Black parents have been lobbying school districts and school boards to get a more inclusive curriculum for years—from textbooks to school projects to what’s available in school libraries to more representation among teachers and school staff—seeking to change the fact that, as Mothering Justice founder Danielle Atkinson told CNN, “Our children are not having the education around race and history that they should, and it’s to our detriment and it’s a disservice to our children.” But change has been slow. And in this case, slow change harms Black and brown kids.
Then along comes the right-wing crusade against “critical race theory,” by which they mean any teaching of anything about race that makes any white person uncomfortable, up to and including children’s books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ruby Bridges. But where change has been slow for Black parents trying to get a more complete and representative history taught, white people trying to prevent schools from educating kids about race have Fox News. They have Newsmax and OAN and an army of well-paid pundits and a whole lot of Republican politicians very committed to making white parents into heroes for trying to keep the version of U.S. history taught in schools very, very white.
“This is a way for them to stop, or try to prevent the schools from actually teaching, and practicing, equity, diversity, and inclusion across the schools,” said Monica Hutchinson, a Black mother in a Virginia county that recently removed a book about Mexican American and Black teens from school libraries. “I hear a lot of white mothers say they think their child is too young to learn about racism. You know what, my child’s not too young to experience it.”
In too many cases, schools aren’t just leaving Black and brown people out of the curriculum—though that, in itself, is both shoddy education and personally damaging to the students who don’t see themselves reflected in what’s taught—they’re doing actively harmful things. Like the two teachers in Williamson County, Tennessee, who in 2019 required eighth-graders to imagine themselves as slave-owners and “Create a list of expectations for your family’s slaves.” Or the question on the 2019 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System—a standardized test required for graduation from high school—that called on students to write an essay from the perspective of a racist white character in a novel. That question was pulled from the test after an outcry, but not until many students had already had to answer it on this high-stakes test. Or the North Carolina teacher who told Black students that if it wasn’t for the Constitution, they would be “field slaves.” That happened in October 2021.
Stories like those come up every year, of teachers or education officials putting Black kids into the role of slaves or calling on students to empathize with and see through the eyes of enslavers. It is a form of violence being inflicted on children of color, and it normalizes racism for white kids. But thanks to a loud, well-funded, coordinated campaign by Republicans, the race-in-schools issue that’s getting the most attention is the idea that white kids are being told to feel bad about being white, or that kids are being taught too much about the history and ongoing existence of racism in this country. Republicans are gonna Republican. They have their angle and they’re going to keep pushing it. But the media—outside of the outlets that are effectively part of the Republican Party—should be ashamed for its overwhelming buy-in (aside from a few excellent stories like the CNN one linked up top) to this partisan campaign.