K-12 advocates join forces to push back against furor over critical race theory

Learn From History will share first-person accounts of the impact of efforts to restrict what is taught in classrooms
By: | September 10, 2021

The uproar over critical race theory has stifled classroom discussion about race, distorted how U.S. history is taught and censored educators, says a newly launched coalition of K-12 organizations.

Learn From History‘s goal is to ensure schools can teach history accurately—which includes having students understand the harm done by racism. The group will also counter the claims made by opponents of critical race theory about what is actually taught in classrooms, says Jennifer Warner, a leader of the organization.

And it will work to reduce the stress on teachers who are contending with students traumatized by the disruptions of COVID.

Learn From History “formed to respond to the rampant spread of misinformation about what is being taught in classrooms, which is fueling disturbing efforts across the country to censor teachers, omit important history lessons and ban important dialogues about racism,” Warner says. “If this continues, not only will students be deprived of crucial knowledge they need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, but an already severe teacher could get even worse.”

More than 60% of parents say their kids should learn about the continuing impact of slavery and racism, according to a new USA TODAY/Ipsos poll. On the other hand, about 4 in 10 parents support restricting the teaching of critical race theory, which is a concept taught mostly in law schools and graduate schools about the institutionalization of discrimination across U.S. society.

More from DA: Are schools teaching critical race theory? No, says one expert. 

During the furor over critical race theory during the last several months, several states have passed laws banning instruction that could make any student feel singled out based on their race. These lawmakers have argued they want to ensure white students feel comfortable in class and are not blamed for the actions of past generations.

“Much of our history is uncomfortable,” says Suzanne Schreiber, a member of the Tulsa Public Schools school board in Oklahoma. “Watching laws be passed that threaten teachers for speaking the truth is something that I would have never expected to see in the United States of America—that’s how we maintain dictatorships, with misinformation, and that’s what’s going on here.”

Learn From History will collect and share first-person accounts of the harm and costs of efforts to restrict what is taught in classrooms across the country. Its website also provides a toolkit that schools can use to ensure history is being taught accurately.

The opposition to critical race theory is just another chapter in the long history of discrimination Black Americans have faced, says Leron McAdoo, a teacher at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“Teach all the history—the good and the bad—and then pull out the life lessons from that history,” McAdoo says. “We have to have those hard conversations.”

Tips for teaching divisive topics

Teachers must take an intentional approach to heal the “us-against-them divide” that exists around race and related issues, says Irshad Manji, the founder of professional development nonprofit, Moral Courage ED.

“Each and every one of us has an other,” Manji says. “We have to teach this new generation how to engage with their so-called other, regardless of whether that other comes from a conservative family, a progrsssive family, or somewhere in between.”

Teachers should start by creating an environment where no one is shamed, blamed or labelled because of their beliefs. Educators should then define as diversity as simply just racial but as an individual. For example, teachers should help students recognize that not all members of an ethnic group hold the same beliefs.

Teachers should also make it clear that the intent of a lesson or discussion is not to tell anyone how they should think.

The emotional temperature of such discussions can also be lowered when teachers ask questions rather than lecturing and listen rather than responding, Manji says.

People who feel they’ve voices have been heard are much more likely to listening to what others have to say, she adds.

“The Moral Courage method is not about being nice or being civil for the sake of civility—much harm has been done to under the guise of civility,” Manji says. “It’s about becoming a more effective communicator so you can stand your ground and seek common ground at the same time.”