Teaching about racism is essential for education

Elected officials who have campaigned against critical race theory (CRT), the study of how social structures perpetuate racial inequality and injustice, are being sworn in across the United States. These candidates caught the attention of voters by defaming the CRT, which has become a catch-all. to describe any teaching about racial injustice. Lessons on Native American genocide, slavery, segregation and systemic racism would harm children, these candidates argued. Calling its inclusion divisive, some states have enacted legislation banning CRT from school curricula altogether.

This regressive agenda threatens the education of children by propagating a distorted view of reality in which American history and culture are the result of white virtue. It’s part of a larger agenda to avoid all truth that makes some people uncomfortable, sometimes enabling active misinformation, such as creationism. Children are particularly susceptible to misinformation, as Melinda Wenner Moyer writes in “Schooled in Lies.”

It is crucial that young people learn about equity and social justice so that they can thrive in our increasingly global, multilingual and multicultural society. When students become aware of the structural origins of inequality, they better understand the foundations of American society. They are also better equipped to understand, interpret and integrate into their worldview the sciences they learn in the classroom and experience in their lives.

Thinking about racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities helps students understand, for example, why COVID death rates among blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans were much higher than those of whites at the start of the pandemic. They can better understand why people of color are far more likely to be subjected to the ravages of pollution and climate change or how a legacy of American science experimenting on blacks and Native Americans may have led to distrust in towards doctors and health care.

Removing conversations about race and society removes truth and reality from education. This political interference is nothing new – political and cultural ideologues have fought for years to remove subjects such as evolution, Earth history and sex education from classrooms and textbooks, despite evidence that sex education helps prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, that evolution explains all life on Earth, and that the world is over a few thousand years old.

Many school districts that have appealed to anti-CRT council members are the same ones that refuse to mandate masks, despite evidence that masks can prevent the spread of COVID. These school officials also argue against vaccination mandates as a violation of personal choice. It is the same prioritization of individuals over community and unease with hard truths that characterizes the movement against the teaching of true history.

Fortunately, efforts to limit child rearing are met with stiff opposition. The American Civil Liberties Union describes moves to stifle discussion of racism in classrooms as “anathema to free speech.” And the US Department of Education is debating a series of standards for American history and civics that include bringing “diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic perspectives into teaching and learning.” Caught in the middle are teachers trying to educate children during a pandemic.

While many parents of school-age children supported anti-CRT campaigns, voters unrelated to class played a significant role in swinging this election. Parents and educators need to bring the conversation back to teaching kids about reality. EdAllies, a Minnesota-based education support nonprofit, encourages teachers to reach out to parents and administrators to explain the need for anti-racism content in their lessons, as a way to build community support .

Across the United States, school board meetings are taken over by bogeyman fear of inclusion. And after our recent elections, more board members have the power to act against the lessons they don’t like. Today, tomorrow and as long as these elected officials are in office, it is the children and the teachers who will pay the price for an incomplete education. We need to work towards a school experience that includes stories of discrimination, social justice and inequality as truths we can learn from so that history does not repeat itself.

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