Alexander: There’s a Right Way to Teach Critical Race Theory

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Cyan Larson

(Graphic by Cyan Larson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By CJ Alexander, Opinion Writer

 

The controversy over whether or not to teach critical race theory in schools continues to circulate the news. The benefits of CRT far outweigh the costs. These concepts would teach invaluable history, the oppression of marginalized groups in the United States and how it affects law and societal racism today.

However, CRT still faces steep opposition in the form of conservative vilification. For CRT to gain the support it needs to drastically change public school curriculum, educators must first know how to properly teach it and prepare to give insightful, inclusive instruction.

Unfortunately, not every school or educator is perfect. Some higher education institutions are still finding their way in attempts to teach inclusion and social justice training. For instance, at James Madison University, some student employees received questionable training that conservatives quickly condemned. According to Fox News, the training named several characteristics pertaining to the “privileged,” including being white, male, Christian, American, heterosexual, able-bodied, between ages 30 to 50 and/or cisgender.

Listing these characteristics, among other things, was seen as a way to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. While these characteristics describe people who historically exercised privilege over the oppressed, people today with those same characteristics are not at fault for how society functions. James Madison University should not have taught this fact in this unacceptable manner.

Teachings of diversity and inclusion that chastise a group of people and make them into villains or victims depict CRT in a negative light. Teaching the extremes of CRT fuels the flames of conservative opposition to CRT, when we need CRT concepts.

Educators cannot teach CRT in a way that disrespects any student, but should instead point to indicators of society and its racial issues. Privilege is real, and it’s okay to talk about it. We should feel uncomfortable in recognizing our own privileges and their effects on society. But for CRT to dutifully enter the conversation and do its job, we need to create a setting and environment that welcomes talking about such privilege (or lack thereof).

JMU’s training did not cover the essence of CRT and certainly didn’t promote any sense of inclusivity. Everyday students and youth should never be labeled as “oppressor” vs. “oppressed.” I wouldn’t ask my white family members to take responsibility for the actions of segregationists in the ’60s, nor would I ask my Black family members to don the chains our ancestors wore. CRT simply asks that we recognize our history’s role in racism, and teachings of CRT need to reflect that.

Students should learn about the entirety of their privilege coming from a historical standpoint. Using the context of history, students must learn about the noble and evil truths about the founding of our nation — regardless of whether it’s history we are proud of or ashamed of. These teachings should include real history — not our current white-washed historical discourse that omits the entirety of BIPOC past sufferings and accomplishments.

With real CRT teachings, the ability to analyze and critique the U.S.’ relationship with racism will become more natural. Instead of looking at the binary “victim and oppressor” lens, CRT will greatly help students understand diversity, equity and inclusion from a foundational level. With the right tools and mindset, students can become today’s agents of change, fighting racial inequity.

We need to emphasize recognizing one’s privileges and how those privileges contribute to societal racism, whether in institutions or in law, which CRT can help us with. However, it’s not okay to reprimand a group of people or infantilize another with generalizations based on their characteristics. Generalizations on a larger scale will only sow further division.

For people to take CRT seriously, teachings should be inclusive and reflect the racism found in our society throughout history, not in individuals and in anecdotal incidents. We should all encourage utilizing language and ideas that make us face our contributions to societal racism. But CRT must remain objective in instruction for students to really employ its ideas in changing our nation.

Instead of giving those in opposition to CRT more reasons to hate it, we need to teach CRT from an accepting standpoint — one where CRT can bridge the divide between those who are privileged and those who are not. In that way, everyone can feel more comfortable discussing CRT with open mindsets, whether they support it or not.

 

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@CamdenAlexande1