I inwardly breathe a weary, cyclone-force sigh whenever I hear the words “critical race theory.”
“This is very clearly an attack on diversity, equity (and) inclusion. It very much feels like a political overreach based on misinformation,” Ana Ramón, deputy director of advocacy at the Intercultural Development Research Association, told CNN’s Nicole Chavez. “Teaching critical race theory in K-12 would be like teaching quantum physics in K-12. … There’s no curriculum that has been adopted in Texas classrooms.”
Maybe the most disturbing thing about the tub-thumping about CRT (which, it’s worth repeating, isn’t taught in grade school) is that the core impulse is hardly new — but instead fits into a long, messy history of fights over classroom instruction. As students return to school, adults could benefit from more context about what’s going on.
Here’s what these ever-simmering battles reveal about the US’s socio-political anxieties over, among other things, race, gender and immigration.
How did the backlash to CRT creep into schools?
Republicans trust that playing up these conflicts will be electorally useful to them, as they train their attention on the 2022 midterms and beyond.
The orchestrated attack on CRT takes a toll on teachers, staff and students.
It isn’t a stretch to say that the current struggle over how schools teach not just history but the ways history moves in the present might affect students’ understanding of the world around them for years to come.
Is this the first time the political right has freaked out over learning about race and racism?
No. This dispute has existed in a variety of forms since at least the 1800s.
Have there been education disputes over things other than race?
For instance, World War I set off a burst of xenophobia aimed not only at German immigrants and Americans of German descent but also at the German language. Senator William H. King of Utah introduced a bill to ban teaching German in Washington’s public schools.
More specifically, the legislature, made up of a near-majority of Ku Klux Klan members, passed a law that banned the use in public schools of any textbook that “speaks slightingly of the founders of the republic, or of the men who preserved the union, or which belittles or undervalues their work.”
“Fights in and about the classroom — classroom wars — formed a crucial crucible in which the powerful political notion of ‘family values’ was contested and constructed,” she writes.
So while the present-day backlash to CRT might feel unique, really, it’s not. It’s just the latest iteration of an age-old tendency to turn the classroom into a battlefield.