Critical race theory should be taught in K-12 schools

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Last April, the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District banned teaching critical race theory. In response, Cal State Fullerton announced that it would temporarily halt the placement of its student teachers in the district, saying the new district policies did not align with the university’s beliefs. Critical Race Theory is an academic framework centered on the idea that racism is systemic and not just the product of individual people or prejudice. The events to ban it are part of the larger picture of the anti-criticism of race theory panic gripping the nation. There is a need for schools not to keep their students completely in the dark about complex issues such as race and how it affects them and the society in which they live.

Marie Evanston, a UCR professor who teaches contemporary moral issues such as racism, explained: “Critical race theory asks us to take a closer look at the hypothesis of individualism. That as an individual living in a society you are subject to systems and institutions, which means that you are not completely free. Understanding the deeper systemic forces that affect an individual’s path to success is important because they are impossible to dismantle otherwise. This is why there is such a push to demonize critical race theory. If it’s seen as a problem and not a solution, then there’s less willingness to embrace tools that will allow people to critically assess the forces shaping – and for some, oppressing – their lives. This allows the government to pretend that everything is fine and that the system does not need to change.

Fullerton’s punitive response to the school district’s resolution may cause some to question whether it was reasonable for a higher education institution to demand this of public school districts. Fullerton and Placentia-Yorba Linda have an almost symbiotic relationship. A big percentage students from the district will go to colleges in California, such as Fullerton, where they will use the knowledge and critical thinking skills they learned in school. Upon graduation, a number of them will return to school districts like Placentia-Yorba as educators. Fullerton has now chosen to sever this mutually beneficial relationship, and he has the right and the responsibility to do so.

The moral panic that conservatives have generated over critical race theory has slowly worked on a microscopic level, through the actions of individual school districts such as Placentia-Yorba Linda. This signals a darker future for critical race theory. As the demonization of it continues, ideological clashes like the one between Fullerton and Placentia-Yorba Linda will only get worse unless there is a concerted effort to combat it. A hard line has been drawn, and overworked students and teachers will be the hardest hit if America continues to be unable to have a meaningful discussion about systemic racism that leads to real change.

Sharon D. Cole