By Steven Mintz
The teaching of critical race theory in public schools is a hot topic and raises the question of whether it should be taught in our schools. What is it trying to accomplish? Supporters say it teaches K-12 students about equality and inequities in society. Critics claim it is teaching students that America is a fundamentally racist country and is divisive, teaching youngsters to search for racism in all aspects of life over teaching civics and history education.
Critical race theory (CRT) originated in legal academia and essentially holds that America’s legal and social institutions are inherently racist because they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites. What does this mean? Here are a few examples of those historically racist tendencies:
• Unequal treatment under the law (e.g., penalties for crimes) for Black and white Americans;
• Discrimination in housing policies (e.g., blocking Blacks from certain communities);
• Unequal access to education (e.g., schools in Black and other minority neighborhoods inferior and under-funded);
• Paucity of opportunities to move into top positions in companies (i.e., shut out of C-suite, representation on boards of directors)
• Police overreach in dealing with Black Americans (i.e., George Floyd, etc.);
• Underrepresentation in state legislatures and Congress.
CRT advocates and scholars do not consider the theory to be an effort to indoctrinate students and staff. Instead, it is an effort to provide welcoming, inclusive, affirming environments for all students.
Recently, several states and school districts have banned the teaching of CRT, passing laws to withhold funding from public schools that teach about white privilege. CRT teaches that racism is ingrained in U.S. institutions and that people who are white benefit from it.
As of June 18, 25 states had introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching CRT or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. Eight states have enacted these bans, either through legislation or other avenues.
Parents and residents protesting the teaching of CRT in Virginia’s Loudoun County descended on a school board meeting recently to promote recalling six school board members they said pushed CRT — and stood by as moms and dads who questioned the concepts were vilified. This is where “cancel culture” comes into play. Those parents were victims of social pressure and an effort to silence them or cancel them because of their thoughts. We can characterize such efforts as the “thought police” at work.
The cancel culture began when a Facebook group targeted parents opposed to the teaching of CRT and what it stands for. A member of the group, called “ant-racist parents of Loudin County,” was said to have shared a list of enemies that were parents opposed to CRT.
The teaching of CRT is being discussed in Central Coast schools as well. The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District is suggesting the possibility of banning the teaching of CRT. In their resolution posted online, the school board argues that CRT is an ideology that assigns moral fault to individuals and therefore is itself a racist ideology. Some even suggest that the theory advocates discrimination against white people to achieve equity.
Others suggest this is far from the truth. Courtney Haile, executive director with the organization RACE Matters based in San Luis Obispo, told Gina Avalos, a journalist with KSBY: “The term is being used as a blanket statement in a very organized misinformation campaign and fear-mongering campaign to describe any study of race, any anti-racism education, and even any diversity education.”
Some teachers in the Santa Barbara Unified School District have come out against the curriculum adopted last March by the California State Board of Education. Specifically, the teaching of ethnic studies, a given these days. They claim it really is “the woke curriculum” and allows radicalized teachers to indoctrinate kids at their most impressionable age and transform them, by the time they are teens, into far-left activists. The idea of teaching students to be woke means to make them more aware of racial and social injustices in America and might be called the offspring of CRT.
What worries me is the indoctrination of students in a political ideology without discussing it and trying to reach a consensus about the value of teaching CRT. We need more dialogue and civil debate, not fear-mongering activism. Being woke does not bring change. Becoming involved in your community and speaking out against the teaching of CRT might.
• Steven Mintz is a professor emeritus in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and an author and speaker on ethics issues.