The War on Children of Color in Schools

Melanie Barry, Copy Editor

One step forward, two steps back. That appears to be the 2022 mantra of the United States, and this is arguably best demonstrated by the right-wing anti-CRT movement. Public and private schools across the nation, though unsurprisingly concentrated in southern and midwestern states, are effectively banning discussions of race and racism in classrooms. Why? Because it makes white students “feel bad.”

Texas was one of the first states to pass statewide legislature prohibiting the training and teaching of critical race theory, or CRT. As a result, many black Texans, such as husband and wife Michael Cook and Jenelle Berry-Cook, no longer feel welcome in their home. The couple, who have three children in the Plano Independent School District, tell Dallas Morning News that they have been advocating for the inclusion of black voices ever since they were verbally accosted at a school board meeting about teaching CRT in schools. Even though white students make up only 32% of Plano ISD, the discussion was led by white school board members and overwhelmingly attended by white parents – some who were wearing bulletproof vests.

We know that curriculum on the history of racism in the U.S. is not intended to villainize today’s white children, as many conservatives claim. Why? As we saw in Plano ISD, conversations on race and marginal representation are generally not being led by POC, but by white people. Berry-Cook believes the anti-CRT movement is really just “backlash against increasing awareness of racial injustices…and recent moves by school leaders to confront longstanding inequities.”

It is important to establish before we continue: most experts will concur that prior to the explosion of the CRT debate in 2020, CRT was never taught in K-12 schools in the first place. Instead, conservative politicians and supporters simply use the phrase as an inappropriately-applied umbrella term for schools’ various diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts – which means that elimination of these efforts harms other marginalized groups besides POC, such as LGBTQ+ children and religious minorities. A second grade teacher reads his class a picture book about Jackie Robinson? Critical race theory. A middle school holds an assembly on the harm of microaggressions? Critical race theory. A high school history teacher makes the assertion that slavery was wrong, or that Hitler is objectively “bad” for overseeing the Holocaust? Critical race theory.

The last one may sound like a stretch, but unfortunately in many schools, it is not. In Wyoming, the 2022 HB97 bill, which would ban CRT if passed, included the provision that “controversial aspects of history” could only be taught “from a holistic point of view, a complete, neutral and unbiased perspective of the subject matter or prism.” Wyoming state Rep. Andy Schwartz (D) told the Washington Post, “I am Jewish, and I cannot accept a neutral, judgement-free approach on the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II.” Luckily, largely thanks to Schwartz’s input (hence why it is crucial that marginalized voices are represented), the bill failed to pass the initial round in Wyoming. However, this has not been the outcome in some recent similar cases.

The fact that state education departments are pushing to simply discard the history of slavery, the Holocaust, the civil rights movement, and modern-day forms of racial ignorance and racism (because apparently just severely sugar-coating it is not good enough anymore) just for the sake of clearing white peoples’ consciouses says a lot about the U.S. today.

Children of color in the U.S., especially black children, still have to endure social cruelty along with innumerable systematic disadvantages (take a look at these statistical charts on systemic racism if you need convincing) – but white kids need to be shielded from that reality? Cook says it best: “How is my child old enough to experience racism and your child not old enough to learn about it?”

Children of color do not have the privilege of simply looking away from the hard, racially-fueled realities of life, because they are its victims. Just because white children do have that privilege does not justify them taking advantage of it. Raising white children on a false narrative that racism is no longer and never really was an issue in U.S. society so as to protect their feelings is wrong. It yields a generation of ignorant, naïve adults without empathy whose uneducated opinions will be represented in our government – which, unfortunately, is arguably the goal of the Republican Party. And then the cycle continues.

Educating students and expanding the minds of people who have been surrounded by a single narrative most of their lives is the answer. Stopping when we have just begun is not.