Kambria's Corner Opinion

No, your kids aren’t learning Critical Race Theory — but they do need inclusive history

A bookshelf and table at the Wisconsin State Historical Society library.

“This legislation treats students as equal under the law,” Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) said during a press conference.

Republican Wisconsin lawmakers are some of the many in the nation that have now proposed legislation to ban teaching Critical Race Theory in public K-12 schools and in workplaces.

A similar belief among those who proposed these legislations is that they don’t want discrimination to be taught in school. Furthermore, many state that Critical Race Theory is racist and supports the idea that one race is superior to another. 

This is completely misleading.

Critical Race Theory has existed since the 1970s and proposes that it is imperative to teach an inclusive historical curriculum. Critical Race Theory analyzes American laws and how racism in the United States is systematic. This theory is never formally taught in a K-12 curriculum. Rather, the current issue relates to concerns of teaching children anything that is considered bad about American history. For example, many problems arise when teaching about the Founding Fathers. Teachers telling students that George Washington owned hundreds of slaves and that Thomas Jefferson engaged in a non-consensual relationship with one of his slaves, is considered taboo and therefore shouldn’t be taught.

Throughout the years of the American education system, many parts of history have been omitted to suit a more digestible version of American history. History, however, isn’t meant to be altered to suit a specific narrative. History encapsulates the good, bad, and ugly side of the human race. To study history is to learn and grow from our mistakes to create a better future.

While formal Critical Race Theory is primarily taught in post-secondary institutions, there still have been issues raised within K-12 education. For many states, this does in fact look like banning the New York Times’ 1619 Project and anything that resembles it. That also is to include banning talking about important historical events like the Tulsa Race Massacre. This is due to states mandating that a curriculum cannot make students feel uncomfortable on account of their own race or gender. But for many educators, these uncomfortable conversations are integral to teaching.

Despite this theory’s existence spanning almost 50 years, it really only got traction as a new political agenda item last year. Critical Race Theory has been politicized and thrown into one of the many political issues that are being tackled in 2021. Included in this is banning The 1619 Project, which focuses on our nation’s history from the time African slaves were brought into Virginia in 1619. This project teaches about our nation’s history with slavery and its treatment of African Americans. To combat this project, the 1776 Project was created, which spotlights our Founding Fathers our country’s heritage with little or no mention of its several problems. 

Additionally, Critical Race Theory proposes that racism is systematic — embedded within our social practices and our policies. In an interview, Kimberlé Crenshaw defended this curriculum by reminding those opposed what this actually means for education stating, “… we believe in the promises of equality. And we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.”

A high school social studies teacher in the Madison area, who asked for his name to be withheld, is one of the many proponents of Critical Race Theory. “For people scared of it, they need to realize that it’s not really about making white people feel bad, or claiming that all white people’s ancestors were cruel and responsible for the nation’s worst,” he said.  “[Opponents] need to realize that it’s not about them, and this sort of teaching never was.” 

Just because the truth isn’t palatable to all doesn’t mean that it should be concealed and hidden. Our country cannot heal these wounds by omitting the truth from young scholars who can actually work toward building a better future for all. Banning Critical Race Theory has never been about equality, it has been about preserving an easily digestible narrative that won’t upset parents at PTO meetings. 

We can’t move forward without acknowledging our past and our present. Banning a fictitious idea of Critical Race Theory is yet another setback from establishing an inclusive historical curriculum to reckon with our past and to create a better future for our children.

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