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How will the CRT debate impact classrooms?

We just wrapped up Black History Month. Hopefully, you learned something in that time, whether on this blog or elsewhere. More importantly, we hope you found the chance to reflect on Black history in this country – for better and for worse.

Over the last month, we highlighted larger-than-life heroes in Black history, including John Lewis, Spike Lee, Jackie Robinson, and Michelle Obama. Each of those figures represents a smaller facet of our struggle for justice. In those blog posts, we discussed institutional racism, voter suppression, and even the racial disparity of food deserts. These are difficult, complex issues that reveal longstanding inequality for communities of color. It’s not easy, but Black History Month is the right time to have such conversations.

None of this would be possible if anti-critical race theory (CRT) advocates had their way.

Late last year, author Molly Backes tweeted a list of terms, subjects, and phrases that the Wisconsin Legislature sought to ban from K-12 education. Some of those included “anti-racism,” “diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI),” “abolitionist teaching,” “equity,” “institutional oppression,” “intersectionality,” “internalized white supremacy,” and dozens of others. All the proposed prohibited phrases are concepts rarely taught in K-12 classrooms, but the anti-woke movement will present larger issues than our curriculums.

A ban on these “CRT” phrases will inhibit an entire generation from being able to think critically about race, justice, and inequality.

For example, banning the words “structural racism,” even if not a common topic in K-12 education, will undercut activists’ efforts to create coalitions and grassroots action. Our language, both that which we speak and that which we hear spoken, determines how we think. If you’ve never been taught about anti-racist or allyship, it’s difficult to relate and learn those skills. Additionally, this movement will almost certainly harm students of color’s mental health, given it encourages silence about their own lived experiences. If students in Wisconsin had a personal history with social justice, these laws prevent them from discussing that history. It’s Orwellian to say the least!

You’ve likely heard the assertion that “silence is violence.” It was an oft-shouted phrase at police brutality protests in 2020. Everyone who shouted it was telling the truth. To be silent and ignorant is to be complicit. So, when the issue in question is racially motivated violence, it is to what silence equates.

In 2020, there were 48.1 million K-12 public school students in this country. Now, through no fault of their own, they will all be silent.

Yes, CRT is the newest anti-Black and Brown fear tool. And yes, it’s terribly misunderstood. But it’s turning voters out in local and state elections. Every day, those voters chip away at our ability to discuss, criticize, and improve the minority experience.

It’s time we made as much clear to those who would rather silence our voices and shut down our protests. It’s time we turn willingness into action and action into substantive public policy. It’s time we move our neighborhoods forward.