Critical Race Theory Bans Could Make Best Teaching Practices IllegalRoundup
tags: curriculum, culture war, teaching history, critical race theory
Rosalie Metro (email@example.com) is an assistant teaching professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Missouri at Columbia. She focuses on Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and social studies.
I train teachers for K-12 classrooms. I share with them research-backed practices for improving student engagement, such as planning classroom libraries that reflect and affirm all students’ identities; welcoming the languages and dialects of all students into the classroom; and encouraging them to reflect on both the economic impact of systemic racism and on how their own biases may impact their interactions with students and families. Most of my students are white women, as am I. Therefore, I’ve found it especially important to prepare them to serve students who have identities different from their own, as studies show they will be more effective in this role if they actively consider the impact race has on their teaching.
Around the country, legislators are proposing bills that could make those practices illegal. In my state, Missouri, lawmakers proposed HB 952, described as a ban on critical race theory (CRT) and targeting specifically "The 1619 Project." The bill stalled in the legislature after extensive debate. But it’s not over. Just next door, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, signed an even more expansive bill into law. It’s not yet clear how these laws would affect higher education, but professional organizations including the American Association of University Professors have released statements condemning them. In any case, we’re likely to see more states join Oklahoma in the coming year.
I am no expert on CRT, so I will leave it to others to describe it in detail. As a teacher educator, CRT entered my consciousness through theorists including Gloria Ladson-Billings and William F. Tate IV, and more recently Bettina Love, who have applied it to educational contexts to explain the foundational ways that white supremacy has shaped our school systems. I am not alone; these long-overdue realizations have entered the mainstream and have influenced many of the assumptions that those in my field bring to their work.
But it is crucial to point out that many of these laws do not only ban CRT. Oklahoma’s law is written so broadly that it outlaws any form of education about racism, sexism or other forms of oppression. It reads, in part, “Any orientation or requirement that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex shall be prohibited.”
This sentence disallows not only offensive statements such as “Black people are less intelligent than whites,” but it also prohibits me from educating my students about how this very belief has shaped our school system, including how white teachers’ prejudices continue to result in lower expectations for Black students. By doing that, the bill’s authors would argue, I would be “stereotyping” white people. The bill also specifically prohibits questioning the concept of meritocracy. Therefore, if Black students have lower test scores or higher dropout rates, I am apparently supposed to ascribe this to their lack of merit, not to systemic racism in schools. Not coincidentally, I would thus be reinforcing the racist myth that “Black people are less intelligent than whites.”
So far, I haven’t talked explicitly about CRT with my students -- although ironically, I may have to start, since teachers need to consider how these bans would affect them. And I’m glad to do it, because CRT has influenced a great deal of groundbreaking research in the past decade. CRT calls for much more profound change than adding a few books to a library or taking an implicit bias test -- it demands a radical transformation of society and race relations to reorient us toward justice. When we acknowledge the large-scale failure of our education system to serve our most marginalized students, nothing less than radical change is needed.
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