Teaching About Racism Versus Critical Race Theory: A False Equivalency
I am not a teacher. I am not a parent. I did, however, attend public school from fifth grade through high school. Before this, I attended a private catholic school (a Montessori school if that means something in this case). When I was in first grade, my class put on a play for our parents: a fairy tale called “The First Thanksgiving.” Half of us played as pilgrims and the other half dressed up as “Indians.” In this tale, we were all happy to be together on the same land. Us pilgrims (the part I played) were kind explorers who wanted nothing more than to be friends with our new neighbors. The Native Americans were kind and full of the level of hospitality one only expects in the South. If I remember it correctly, they provided all the food and the pilgrims were simply moochers. I was seven years old at the time, so at this point in time, my social studies education was whitewashed to the point where our chalkboards should have been dry erased. That same year, we also learned about how Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” and my social studies teacher sang a song about it. Interestingly enough, we still had school on Columbus Day. We were told he discovered America, but my dad being the unfiltered man he is, told me it was actually discovered by vikings. Neither of them told me about Christopher Columbus’s actions once he reached North America, but once again I was only seven.
Fast forward to eighth grade and I was attending public school and learning about history. This time, my classroom had a dry erase board, but the history was not washed with the same color. For the first time, I learned the truth about Thanksgiving. It turns out the pilgrims weren’t moochers because they did in fact bring something to the table: smallpox. The first Thanksgiving was certainly full of tension, like many family gatherings nowadays except for the fact that this time the guests truly were not invited. They showed up and took what they wanted, but unlike your in-laws, these people never left. That same year, I also learned why Christopher Columbus was a dick and later on, Andrew Jackson. Being 14 as opposed to seven, I was more mature, so it was easier to accept harsh truths about American history. I learned about this thirteen school years ago, so in my mind, racism was already being taught in schools. So when conservatives all of a sudden started shouting about Critical Race Theory indoctrinating their children, I began to wonder if teachers have since gone past simply teaching students about what happened in the past and actually started making white kids feel bad about themselves.
First of all, the media is doing a terrible job covering this issue, as one can expect for pretty much anything. The right keeps throwing around the term “Critical Race Theory” to the point where we now have multiple states with legislators who felt the need to outright ban the teaching of racism in schools (1). Talking heads on FOX News champion this legislation, equating telling the truth about our past to teaching white people they’re all racists. This is obviously a false equivalency, but unfortunately, mainstream corporate media outlets are failing to acknowledge how some schools have arguably taken these lessons too far (2). Regarding my most recent citation, I found this article as a reference while reading an article in The Washington Examiner, which is openly conservative (3). It is unfortunate how in this day in age, one has to view so many different sources to understand both sides of a debate.
I’m a free thinker and I believe schools need to teach students to be the same way. Teach children about history in an uncensored manner. They need to understand our racist past, including details regarding our institutions. Present all the facts so children know the truth. They will understand it’s wrong without being told. Let them learn about privilege through real life experiences. It will be easier for them to acknowledge it when they know the truth about our past as a country. At the same time, save the opinions. A teacher’s political views have no place in our classrooms until the students are old enough to have learned about the differences in political philosophies and can also have formed political views on their own. In some schools where opinions are being given, most children lack the basic literacy skills to think for themselves (4). In Philadelphia, we had an instance where fifth graders were chanting “Free Angela Davis.” At this same school, only 13% of the high school graduates in this district had achieved basic literacy. Shouldn’t they be able to read about Angela Davis before they decide whether or not she should be freed? To be clear, I have no opinion on this issue because I’ve never even heard of her. That’s not the point I’m trying to make. At my school, I wouldn’t have been allowed to enter second grade if I couldn’t read. If you want an example of institutional racism, look no further than the fact that the city of Philadelphia is looking the other way while a school with a population that’s 94% black is setting up their students for failure.
On the other side of the spectrum, I have a friend who attended school in Maryville, Tennessee. He never learned in school about the truth behind Andrew Jackson, Christopher Columbus, or the first Thanksgiving. Schools such as his are the reasons why liberals and activists on the left want to see changes in how racism is taught in school, and quite frankly, I agree with them. We deserve to know the facts, so we can acknowledge the wrongdoings of our past and improve our society. Just make sure the students know the basics first: reading, writing, and arithmetic. After all, those are the branches of the learning tree.