How should schools teach about racism that’s happening right now?

There is scant support for state governors and legislatures deciding how racism and slavery are taught.
By: | February 7, 2022
(AdobeStock)(AdobeStock)

As the furor over critical race theory ensnares school leaders, no consensus is emerging over how to teach about the current impacts of racism and slavery.

In what may be welcome news for superintendents, principals and their teams, there is scant support for state governors and legislatures playing a major role in deciding how these issues are taught.

At the same time, Americans from across the political spectrum say parents and teachers should have the greatest influence over how slavery and racism are taught, according to the latest “Mood of the Nation” poll from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University and the APM Research Lab.

And while 90% of those surveyed say schools should teach about slavery, only a slim majority (49% to 41%) believe students should learn about its lingering impacts and contemporary racism.

“Overall, this poll finds highest levels of support for parents of children in public schools in terms of who should influence school policy decisions ranging from the recent controversial issues of COVID safety protocols and teaching about racism to the longer-term educational debates relating to how evolution and sexual education should be taught,” the authors of the poll said. “In contrast, the public consistently ranked state elected officials near the bottom.”

Social studies, science and health teachers are also seen as key decision-makers in how slavery and race, evolution, and sexual education are taught, the poll found.

On the slavery and race issue, more than three-quarters of Black Americans, Democrats, and political independents who lean Democrat say schools should teach about ongoing impacts but fewer than 1 in 5 Republicans—only 16%—agree.

Nearly 60% of born-again Christians and Republicans—compared to less than a quarter of Democrats—say parents should have the greatest influence on the teaching of slavery and race.


More from DA: 10 reasons why discussing race in class improves outcomes for all students


Here are some of the poll’s other findings on evolution and sexual education:

  • Three-fourths of the public say students taking sexual ed should learn about contraception and the dangers of STDs.
  • Only 25% believe that only the dangers of STDs should be taught and that abstinence until marriage should be recommended.
  • 90% of Americans say schools should teach scientific evolution but half say the subject should be combined with biblical perspectives of creation.
  • Several groups favor a “scientific evolution only” position, including a majority of those younger than 45, a majority of those in the “other” racial category (which includes Asian, American Indian and Alaskan Natives, Asian, Pacific Islander) and multiracial Americans, and those with an annual family income of $100,000 or more.