It’s here, darn it! I had been hoping we would escape the latest topic in the so-called “history wars.” Can’t really be surprised because it seems to be everywhere else.
It showed up in the current issues of Time and Education Week and nearly all the national newspapers. Now it has infiltrated our lives here in Miami County. One of our area legislators announced last month that she will file a bill to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in all Kansas schools.
I wish she wouldn’t.
“Banning” concerns me, and I don’t think it’s necessary. Let me try to explain.
As I understand it, Critical Race Theory is a concept that refers to the idea that policies and institutions in this country are inherently racist and must be considered, rethought and even reorganized through application of anti-racist constructs. Wow! More simply, it suggests that history and sociology courses need to be honestly taught. Some of the “good, bad and even ugly” truths of this country need to be understood.
According to the National Education Association, CRT is currently being taught only on the college level, mostly in ethics classes and in law schools. It is not intended to change facts but to require examination of them with a new understanding. (In my day, we called that “thinking things through.” I certainly had to do that back when I was teaching Faulkner and the Holocaust to classes of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds.)
Those opposed to the teaching of this theory seem to fear that it would lead students to lose faith in this country and to feel guilty about past injustices. I think there may be some truth in that. I also think that such awareness does not necessarily lead to a lack of patriotism or love for our county.
Lots of foolish things are still taught in school, largely because of faulty textbooks. I’m thinking about the lies about Columbus, the Pilgrims and Betsy Ross and also about the old Tom Paxton song “What Did You Learn in School Today?” Its third verse addresses the present argument: “I learned our country must be strong; It’s always right and never wrong.” Don’t we wish it were so?
This is, as Olivia Waxman recently wrote in Time: “...a debate between people who think children shouldn’t be burdened with the past, and those who want kids to learn how the legacy of that past shapes American policy today. Is our national history merely a tool to inspire patriotism or is it, as historians argue, a valuable lesson?...our understanding of the past is a key factor in how we envision our future. This is about the story — and the myths — America tells about itself.”
Remember, please, that Critical Race Theory is not even being taught on the K-Hi levels in Kansas. In fact, we can wonder what is being taught. Research by the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of this nation’s most powerful forces in the battle against racial justice and intolerance, revealed that only 8 percent of all high school seniors “could identify slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War.” No wonder we have a culture clash.
We have to find some way to help us all understand the perspectives of others. That is a characteristic of an educated citizenry. However we choose to do this, with CRT or not, let’s allow legislators to legislate, educators to educate and those who “think out loud” to occasionally pontificate.