The tsunami of new laws attacking public school curricula mobilize a range of doublespeak, from “divisive concepts” to “race scapegoating” to “psychological stress;” many include the admonition that teachers may not teach students that “the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.”
Many of the laws single out “critical race theory” as the curricular bogeyman. Whatever the particular terminology used in each state, they are united in their larger political goal: to rob children of access to a usable past, an account of history that helps them fully see and understand their present.
The Right hopes to strip the classroom of its potential as a powerful democratic space, where students learn to see themselves not only as individuals, but as part of history, with the capacity to question, challenge, build solidarity, and act to transform society.
We must not let them.
We offer this #TeachTruth syllabus as a gesture of defiance and education. The Right would be happy to keep the conversation at the level of obfuscation, divorced from reality and history. We, on the other hand, want to talk about the truth — the truth about our past and present, the truth about our classrooms and curricula.
Although you will not find the phrase “critical race theory” anywhere in the linked materials, you will find that these resources, like CRT, provide a framework for students to understand how racial disparities developed historically and endure today.
The Truth About Teaching for Equity and Social Justice
We reject the universalizing, color-blind posture of these laws and challenge the canard that to acknowledge race is itself racist. We know that students come into our classrooms with different experiences, derived in part, by their social positions — their race, class, gender, ability, national origin, language(s), citizenship status, etc.
By teaching for equity and social justice, we invite students’ whole selves into our classrooms, to celebrate our varied humanity, to understand the meaning of our differences, and to imagine together how we might change the world.
A poetry lesson by Linda Christensen, in Rethinking Schools, that invites students to bring their families, homes, and neighborhoods into their writing and the classroom.
The Truth About How We Teach the Past
The Florida Department of Education recently approved a rule that teachers “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
A truthful curriculum, on the other hand, engages children in a much broader investigation of the past, emphasizing how racism and other forms of inequality were built into the foundation of the United States, how these inequalities have persisted and changed over time, and how individuals and groups have resisted and organized for justice.
The Truth About How We Teach the Present and Future
States like Florida insist that we never teach U.S. history as “something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
But that’s not history, it’s fairy tale. It distorts both past and present. Our students can handle a past that is complicated and honest enough to provide substantial insights into today’s society. But it is this meaningful link between past and present that terrifies the Right. That’s why legislators in Texas have outlawed one of the traditional staples of the civics classroom: the “write your legislator” assignment.
The Texas law reads, “a teacher may not require, make part of a course, or award a grade or course credit . . . for a student’s . . . efforts to persuade members of the legislative or executive branch at the federal, state, or local level to take specific actions by direct communication.”
Igniting young people’s desire to take action to transform society — whether through writing a legislator, testifying at a school board meeting, participating in a protest, or organizing a social media campaign — is one mark of truly democratic schooling. This is what the Right seeks to suffocate.