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Editorial: Need to teach critical thinking when teaching history, race
Riverbend classroom spring 2020

You could understand if classroom teachers in Georgia wanted to just skip that portion of the curriculum dealing with the Civil War for a year or two, avoid any mention of the Trail of Tears, scoot right past that pesky Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka case from the Supreme Court, and keep quiet about the whole Civil Rights movement.

And it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if they were anxious to avoid any classroom discussion of current events. Ever.

Other than by ignoring such touchy topics completely, how can educators be expected to satisfy the political demands on both sides of the current heated debate over the teaching of “critical race theory” in the state’s classrooms?

The state Board of Education weighed into the fray on Thursday, adopting a resolution that, while not specifically mentioning CRT, included many of the buzzwords being thrown around by critics of the theory. The board’s action came just a couple of weeks after Gov. Brian Kemp called for state action to stop the teaching of CRT in Georgia.

Members of the governing board for the state’s Department of Education overwhelmingly approved the resolution in a special meeting, though the debate in the virtual gathering made it clear they were not all of an accord as to what exactly it all meant and what difference the resolution makes.

The body’s chairman made it a point to note that this was a “resolution,” and not a “rule,” though presumably a resolution from the board carries some weight, or otherwise why bother. More than once, reference was made to “reading between the lines” to get a real meaning of the resolution’s context.

In general terms, the resolution provides that educators should not pursue any course of instruction that makes anyone feel guilty for past racial wrongdoing, should not “undermine our constitutional republic” by suggesting “fault, blame, a tendency to oppress others …,” and should not in any fashion “indoctrinate students in social, or political, ideology or theory or .. promote one race or sex above another.”

It affirms that “education in Georgia should reflect our fundamental values as a state and nation – freedom, equality, and God-given potential of every individual.”

On the subject of slavery, it says educators should not offer instruction to suggest that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.” Probably best if teachers don’t mention that many of those founding forefathers had slaves of their own at the time they were drafting the nation’s foundation documents.

It says that no teacher should be compelled by policy to discuss current events or “currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs.” No need to make current events part of any classroom curriculum.

There’s nothing really surprising in the board’s resolution and the verbiage reflects the position of those who are mounting a nationwide campaign against critical race theory that has resulted in some states passing laws to outlaw teaching of the theory, and local boards of education taking stands against doing the same.

Critical race theory is a concept that has been around for 40 years or more and is not easily defined. It loosely is the idea that racism and inequality are and always have been interwoven into all aspects of life in the United States. Proponents of CRT say that the issues it addresses should be discussed openly and thoroughly; opponents say the theory is based on invalid assumptions and conclusions and should not be the foundation for any learned debate or discussion.

It’s a hot political topic more so than an educational one. School systems are not lining up to add CRT to the textbooks and train teachers in indoctrination of students. But in the world of politics, it’s a buzzword of great importance at the moment, one upon which political campaigns are being run and for which new laws are being pondered.

In some ways the CRT fight is an expanded continuation of last summer’s Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter debate.

You can bet there will be CRT-related legislation in the next session of the state’s General Assembly; the governor has already staked his position on the issue relative to his re-election campaign, and others are doing the same.

Meanwhile, school leaders at the local level have to be looking around and wondering what all the fuss is about as they witness a huge outpouring of opposition for something that isn’t happening in any organized and official manner, and isn’t likely to happen.

While there may be individual teachers who go too far in letting their personal opinions influence instruction, those cases are best handled through performance review and employment action rather than with sweeping dictates that leave all teachers under a microscope awaiting criticism.

We have been down this road before. Remember all the political heat on the issue of “creation science,” and whether it should be taught in any classroom where evolution was being taught? Remember the push to teach “abstinence only” sex education?

Leaving schools at the local level to deal with the whirlwinds of political storms is certainly nothing new, and the CRT debate is another better suited for the election podium than curriculum planning.

We would agree that no student of any race should be made to feel guilty for actions taken by their predecessors, nor should students of any race be made to feel that they have been so victimized by oppression in the past that they are unable to achieve in the present. We agree that ours is a nation built upon individual effort and achievement and one in which we all can take pride, even as we acknowledge that it isn’t perfect and never has been, and that racism has been part of its imperfect history.

We do not think classroom teachers should sugarcoat the past and pretend racially divisive events never happened, nor should they ignore the realities of racism in presenting the history of the nation.

Further, we think teachers have an obligation to involve intelligent and fair discussion of current events in classroom activities and should not be forced to refrain from doing so out of fear of running afoul of political thought from either side of the opinion spectrum.

Handcuffing teachers with political ideology camouflaged as educational policy is not the way to improve K-12 public education.

The educational focus needs to be on teaching critical thinking skills, not critical race theory, and you can’t teach critical thinking without an honest presentation of facts and open discussion of issues.

Lances lowered, politicians nationwide are jousting quixotically at a windmill that isn’t even spinning in most school systems, and if teachers and public education are trampled in the charge, that’s just the cost of winning elections.

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