Good teachers know that if something is relevant to their students’ experiences, it should be part of their education.
If we ignore America’s racist heritage, the only explanation for this tragic phenomenon is to blame black people for their own oppression.
Yet teaching racism in schools is now drawing fierce condemnation from conservatives, especially on “critical race theory.” Teachers like me are accused of “brainwashing” students or introducing extraneous racial issues that do not belong to the school.
But, in fact, they do.
Beyond worrying about historical accuracy, which is vital, teachers have another good reason to include lessons on racial injustice: Black and Brown students dominate the public school systems of most major schools. cities. For example, in New York City public schools, two-thirds of the students are black or Latinx. In Chicago 84% are, in Los Angeles 83%, in Detroit 96%, in Washington, DC, 86%.
As teachers we strive and struggle to remain relevant to our students and to make the connection between what we do in school and what they are and will face when they leave school. Our students want to know how what they are learning relates to the real world.
A social studies professor who ignores the devastating legacy of racism – police brutality, housing inequalities, mass incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline, the racial wealth gap and the like – will have a credibility problem. The same will be true of an English teacher who analyzes a 1950s novel denouncing racism but fails to recognize the racial issues her students face today.
Teaching about racism helps explain many of the key issues facing students and their families. These include: the high cost of higher education and health care, the low rate of union representation, the lack of government-subsidized child care facilities, and many other basic issues for workers in which the United States often lag behind. These advantages exist in many European countries because workers, especially trade unionists in key sectors, fought for them. In America, racial divisions and anti-immigrant sentiment have long paralyzed this struggle.
The US military is disproportionately black and brown; As teachers of minority youth, every year we see a good portion of our upper classes volunteering for the military. While in the postwar era, high school graduates could sometimes get unionized manufacturing jobs that offered them living wages, health care and benefits, today the only one One way for many low-income minority youth to get it is to enlist in the military.
For teachers, the school-to-prison pipeline is not an abstraction – many of us have former students who are or have been incarcerated. In 2018, the US Department of Justice found that black men were incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white men. If we ignore America’s racist heritage, the only explanation for this tragic phenomenon is to blame black people for their own oppression.
According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times that of a black family. White households are twice as likely as black households to receive an inheritance, and the median inheritance of whites is 26 times higher.
Concretely, this means that our black and brown students are getting much less help paying for college or work, buying a car, getting an apartment, or making a down payment to own a home. This means less withdrawal in difficult times. If they want to move in the world, they’re much more likely to have to do it on their own.
Teaching in public schools in large cities today means teaching students, for the most part, underprivileged. Listen to them, get to know them, and you’ll see it in a hundred ways. As teachers, we cannot ignore racism, and we should not try to do so.
This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.