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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Equity & Diversity Opinion

‘Students Deserve to Know Our History'

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 07, 2021 9 min read
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(This is the final post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here; Part Two here, and Part Three here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

A number of states have either passed or are considering legislation that would ban critical race theory and, in some cases, many types of lessons that teach about systemic racism. How should educators respond to these efforts?

In Part One, Ashley McCall, Jennifer Jilot, Lorie Barber, and Ishmael Robinson shared their reflections.

In Part Two, Neema Avashia, Margaret Thornton, and Ruth Okoye contributed their commentaries.

In Part Three, Jennifer Borgioli Binis, Meg Tegerdine, and Stephanie Smith Budhai, Ph.D., wrote their answers.

Today, Rosa Perez-Isiah and Shannon R. Waite, Ed.D., “finish up” the series.

What CRT Is and Is Not

Rosa Perez-Isiah serves as director of elementary ed., equity, and access for a school district in California. She is an author, consultant, and advocate for equity and social justice:

The introduction and passing of legislation that bans the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 education is misaligned, confusing, and frankly, unnecessary. This push to ban CRT in schools has resulted in rushed implementation of divisive policies that disrupt equity, anti-bias, and anti-racist work in education. We are witnessing a grand misinformation campaign designed to create panic and fear by those who refuse to acknowledge that racism, bias, and inequity exist. All in hopes that we slow the equity and social-justice momentum that has grown across this nation since the murder of George Floyd and the civil rights protests that followed.

The allegations and misinformation about the K-12 curriculum shared by those who welcome and promote the banning of CRT should be a great concern to every educator and educational leader. Teaching the history of our country includes everyone’s history. Creating equitable and healthy learning communities where every student feels seen, validated, and acknowledged should always be part of teaching and learning. Critical race theory is not part of that work.

What IS CRT?

Let me begin by sharing what CRT is.

Critical race theory is rooted in academia and even then, rarely taught in graduate school. CRT includes five tenets that are part of a legal framework created by Kimberle Crenshaw, Derrick Bell, and Richard Delgado. I learned about CRT in my doctoral program while researching theoretical frameworks. At the heart of CRT is the concept that racism goes beyond individual racism and is rooted in law and across a number of systems. CRT teaches that racism is a social construct that shapes a number of policies and practices in America. CRT is a strong framework, but I have never taught or applied CRT to my work as a K-12 educator or leader and have yet to meet a teacher who has.

What is NOT CRT?

CRT is not a theory that harms or indoctrinates children, as mentioned by some who promote the bans and teaching of racism. CRT does not blame children for the wrongs of this country. Educators should know that

  • CRT is not synonymous with culturally responsive teaching.
  • CRT is not synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • CRT is not synonymous with equity, diversity, or social justice.
  • CRT is not taught in K-12 education.

How Should Educators Respond? Teach the Truth for Change

Teaching should always teach the truth and history of America. This includes the histories of all people and the injustices that many faced and continue to face. Are we truly teaching history if we choose to leave parts of it out? Avoiding conversations about race or inequity is a privilege for some but a matter of life and death for others. We can’t begin to change the wrongs that exist if we pretend that they’re not part of our past and, in some cases, the present. Our students deserve to know our history.

Knowledge about our past and the history of this country, good and bad, is power. The power to understand and create change. That knowledge includes age-appropriate grade-level curriculum and lessons focused on historical figures, events, and impact. That knowledge also includes social-emotional learning, empathy, and self-awareness. Educators must continue to teach and share that knowledge through an equity and social-justice lens. We must teach the truth for change. And that work does not and has not included the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 education.


‘Criticality Is the Nemesis of Indoctrination’

Shannon R. Waite, Ed.D., will be a visiting assistant professor at Howard University this fall. Waite is a mayoral appointee on the Panel for Educational Policy and a trustee for the Board of Education Retirement System in New York City:

Legislatures around the country are banning the use of and/or considering legislation legalizing the ban of a theory which is not used in P-12 classrooms. Critical race theory is being intentionally misconstrued and misrepresented. The legislators introducing these bills insist that they are doing so in the name of defending and “saving” American history. U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said, “American schools should be a place for education—not indoctrination. … This state-sponsored anti-American propaganda must be kept out of the classroom.” However, history articulates a different narrative regarding America’s relationship with indoctrination.

Indoctrination, in fact, has been a part of the well-documented legacy of white-supremacist propaganda utilized in classrooms since the founding of this country. Indigenous natives were forced into boarding schools that were developed for the sole purpose of assimilating or indoctrinating them with Euro-American norms and values. Immigrants have been expected to assimilate and indoctrinated to accept customs and norms perpetuated as “American values” for centuries.

Contrary to what Blackburn and those of her ilk purport, America has reached the acclaim of being a global superpower by weaponizing and mastering the tool of indoctrination. Ergo, the issue is not indoctrination; the issue is the theory they believe is being indoctrinated within schools. CRT allows for the examination of race, racism, and power and uses history to examine these constructs as well as how they intersect. This is likely problematic to these legislatures because America has been anti-Black since it’s founding.

The uproar over CRT has little to do with saving America or preserving American history; it has everything to do with preserving whiteness and perpetuating white-supremacist ideology. Modern-day legislatures are following the tried-and-true blueprint used by the Founding Fathers to concretize racism, white supremacy, subjugation, and disenfranchisement through legislation. The three-fifths compromise was the linchpin leading to the successful ratification of the Constitution. It also legally codified the dehumanization of enslaved Africans relegating them to second-class citizenry. The Black codes, Jim Crow, and suppression of Black voters’ rights that took place during the 20th century have morphed into the industrial prison complex feeding a system of mass incarceration, continued attempts to suppress voters’ rights, and the strategic disenfranchisement of Black, Brown, and poor bodies in America.

The current ban of CRT is nothing short of an attempt to sustain white supremacy and an attempt to maintain the false narrative that America is a white nation. The increase in white-supremacist nationalism over the past four years leaves the country well positioned to revisit, rather than correct, its past errors.

Educators must remember that despite the rhetoric; teaching has always been a political act. In his “Talk to Teachers,” James Baldwin reminded them that “any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible—and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people—must be prepared to “go for broke.” Or to put it another way, you must understand that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom but in society, you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance. There is no point in pretending that this won’t happen.” History in America is ahistorical and uncritical. Criticality, and CRT explicitly, affords us the ability to examine the lies teachers have been telling in classrooms for centuries.

Criticality is the nemesis of indoctrination. CRT can enhance educators’ ability to do their jobs; it enables them to teach critical-thinking skills to their students. Criticality allows students to interrogate, explore, construct knowledge, and make meaning. Educators must decide if, as Dr. King suggested, “the purpose of education is to educate each one of us to think critically and to think intensively.” Educators should also remember that the stand they take now will impact generations to come. And, if all else fails, they should remember that the passage of these laws is not about patriotism; it’s white supremacy.


Thanks to Rosa and Shannon for their contributions!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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