institutions through an anti-racist lens.
Why We Need Critical Race Theory
As a parent of school-aged children, a Texan, and a former educator, I think that the goal is to not try to influence what kids should believe or not believe, but to give them the tools and the safe space to make those decisions for themselves. With that said, here’s why I think CRT is important in the classroom:
Kids need to have the language and tools to have discussions around racial issues in order to avoid problems like this: people are so uncomfortable with it that they create and support laws prohibiting these crucial discussions. Denying an education that paints a broader, more accurate picture further perpetuates the single (false) narrative of America: an utterly blemish-free utopia. This has been the standard from the start, and it must be disrupted.
We need to respect children by not lying to them. For example, sharing a history that is incomplete and does not reflect the experiences of all communities in this country is leaving out crucial details. Leaving out details is, essentially, lying.
Lastly, if curriculum can cover wars and weapons and death in detail, then it should include learning about social justice issues.
Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas
Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How To Decolonize the Creative Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell