School board meetings have recently become the setting for some of the United State’s biggest debates on controversial topics. Parents and community members have been flocking to these meetings to voice their opinions on topics like mask mandates, vaccine mandates and critical race theory (CRT). Critical race theory has been one of the hottest topics, yet few seem to completely understand what it actually is. Still, there is outrage among parents and community members who believe that teaching critical race theory in schools is indoctrinating their children.
In Oct. 2021, California became the first state to require ethnic studies to be taught to all high school students as a graduation requirement — a huge step toward ensuring a well-rounded education for California students. This law signed by Governor Newson will go into effect with the graduating classes of 2030. Through the new curriculum, this law will encourage students to think more openly about the experiences of different racial and cultural groups throughout history.
Ethnic studies, however, is different from critical race theory. The latter examines the way in which the US was built on racist beliefs that can still be found in our systems today. Despite the differences, people are still concerned about the effects ethnic studies may have on students and that it could potentially lead to critical race theory being taught.
In rural Northern California, just 60 miles northeast of Sacramento, sits Nevada County — a majority white county home to just under 100,000 people. On Nov. 10, Nevada Joint Union High School District (NJUHSD) held a meeting where critical race theory was discussed. Moreover, outside attendance and comments were heard and encouraged at the meeting.
At the meeting, a group self-proclaimed as “Protecting American Ideals,” gave a brief presentation where they dissected and identified instances of critical race theory in the district’s recent anti-racist efforts. The group showed a PowerPoint presentation where other names for critical race theory were displayed, in what seemed like an attempt to warn others what to watch out for. Among these other names were “equity,” “social justice,” “diversity, equity and inclusion,” “culturally responsive teaching” and “social-emotional learning.” The group argued that all of these names needed to be ridden from our schools.
Those who oppose teaching critical race theory, including those at the NJUHSD meeting, often argue that it is indoctrinating their children with “radical” views, or that these types of teaching methods force white students to be taught that they were “born an oppressor” and black students that they were “born a victim.” Further, opponents of CRT feel that the concept puts too much emphasis on race and will further contribute to racism against people of all backgrounds. They frequently suggest that a “color blind” approach should be taken to ensure equality.
However, encouraging students to not notice color, with hopes that it will eliminate biases, has been proven ineffective. Not recognizing our differences invalidates the experiences of minorities. It also teaches people to not recognize blatant racial discrimination, furthering the cycle of discrimination in American systems. The color blindness approach is solely a way for people to avoid uncomfortable conversations that expose their own biases. Children in schools must be taught to appreciate diversity rather than ignore it, even if it means having uncomfortable conversations.
Education does not exist in a vacuum. For it to be effective it must interact with and address the society around it, including the problematic and imperfect parts. Schools must first acknowledge their own biases and then encourage their students to recognize theirs. Without recognizing the biases we all have, we will not be able to move to a more equitable society.
Moreover, equity is something we should strive for, not something that should be ridden from our school. No two students are the same and we must provide each of them with the appropriate levels of support. Consequently, we must also recognize that different racial groups face unavoidable struggles that must not be ignored. These struggles must be taken into account when teaching in order to maximize every student’s success.
Those who feel threatened by critical race theory and anti-racist efforts in schools should take some time and look inward to what they are truly advocating for. Do we really want to stop teaching our students the truth? Do we want to eliminate large periods of U.S. history just because they don’t align with certain political ideals?
In addition, those on our school boards and who hold political office must reject these attempts to halt anti-racist efforts in our schools. The groups such as “Protecting American Ideals” cannot be told that their ideas and contributions are appreciated. This is only further encouraging that their ideas are valid. In democracy, compromise is important — yet, there comes a time when dangerous actions must be rejected outright; when compromise is not possible. This is one of those times.
Claire Schad is an Opinion Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.