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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Critical Race Theory: Where Are We Now?

 Executive Summary:

- the Right- “That was then, this is now and everyone is equal. Oh, and we don’t see color.”

- the Left - “We need to teach the good, the bad and the ugly so our children don’t repeat past mistakes. Oh and anyone who doesn’t toe the line on how to do that is a racist.”

That was easy, no?

I have crammed a lot into this thread but I will do a separate thread on the challenges for American History/Civics teachers, a lot of it stemming from state legislatures and proposed/passed legislation.

A few thoughts about how we got here:

From about the beginning of the 20th Century in America, there evolved this idea of all these immigrants coming to the U.S. and bringing their skills and talents and hunger to succeed and we all became a melting pot of Americans. There was a great deal of animus and racism towards each group as they came - the Irish, the Italians, etc. As long as they learned English and did American things (like learning about football and basketball and hot dogs) and became working members of society, they were grudgingly welcomed. 

Non-American immigrants’ cultures role in America initially seemed to only revolve around food. There is not a food brought over that Americans haven’t embraced. But food is certainly not the only part of any culture. 

Fast-forward to after the Vietnam War when there were many more Asians coming into the U.S. Just as we see now, with the end of the Afghan war, there are many refugees who aided the U.S. military who will be killed if they don’t get to come to the U.S. There were also more Latino and Hispanic immigrants, some via Cuba. 

The country has been in a massive upheaval since Trump was elected. For purposes of this discussion, whether that is good or bad isn’t useful. Trump actually was the one who ignited this fight over CRT. What happened is a GOP nothing muffin named Christopher Rufo was on FOX News talking about diversity trainings within the federal government. Trump saw it and had a White House official contact Rufo and all diversity trainings stopped and CRT became a hot potato issue. 

We are now in a time when five things are colliding that white America fears. 

1) According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. has 40M immigrants (people not born in the US) and the U.S. takes in one-fifth of the world’s immigrants. Seventy-seven percent of them are here legally. 

2) There are more brown and Asian immigrants, not white immigrants. The largest numbers come from Mexico, China, India, the Philippines, and El Salvador. 

To drive that point home, by about 2045, the country will be majority minorities. In 2020, we see the majority of children in this country are non-white. 

3) The aging of white America. That would mostly point to the aging Baby Boomers (that includes me). There are now more millennials than Baby Boomers but the BBs still loom large.

4) Culture is no longer just so-called “American culture” but a widening idea of what other people’s cultures are beyond food. America is not so much a melting pot, as a crowded vegetable soup. Personally, I see this especially in the entertainment industry - movies, tv and music.

5)  For the first time in history, the majority of Americans identify as socially liberal. And the majority of Americans support progressive ideas like free college,higher minimum wage, and government paid childcare.

But change is hard. I think as adults we all know that so and we know life does change (whether you like it or not). Why any one group thinks change will destroy America is a mystery to me. I believe that many whites want “the good old days” but they forget that those days were only truly available and good for white men. The quiet part they don’t want to say out loud is that everyone knew their place in ranking order and whites were at the top. 

So what is the central issue about teaching American history? 

Well, if you read Twitter, what people learned in school REALLY varies city by city, state by state. It seems clear that Southern states had very different things to say about the Civil War than probably what was taught in other states. So states and districts are all starting from different places. 

Let’s break it down.  There is:

- What is Taught

 Here’s a tweet I saw recently that made me roll my eyes (even as it has a kernal of truth).

I have been contemplating lately- how much history can we possibly pack into public school? Where do we hold adults responsible for their own learning & discovery? Should public school (sic)keep taking the blame for the massive amount of info kids don’t learn?”

Well, that has always been the challenge for schools and curriculum. Math and LA seem to have a natural progression. History does, too, in terms of timelines. You can cram a lot into a timeline but if students don’t understand what an event is or its context in American history, then it’s not that useful. This is why history is so difficult - it’s not just dates and places. 

Public education has to decide what students learn and how; that’s their charge. 

On the Right, the word “indoctrination” gets thrown around. I would venture that most countries DO choose to make sure their students know the greatness of their country and its role in the history of the world. Is that indoctrination? 

That brings us to the idea of American exceptionalism of which I am not a fan. I am so proud to be an American. I have lived abroad twice and loved the experience. But this is where I call home. There is no doubt that the United States evolved as a strong and dominant country at a pace almost unknown in history. So easy enough to believe that we are better, smarter, stronger.

But our own history betrays this idea and it’s especially galling when we try to lecture other countries on their failings when we don’t even fully admit our own.

- How It Is Taught

My first thought is, well, isn’t that the professional purview of teachers and school districts who know pedagogy and curriculum? 

I’m always amazed at how teachers are the Rodney Dangerfield of professions. (But if you had told me that we could have a pandemic and many Americans did not believe and would not listen to medical professionals, I would have laughed. And yet, here we are.)

But I think the question is more, “What will teachers be allowed to say and how will they be allowed to guide class discussions?”

History is messy. 

History gets written by the victors and to the victors go the spoils. (And that’s another statement that some white people will quietly say, “Well, sorry but we won the battles and we were the conquerers. That’s how it goes.” Subjugating one group of people and also attempting to wipe out another group of people doesn’t exactly speak well to American exceptionalism except we were just like all the other conquerers throughout history.) 

So not only do you have white America longing for a past that is way gone but they also do not want any words to sully those who we would call great (white) Americans of our nation’s history. 

Consideration that our Founding Fathers, our presidents, our activists - those who we do teach about - are (mostly) men. Human men with flaws and failings. Deifying them will then mean we do not think of them as human beings. 

I do believe the Founding Fathers had great courage in deciding to not take crap from King George any longer. They knew they could all be killed (and that was true). They wrote some pretty stirring prose that somehow has managed to stay relevant today.

Look at “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” When they wrote that, they did not mean black people or women and certainly not LGBTQ people. And yet, those words are valid today as when they were written - for all of us - as we try to live our lives in this America.

But we are in a terrible place in our country if we can’t even explain to public school students what our history was and what it means today.

For example, the U.S. Congress - just this year - passed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday. That’s great except that if a teacher gets asked about it in some classrooms, they would be unable to explain it. How do we make history that we won’t talk about?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

My god, woman. Stay in your lane. You are so clueless about basic history and you just provided receipts in this "post." Please go away.

CRT in Seattle

Anonymous said...

@1

TCG, thanks for stopping by!

LOL

Melissa Westbrook said...

So helpful. CRT in Seattle.

Stuart J said...

Each state has its own standards and amount of class time used on History. At my son's school a few years ago, students could meet the new semester requirement for Civics by taking AP History. Students not in APUSH had to take a semester of civics as well. Some students take AP US Government, which has a very prescribed curriculum and is a year-long class. I don't think there'd be room in these two AP classes for anything major about CRT unless something else gets dropped. There is room though to bring in many different issues in the context of current topics. But the 1619 project and critiques of it are pretty lengthy, not just a day or two discussion.

Discussion Needed said...

We need a conversation about individuals being cast into either an oppressor or oppressed group. Change the words oppressed and bourgeoisie to proletariat and bourgeoisie and what do you have?

There is one candidate running in District 5 that thinks CRT is American History. CRT is much more complicated and we should expect our elected school board members to be fully versed in CRT.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Readers, if you are going to send me cryptic comments, I will print them. Because the comments seem personal to me, rather than expanding the discussion. If you think I got something wrong, be specific.

Melissa Westbrook said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa Westbrook said...

Typed too fast - meant to say “I WON’T print cryptic comments.”

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Melissa, when you wrote "On the Right, the word “indoctrination” gets thrown around." my first thought is kids are already indoctrinated in public schools. There's no room for them to discover their own viewpoint or share it within the classroom. They are fed information, given tests to confirm they understand the information, then they're on to the next thing fed to them. Yes of course there are some exceptions, and lucky for those kids.

What the Right is complaining about of course, is the proposed content is too inclusive/truthful and may erode the power of white people.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Trish, I absolutely agree. That the Right complains about “indoctrination” with CRT is disingenuous given how long the white POV has dominated public education.

I will say that some teachers do have the courage to ask kids about their viewpoints or encourage other viewpoints when there is class discussion.