Schools don’t need critical race theory. They need ethnic studies

From: David Carr

Teachers and educators really I had a hard time during the last years. From their crash course in technology so they could teach remotely, to becoming de facto nurses figuring out who could come back to school and who had to stay home because of COVID-19, the teachers did indeed do it all. .

And the pressure on teachers does not let up. The last political game I have seen educators face is the debate over Critical Race Theory — or CRT.

For some, CRT is an insidious way to indoctrinate our students and must be stopped on all fronts. However, when other people hear this, they suddenly get carried away and demand that there be CRT in our schools. As a former ethnic studies professor, I have to admit that I shake my head both ways.

What is needed here is a comprehensive overview of what CRT is and what it is not. And then we have to look at the real need of our students, which is meaningful ethnic studies courses to examine the neglected historical stories about how America became America.

We need to examine the real need of our students for meaningful ethnic studies courses to examine the overlooked historical stories of how America became America.

OK, let’s start by clarifying a few things: critical race theory is indeed just that. It is a theory that deals with the idea that racism is so entrenched in the foundation of the country that the only way to deal with it is to dismantle the country and start from scratch.

Usually this is debated or written about at the graduate level. However, to my knowledge, it has never been taught in K-12 schools and probably never will be in K-12 schools.

This then raises the question: what is it? The commotion is about what happened at the height of the pandemic.

During the pandemic, we have seen the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmad Arbury. These incidents shook the nation. People have taken to the streets all over the United States to demand justice and responsibility. But, as many protests have focused on these specific incidents, something else has happened in the United States. The story of America’s past began to happen.

Discussions that are left out of the history books have started to be talked about on the radio, in the news and sometimes in classrooms – whether virtual or not. Confederate statues were taken down, sometimes by force. What happened with Black Wall Street and the Tulsa massacre was now in the media, and survivors of the massacre were interviewed. The Redskins finally agreed to change their name and mascot. Even Los Angeles-based alternative rock station KROQ entered the fray by creating an audio ad calling for Juneteenth to become a national holiday!

Is this critical race theory? Should we be afraid? The answers are no and no. It’s ethnic studies, and it should be passed.

In 1993, I began teaching English Language Development for grades 9-12 in Compton, California. In 2004, I had the opportunity to teach ethnic studies at the 9th grade level. I created a program based on my observations and experiences teaching black and brown students at Compton High School, as well as the items I had collected over the years.

The class had a unique racial mix, yet no one felt “uncomfortable” when we discussed these issues. Many students, however, would ask the same question: “Why am I only hearing about these people and these stories now?” »

When I was teaching ethnic studies, the idea was simple: we were looking at historical moments that probably wouldn’t be covered in a traditional history class, but were nonetheless moments that helped shape the country. .

We would examine the ties between specific ethnic groups (African Americans, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and white working class Americans), and we would try to answer these two questions: what is leadership and what does it mean to be American?

Writing and teaching the program taught me a lot about the United States, and it taught me a lot about the students I worked with. For example, I learned and shared historical stories about Martin Luther King Jr. and his attempt to unite African Americans, Chicanos, Native Americans, and poor whites in the Campaign of the Poor.

We learned about Malcolm X and his friendship with Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American woman who worked within the confines of the black civil rights struggle and became his staunchest ally after leaving the Nation of Islam.

We debated the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and whether it should be considered part of the civil rights movement. We also looked at organizations the Black Panthers helped influence, including The Red Guard (Chinese Americans), The Young Lords (Puerto Ricans), and The Young Patriots (poor whites).

Activist and California State Senator Tom Hayden stopped by to talk about his involvement in the anti-war movement, his work with SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and what it’s like. was to interview Malcolm X for his college journal.

We looked at the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and their work registering African Americans to vote. We also looked at their coalition with United Farmworkers and, in particular, the work of Elizabeth Martinez, a Mexican American woman who was a member of SNCC before leaving to help organize Chicanos.

We did discuss the use of Native American mascots, and we’ve looked at court cases that have contributed to certain causes – like desegregation (Mendez V. Westminster before Brown V. The Board of Education) and the Filipinos who launched and won the first strike against winegrowers before Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

If you don’t know or own your own story, then you are simply giving others the green light to write your story for you.

At various times, the students voiced their opinions, which were left, right, and center. No one was insulted or canceled. The class had a unique racial mix, yet no one felt “uncomfortable” when we discussed these issues. Many students, however, would ask the same question: “Why am I only hearing about these people and these stories now?” »

Excellent question. The only answer I have in 2022 is what I learned while writing the program. If you don’t know or own your own story, then you are simply giving others the green light to write your story for you. When that happens, you get a very watered down version of what really happened in the country.

The historical stories we have dealt with are very complex. Many don’t have a nice, neat, happy ending. But America as a country is also very complex. If we want to understand and improve it, we have to know the good, the bad and the ugly. Once we allow ourselves to do this, the truth comes to light, and healing and understanding can be achieved.

Those who don’t like this type of history being taught say it will make white students uncomfortable and that these issues are too controversial. Where were these people when I sat in class and had to hear about slavery, Jim Crow and emancipation? It might have been uncomfortable, but again I say it was the truth about how the country was built. No political entity came to my rescue, nor did my classmates. And yes, these issues were controversial, but so was the Boston Tea Party, with George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and the Korean conflict. If we can learn more about these events, we can learn more about Stonewall and the Chicano Moratorium on the Vietnam War.

If we can learn more about these moments in time, we might have a better chance of understanding who we are now and where we need to go.

Another aspect of knowing your story is that you get to know the ties that bind us together. You begin to see how tiny our differences can sometimes be. You begin to learn how people can use these differences to divide us and gain power. If we can learn more about these moments in time, we might have a better chance of understanding who we are now and where we need to go.

If the spirit moves you, you can search the internet and look for these events and leaders. You can talk openly and honestly to school board members about history, social studies, and the ethnic studies curriculum that tells the whole story. If you lived through those turbulent times of the past, you could volunteer to be a guest speaker! The best part of my class was having guest speakers to share their stories of what happened when and why. Collectively, we can all get more involved and steer the conversation in the right direction.

In 1998, Vernon Reid, guitarist for New York rock band Living Color, wrote a scorching track called “Which Way to Your America.” The tune highlighted the divisions he saw at the time. If we can support great teachers teaching great ethnic studies classes, we might have a chance to rewrite the melody and start singing collectively, to OUR America. Now is the time to truly understand where we are as a country in order to move forward. Embracing all aspects of our past will indeed help shape the present and the future.

David Carr has worked in public education for 29 years. He is currently Director of Professional Services at Achieve 3000/McGraw Hill. Before landing at McGraw Hill, he was principal at Promise Charter Middle School #1 in Los Angeles. He began his career as a member of the Teach for America body teaching English language development at Compton High School, where he taught for five years.

Sharon D. Cole