Since I try to maintain a certain sense of civility on this blog (a standard I sometimes don’t meet) I will not tell your my exact reaction when I saw the AL.com article about the state school board’s discussion about something called Critical Race Theory..
I know little abut CRT other than it’s been around for about 40 years and taught at a graduate level by some universities. But it appears to be an ideal candidate for a topic that certain political types can quickly escalate into a culture issue largely driven by fear of the unknown. (Can you say Common Core?)
For instance, House member Chris Pringle of Mobile pre-filed a bill about CRT weeks ago to be introduced in 2022. However, when a reporter for AL/com asked him what CRT involves, he had no answer.
Joe Windle recently retired as superintendent of the Tallapoosa County school system. Here was his answer to the above AL.com article about the school. board discussion.
“Not aware of any school systems teaching CRT. Damn. Let’s teach kids in public education to read, communicate verbally and in writing and math. Leave this theory stuff to the colleges and universities.”
All of which circles me back to a recent column by longtime friend and former editorial page editor of The Mobile Press-Register, Frances Coleman.
“I remember when I realized I did not want to be a schoolteacher. It was the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. I had signed up to be a teacher’s aide in our small-town public school system.
When I arrived bright and early on the first Monday of the system’s new Head Start program, which would last three hours a day, five days a week, for six weeks — two teachers met me with concerned looks on their faces. There were three sections of 5-year-old pupils, they explained, but only two teachers. The third one had resigned over the weekend.
Which meant that I, an earnest and bright but inexperienced 16-year-old girl, would have to teach the third section. “Don’t worry; we’ll help you,” the two teachers assured me.
And they did help me, and I survived, but still, it was the longest six weeks of my life, in which I learned that: I did not have a knack for controlling large groups of small children, lovable though they might be; I did not have the imagination to keep preschoolers engaged and engrossed for more than two or three minutes at a time; I had zero arts-and-crafts skills; and teaching is a lot harder than it looks.
As best I can tell from the outside looking in, teaching is even harder now than it was many decades ago. One of the reasons, if not the reason, is that politicians won’t let teachers do their jobs without incessantly trying to micromanage their classrooms. Whether it’s pitting evolution against creationism, forbidding the teaching of yoga and sex education, politicizing the federal “Goals 2000” and “Common Core” initiatives or, now, demonizing the so-called Critical Race Theory, state legislatures won’t keep their hands off of our schools.
Their job is to fund public education and to create the appropriate laws to govern it. But too many politicians cannot resist the temptation to embroil schools in the “culture wars” that they love to foment as a way to enrage certain groups of their constituents.
Thus, some legislatures are attempting to tightly control how the history of slavery and race relations in America is taught, and especially how the after-effects of slavery affect our nation to this day. Lest the honest teaching of America’s racial struggles unduly traumatize white children, lawmakers in Florida, Arkansas, Idaho and Oklahoma have banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory.
There are many definitions and explanations of CRT. Florida’s legislation defines it as “the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.”
Maybe you agree that racism is embedded in American society. Maybe you believe it’s not. But why on earth would we tell teachers that they can’t even promote the discussion of that fundamental question in their classrooms? Isn’t that what education is for — to teach young people to be critical thinkers, to research and read about and debate important questions and issues, and to formulate thoughtful opinions based on the facts they’ve gleaned? And, especially, to be unafraid of the truth?
I say yes, that is what education is for. And I have a modest proposal: that we allow teachers to teach, unburdened — to the extent that’s possible — by bureaucracy, by politics, by culture wars, by fanatics, and by people who have personal agendas that have little to do with ensuring the success of our public schools.
I learned a lot in that Head Start classroom many years ago, including how to recognize when a little kid needs to go to the bathroom, even though he or she may not realize it; and how it’s possible for a little boy to smuggle his new puppy into the classroom so he can surprise his teenage teacher. (And yes, hilarious pandemonium ensued for several minutes, until his mother could be summoned to retrieve the little pup.)
Most of all, although I did not fully appreciate or understand what I was seeing at the time, I got a closeup look at a couple of dedicated teachers who, in addition to managing their own classrooms, made sure their young aide did not fail herself or her pupils.
God bless the thousands upon thousands of teachers like them, who do their best to nurture and educate America’s children. And for God’s sake, let’s let them do their jobs.”
She hit this nail on the head.