Should states ban critical theory of race in schools?

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In 2021, Republican lawmakers in nearly half of all states introduced bills to regulate how schools teach race. The state of Florida recently joined the ranks of states that explicitly prohibit teaching Critical Race Theory (“CRT”) in the classroom. The new rule prohibits “theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with standards approved by the State Council, including Holocaust denial or minimization and the teaching of critical race theory.” . . ”. The rule also prohibits the use of New York Times‘1619 Project, which argues that America’s true founding date was the day the first slave ship arrived.

Will these laws improve children’s education? It depends on a lot of questions. What exactly is CRT? What specifically are states like Florida trying to prevent? Are these laws well drafted or are they vague and too general?

There are many different laws and bills, and their content varies considerably. Given that Florida is a big swing state and its governor, Ron DeSantis, is one of the early favorites for the Republican nomination for president, this article will focus on the ban on CRTs in Florida. CRT means different things to different people, but Florida defined it as “the theory that racism is not just the product of prejudice, but that racism is ingrained in American society and its legal systems in order to maintain the supremacy of white people “.

This is closely linked to the idea of ​​”structural racism”. In its most modest and straightforward form, it is the idea that minorities, especially blacks, suffer from racism even when they are not currently victimized by people with racial prejudices. For example, if black tenants could not get a home loan in 1940, it means that today fewer blacks own homes and when they do, they are worth less in the market. Structural racism also means that seemingly neutral laws, such as single-family zoning, keep blacks away from white neighborhoods, as those zoning laws make it too expensive for them to settle in an area.

So far, so good. It is educational for students to learn how some seemingly neutral laws have racist origins and continue to perpetuate racial inequality today. When the CRT is criticized, its supporters often defend this version of the CRT. But CRT advocates often go much further. For example, some school districts encourage the formation of racially segregated affinity groups in which “whites can together discover their group identity.” They can cultivate racial solidarity and compassion and support each other by sitting with the discomfort, confusion and numbness that often accompanies the awakening of the white race.

There are good reasons for states to oppose programs that encourage white “racial solidarity” or that encourage collective racial guilt. Because structural racism maintains that all whites benefit from current racist laws and structures, it is sometimes used to assert that all whites are individually racist. Parents are understandably upset when their children come home from school with a negative impression of the color of their skin.

Florida’s New Rule focuses on another excess of critical race theory: the idea that America was founded on the principle of racism and is a fundamentally racist country. As prominent law professor Daniel Farber put it (in his rebuttal): “Racism is part of the DNA of the American legal system, a kind of genetic flaw. I think this is really a true statement from the core of critical race theory. ”

It is entirely appropriate that states oppose this kind of excess. It is the job of state and local governments to determine what values ​​the public education system strives to instill in its students. Just as it would be appropriate for the state to prohibit public schools from teaching that slavery was a positive institution, it may prohibit schools from teaching that slavery was the defining characteristic of America’s founding. .

Another question is whether these laws are the best means to achieve this goal. Many anti-CRT laws are poorly drafted. A certain number of them forbid, for example, teachers from making pupils feel “uneasy, guilty, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex”. To tie the law to the subjective feelings of a student is to ask for trouble. Of course, learning about the horrors of slavery may make some white college students feel uncomfortable or guilty. This is what leads some CRT advocates to argue that these laws will make it difficult for students to teach important historical facts about race in America to students. It would be much better for states to prescribe, as North Carolina does, that students should not be taught that “an individual, solely by reason of race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the field. passed by other members of the same race or sex.

What about the Florida rule, which prohibits teaching that US laws, including the Constitution, are inherently racist and prohibits the use of Project 1619 as educational material? The law certainly falls within the constitutional power of the state. The courts have ruled that the government has the constitutional power to control curriculum matters and decide on educational materials without violating the First Amendment.

Ideally, rather than prohibiting all CRT teaching, the law would require that a diversity of views on race be taught. Students could learn a lot from a really rigorous conversation about whether the police use disproportionate force against minorities or whether the economic situation of minorities is improving. The CRT is an important criticism of America, whether or not you agree with it. To be sure, there are ways for states to rule over the excesses of CRT without completely banning its teaching.


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