BY JULIA MANSON
Today, many American children are attending their history classes to learn about Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America, the Revolutionary War and the Industrial Revolution. However, in many states across the country, there is one aspect being neglected in the classroom: race.
In recent years, parents and school boards have been debating what American schoolchildren should and should not be taught in class. U.S. lawmakers are at the center of these conversations, and many have formed legislation to eradicate race, gender and sexuality from the K-12 curriculum.
According to an Education Week analysis, since January 2021, 42 states have bills or other measures in their state legislatures which intend to limit the teachings of Critical Race Theory (CRT) or lessons on gender, race and sex. The analysis says that Alabama codified a resolution that banned schools from teaching “concepts that impute fault, blame, a tendency to oppress others, or the need to feel guilt or anguish to persons solely because of their race or sex.” Additionally, the study highlights that in 2022, the Florida board of education voted to “approve a rule that prohibits schools from teaching critical race theory and the 1619 Project.”
Alison Parker, chair of the university’s history department and co-chair of the UD Antiracism initiative, explained the origins of CRT and why it is a polarizing issue today in the American education system.
“Critical Race Theory is an academic sub-discipline that’s usually taught in law schools and graduate schools,” Parker said. “It helps young people who are studying to be lawyers understand maybe how to think about the systemic nature of racism and discrimination.”
According to Parker, CRT isn’t necessarily based on an individual act of racism, but more so how institutions, like the various American legal, financial and healthcare systems, are generationally rooted in inequality and unequal access.
Parker also spoke about why the notion of CRT is discussed in school boards across the country, and how it is being used as a weapon to remove the topic of race in history classes.
“There is no CRT being taught in schools … what’s happening is that’s becoming the catchphrase, the label, that nobody even knew about outside of law schools until a few years ago,” Parker said. “It was just something that somebody picked up on and turned into a scare tactic.”
Parker gave insight as to what the repercussions would be if legislators within the anti-CRT movement continue further and introduce more bills aimed to strike down the teachings of systemic race issues in American history.
“If we are ending up telling a much more limited and narrow story that doesn’t allow us to see how incredibly rich and dynamic American history is, that is inherently problematic … that’s the biggest concern going forward” Parker said.
On Nov. 2, Victor Ray, associate professor in the department of sociology, criminal justice and African American studies at the University of Iowa, spoke in an online lecture at the University of Delaware, in a lecture titled, “On Critical Race Theory: Why it Matters & Why You Should Care.”
Ray opened the lecture with a personal anecdote about his experiences with racism and spoke about how his own personal experiences reflected the greater purpose of CRT.
“Critical Race Theory recognizes that narratives influence our understanding of the world and it uses stories as an empathetic bridge across racial divides,” Ray said.
Like Parker, Ray also pointed to the weaponization of CRT as a means to erase race in schools.
“Just as white parents protested the physical desegregation following the Civil Rights Movement, now, white parents were protesting the perceived slight desegregation of the curriculum in response to Black Lives Matter,” Ray said.
Additionally, Ray said that it is troubling to see historically-inaccurate rhetoric make a narrative around Critical Race Theory.
“The anti-CRT fervor revives many of the worst habits of anti-American anti-intellectualism,” Ray said.
According to Ray, attacks on CRT itself have been very effective, as they stem from recent protest movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement, as “the scale demands and impact of these protests terrified some people invested in the racial status quo.”
Furthermore, Ray pointed out how interesting it is to see how many of the theory’s central ideas are affirmed by these attacks and backlash. For instance, by making teachers rewrite a curriculum that had displayed recent progress shows “the fragility of racial progress.”
Ray argued that CRT theorists do not strive to tear American progress apart, but they instead want to unveil the racism that is embedded into our culture.
“Critical Race Theory doesn’t want to destroy America,” Ray said. “It does want to reckon squarely with the way American racism has destroyed lives.”
I was educated in Newark, DE — one of the “best” school systems in the country at the time. And I was never, ever taught the history of our town and how they treated people who were other than white. I am very proud to say that I ended a long period of my family’s racism in how I raised my children.
I totally support the teaching of “true” history to our current students. Anything that the University of Delaware can do to promote this teaching I will back 100%.