It’s Cold Outside and Teachers are Feeling the Chilling Effects of State Laws about Critical Race Theory

It’s cold out outside and teachers are feeling the chilling effect from state laws being passed to curb teaching about systemic racism, according to a recent article published by Education Week. More specifically, thirteen states now have passed into law similarly but loosely worded bills that their authors say are intended to prevent teachers from indoctrinating students with political ideas and make white students feel “anguish” or “guilt” for racist actions by previous generations. More than eight states are set to consider similar bills early next year according to an article published by Education week on December 10, 2021.

As a result, teachers are concerned about many things including losing their teaching licenses in states when they are perceived to be teaching Critical Race Theory. I of course, find it necessary each time that I speak about this topic to state that Critical Race Theory is not being taught in a greater majority of America’s K through 12th grade school districts. What is and/or should be taught or happening in America’s classrooms is the infusion of culture into daily lessons. In other words, if educators are going to be able to ensure that all students (including black and brown students) reach their fullest intellectual potential, teachers must weave their students’ culture into instruction. It is important however, to recognize that you cannot teach who you do not know. 

In the words of Albert Einstein, if the majority of us knew the root cause of this evil, the road to recovery would not be very long. In part, I believe that the root cause of this evil is associated with the attempted preservation of feelings and less about the truth. I find it concerning that the preservation of one’s feelings weighs more heavily than the need for our black and brown students to be aware of the resilient history of their people.

In fact, even as an adult I am not just interested in learning about how successful people are in their current state of being. I am more interested in talking to people who are willing to share their stories related to how they got to where they are today. I want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. My interest is not in spending time focused on the negative. I am interested in learning about their triumphs and struggles so that I may grow as a result of their learned experiences. Black and brown students deserve the opportunity to be exposed to and learn from the experiences of their ancestors.

I want you to know that I am concerned about the well-being of not only black and brown students. I am also concerned about the well-being of white students. I have spent time talking with white students who feel that they are being mislead because extremely relevant parts of our country’s history are being intentionally left out of curriculum. I have learned so much on this journey that I am on. It never dawned on me initially that they felt this way until I actually heard it directly from them. They are upset. They are hurt. They feel betrayed. 

As I have shared recently, history does not repeat itself. People repeat history. Therefore, so that our white students do not unintentionally repeat the negative parts of American history (which some find so painful to discuss that they want to cover it up and hide the truth), we have got to expose them. None of us can be blamed for the painful parts of our country’s history. This is not the blame game. We must however raise the consciousness of the adults in our schools and the students that they serve so that we remain solution oriented as opposed to problem creators or distractors.

In summary, let’s support our teachers who are genuinely uninterested in the politics of education. They’ve become caught up in the politics associated with the outcome of a recent presidential election, Coronavirus and now Omicron, as well as intense race relations. I’d like us to shield them from as much of this as humanly possible, figurative speaking. As opposed to being distracted by those that are using national and local platforms to spread false information relevant to the teaching of Critical Race Theory in classrooms, they should be encouraged to implement Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP) into their classrooms. According to Gloria Ladson Billings, CRP is a form of teaching that engages learners whose cultures are traditionally excluded from mainstream settings. We of course want teachers to implement CRP with peace of mind and without fear of losing their licenses. So how do we make this happen?

We need school board members, state and policy makers to recognize that having teachers caught up in the politics of education serves as counterproductive in them reaching the goal of ensuring that all students gain equitable access to a quality education. I believe that most teachers are really not interested in the politics of education. The reason that most went into the profession is because they consider it a calling, they care and they are simply trying to make a difference. Let’s support them by working at all levels of the system (including the policy level) to ensure that they are able to focus on their work.