How do our teachers feel about attacks on critical race theory? Scared.
The uproar over critical race theory is doing real damage to teachers and administrators who are now feeling under siege and at risk.
“Conflict campaigns” against CRT have created a newly hostile environment for teaching race and racism, and toward broader diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, according to teachers and district equity officers polled by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.
The majority of the educators “noted personally experiencing efforts to restrict or prohibit learning on these issues in 2020–2021,” writer researchers in the report, “The Conflict Campaign: Exploring Local Experiences of the Campaign to Ban Critical Race Theory in Public K-12 Education in the U.S., 2020–2021.”
“The conflict campaign in total seeks to expose, restrict, ban, ‘abolish,’ censor and control a wide set of school conversations on race and inclusion,” the researchers wrote. “These restrictions threaten to prevent students and educators from engaging and grappling with difficult historical facts, current events, complex opportunity barriers, real biases, marginalized communities’ voices, and possible collective improvements in our shared schools and country.”
Nearly 900 districts, serving more than 17 million students, have seen contentious school board meetings or other types of anti-CRT activity. The districts most likely to experience conflict include those where white student enrollment is declining most rapidly and communities with higher levels of racial and ideological diversity.
“This means that in the very districts where students’ families and communities experienced a rapid demographic shift, the conflict campaign could particularly restrict students from analyzing that experience—and restrict educators from learning to better support students,” the study finds.
And just like experts and other researchers have found, the UCLA study declares that students are not learning critical race theory in U.S. K-12 schools. “Confronted by the conflict campaign, K–12 educators across the country said they had to look up the term ‘critical race theory’ to learn what it was,” the researchers wrote.
CRT opponents are trying to block teaching and professional development that covers race, racism, bias and district diversity, equity and inclusion work.
Equity officers interviewed by UCLA researchers said CRT controversies have made them fear for their personal safety. Educators polled by UCLA also described:
- A heightened level of “attack,” “intimidation,” and “threat” from legislation, “outside orgs,” and local critics, particularly highly vocal parents sometimes fueled by politicians.
- Feeling at risk for discussing issues of race or racism at all, or for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion in any way.
- A sense of looming “attack” on “what is taught” and described colleagues as “terrified, confused and/or demoralized” in states with passed or pending legislation, teachers shared a
- Confusion over what can be taught in states where “bans” had been passed or were under consideration.
- School or district leaders who have “forbidden” or advised “avoiding” specific texts or topics, leaving younger teachers “understandably cowed.”
- District leaders “pulling away” from earlier commitments to work, “culturally responsive” teaching and “social-emotional learning.”
- Intentions to remain silent on race, gender and an array of issues that they otherwise would have taught.