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Excerpted From: Theresa Montaño and Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen, Yes, Critical Race Theory Should Be Taught in Your School: Undoing Racism in K-12 Schooling and Classrooms Through CRT, 69 UCLA Law Review Discourse 84 (2022) (61 Footnotes) (Full Document)
In 2021 the nationwide racial reckoning arrived at our elementary, middle, and high schools. Scenes of school board meetings punctuated with violent denials of racism and white supremacy along with protests against and bans on teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) became sacrosanct for the right. Filmmaker Christopher Rufo gained national prominence by intentionally stoking fear and then blaming CRT: “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think of 'critical race theory,”’ he wrote on Twitter. “We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” Uninformed, conservative parents and school board members in California and beyond are often quick to connect the teaching of CRT to the teaching of ethnic studies. For example, in a recent letter to a school board, parents warned about “the danger of Critical Race Theory slipping into our schools through the ETHNIC STUDIES CLASS.” During a school board meeting in Los Alamitos, Harriet Reid, an opponent of a new ethnic studies elective course, argued when after reviewing a slide presentation about the course: “When you read through the slides, you see nothing but critical race theory verbiage.” The same tirade against CRT and ethnic studies has been repeated at school board meetings in cities and towns across California, in Paso Robles, Placentia-Yorba, Salinas, San Diego, Orange County, Palm Springs, Riverside, and Grass Valley to name just a few. In fact, the school board in Paso Robles approved a pilot course in ethnic studies, but according to Superintendent Dubost and Trustee Nathan Williams, CRT would not be part of the course. The attacks on CRT are the latest distractions employed by right wing demagogues in their efforts to derail the movement for ethnic studies. The push to restrict teaching about racism and bias echoes across the nation with at least thirty-six states adopting or introducing such laws or policies.
In truth, the explicit teaching of CRT is rare in K-12 schools, including in ethnic studies classrooms. Beyond the challenge of translating CRT concepts, which have their roots in a complex theory taught in university and law school settings, into language that young people can engage with, it is precisely because CRT “acknowledges the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color [that] continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation” that most K-12 teachers and districts avoid the topic altogether. Despite this, since racism and injustice in schools today are directly related to the historical trajectory of racism and oppression experienced by people of color and Indigenous people in the United States, discussing racial inequity and justice is central to the teaching of ethnic studies at any level. In the school setting, given the long history of persistent school segregation and resegregation, high stakes testing, racial disparities in school discipline and special education practices, and pushout that disproportionately hurts and dehumanizes people of color and Indigenous people, a laser-focus on racism in schools is necessary. Resegregation of Black students across regions and even within schools is well-documented and most pronounced in New York, Illinois, California, and Maryland--states with such extreme segregation they are called “apartheid schools.” Knoester & Au show how high stakes testing is utilized as code to facilitate segregation through racializing decisions and resulting in racist outcomes for children of color. Even within segregated schools, students of color are dehumanized through inequitable discipline policies that result in tremendous lost instructional time for them. Similarly, students of color are disproportionately placed in special education and experience discipline disparities that sustain racialized inequities within special education settings. Finally, the rate at which our nation's schools push students of color and Indigenous students out of high school is related to less income and poorer health. The legacy of racism in schools, as documented above, demands that K-12 ethnic studies curricula center the experiences of students of color in our past, present, and futures with a particular focus on race and racism:
Attempting to challenge the reproduction of essentialist categories of race, class, and gender, ethnic studies deconstructs structural forms of domination and subordination, going beyond simplistic additives of multicultural content to the curriculum. Ethnic studies is an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and comparative study of the social, cultural, political, and economic expression and experience of ethnic groups. Ethnic studies recovers and reconstructs the counternarratives, perspectives, epistemologies, and cultures of those who have been historically neglected and denied citizenship or full participation within traditional discourse and institutions, particularly highlighting the contributions people of color have made in shaping U.S. culture and society.
CRT is one of many theoretical frameworks commonly found in ethnic studies that is used to fight entrenched racism. Rather than deny CRT is being taught in schools, it is important to point out that teachers do use CRT methods and pedagogy as a tool to disrupt the myth that educational decisions, policies, and practices are based on objectivity or neutrality. We assert that CRT belongs in schools as a tool to identify and dismantle structures, policies, and practices that harm students of color and Indigenous students, their families, their communities, and their futures.
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Antiracist pedagogy that names racism and oppression, although not widespread, is nothing new in schooling. However, ethnic studies is explicitly antiracist and centers the experiences of the four core groups of ethnic studies (Indigenous/Native American, Black, Chicanx/Latinx, and Asian American/Pacific Islander/Arab American) from their self-determined perspectives. Further, CRT in ethnic studies is not satisfied with naming racism; it is imperative that K-12 students take action based on their critical consciousness of racial injustice. Not only is CRT being taught in ethnic studies classrooms, but we need all classrooms to explicitly challenge the endemic racism in our schools in society that serves to dehumanize students of color. We believe that if you are against CRT in schools, you are for racism in schools.
Teresa Montaño, Ed.D., is a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) with an emphasis on education.
Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen, Ed.D., lectures at the University of California San Diego and UC Santa Cruz.
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