Much to the chagrin of social justice advocates, lawmakers across the country want to ban discussions in the classroom about the United States’ racist past, and how it has shaped, and continues to shape, the experiences of Black people and other racial groups.
Meanwhile, leaders within the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) pledge to go in another direction as it relates to what’s known as critical race theory.
For them, doing so means examining curriculum and policy and determining how changes to both can be of the greatest benefit to an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse student population.
“We saw the outcry from students and families last summer as we witnessed the murder of George Floyd and just an uprising around a conversation around racism for us to think differently about how we can review our policies and practices to ensure our outcomes are equitable across our student population including critical convos around race and the intersection of identities,” DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee told The Informer.
“We started our curriculum audit to see what we’re teaching, what resources we’re using in the classroom, and how teachers are delivering that with a lens of cultural responsiveness,” Ferebee continued.
“Part of the policy conversation is to think about the diversity of our student population as we hire for teacher, support, and leadership positions.”
In recent months, critical race theory has been a target of Republican lawmakers who’ve blamed it as a primary cause of the social justice uprisings of 2020, and what they’ve described as a tendency to blame white people for the actions of their ancestors.
Nearly half of the states have either introduced or passed legislation banning the study of critical race theory at the K-12 level.
Critical race theory, an academic concept that’s been in existence for more than 40 years, centers on racism’s place in public policy and legal systems, and how such machinations affect the collective life outcomes of historically oppressed groups.
ABSENCE OF STATEHOOD HINDERS LOCAL DEFENSE
Since its inception, the tenets of critical race theory have permeated to the fields of sociology, literacy, social sciences, and teacher education.
The District, perhaps because of its lack of statehood, stands to be affected by the ongoing battle around critical race theory.
U.S. Congressman Glenn Grothman, (R-Wisc.) recently introduced legislation banning critical race theory within the District’s public schools. The bill has four Republican co-sponsors and support from four conservative organizations.
This legislation has also drawn the ire of the D.C State Board of Education [DCSBOE], which as of press time, expressed plans to write an open letter to Congressman Grothman.
“We need our students to be able to look at the events of American history through a critical lens,” said Jessica Sutter, SBOE’s Ward 6 representative who’s currently directing a committee of more than two dozen in revamping citywide K-12 social studies standards.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for our social studies standards to talk about the greatness of America without also teaching our students about the deeply flawed pieces of our American history.”
The District’s current social studies standards, which are more than 15 years old, have no mention of President Barack Obama, marriage equality, or the ways that the world has changed since the mid-to-late 20th century.
SBOE’s technical writing committee, formed by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education, will soon break into writing groups responsible for drafting new elementary, middle, and high school standards with the goal of completing a draft by the end of the summer.
Sutter told The Informer that she expects that the draft will be open to public comment by September. She anticipated the process wrapping up at some point before the start of the 2022-2023 academic year.
“We can’t teach Black children Black history without teaching about the institutionalized forms of oppression, including the 13th Amendment that allow people to remain under an oppressive regime where they can’t vote or hold democratic rights,” Sutter said. “That’s really important stuff to teach.”