Critical Race Theory Bans Are a Political Ploy, Students and Teachers Say

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Julie, a Black high-schooler in Fort Worth who prefers not to use her real name, is already having a difficult time in her social studies class. On June 15, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3979, which will significantly change the social studies curriculum and civics instruction in public schools across the state. The bill says, among other things, that educators cannot teach students that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Critical race theory — an academic framework that recognizes systemic racism as a fundamental part of how U.S. society operates — is at the heart of these latest curriculum battles.

Julie tells Teen Vogue that she feels Bill 3979 will stifle important conversations about race in the classroom. “As a Black high school student in Texas, social studies classes are already very hard and uncomfortable because of the way that our non-Black peers discuss the atrocities that were inflicted against us,” she explains. “[I feel] this law will give them the ability to do this even more, and with no correction. Personally, I go out on my own to learn and read about critical race theory, so this bill doesn't really affect me, other than maybe stopping me from having school assignments on parts of history I can really connect with. But this bill will really fail the white liberals and leftists in schools because they [may] miss out on learning this information.”

Bill 3979 is no anomaly. In the past few months, 21 states have introduced legislation that limits or outrightly bans educators in public schools, some charter schools, and universities from teaching the history of race and racism and its modern implications. In Arkansas, House Bill 1218 bans any public school courses, classes, or events that promote “division between, resentment of, or social justice for” specific races, genders, political affiliations, social classes or “particular classes of people.” In Georgia, the State Board of Education passed a resolution stating that “the United States of America is not a racist country, and that the state of Georgia is not a racist state.” Several other states, including Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio, and West Virginia, have also passed or are attempting to pass similar bills.

In Tennessee, state legislation that bans teaching certain concepts surrounding race and racism in public schools will take effect in July. Keyana Miller, a language arts teacher at a predominantly Black high school in Tennessee, tells Teen Vogue that she is very worried about the impact this legislation will have on her classroom. “My first concern is that our majority-white, majority-Republican state legislators believe that children in the state of Tennessee do not need to learn about the racist history of the country they live in,” Miller says via email. “My second concern is that these same legislators are delusional in their understanding of the Tennessee school system. There are several schools in major TN counties where the population is majority Black, even if the population of the city is not. Their refusal to believe in critical race theory is not happenstance. Our state lawmakers are either ignorant in the way their laws affect underrepresented groups or they refuse to believe in what has now been understood as common knowledge.”

Justin, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma who prefers not to use his last name, tells Teen Vogue that he considers the critical race bans in his state not only upsetting, but a dangerous scheme by Republican lawmakers. “I'm honestly most concerned about our classrooms and history educators being used as political ploys,” he says via email. “Critical race theory is a very academic concept studied by those in post-graduate and graduate academia, and it's something that grade school teachers like myself aren't even teaching. Supporters of this bill could not point to one single instance of critical race theory being taught in public education classrooms. They created a problem that did not exist so that they could ‘fix’ it for political gain.”

But educators nationwide are taking a stand. In recent weeks, more than 4,400 educators from across the United States signed a pledge stating that they “refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events — regardless of the law.” According to the Zinn Education Project, which sponsored the pledge, Erin Chisholm, a teacher in Arizona who signed the pledge, says, “The truth is worth more than the $5,000 fine the state of Arizona wants to slap on me if I allow my students to become critical thinkers.” (The Daily Wire subsequently shared a list of teachers who signed the pledge coded by city and state, accusing them of an intention to break prospective law.")

Kiffany Cody, a teacher in Atlanta, tells Teen Vogue that she has heard pushback on these bills from some teachers at her school. “I have had several discussions with teachers who are concerned about what this means for education as we know and understand it,” says Cody. “Learning and intellectual evolution cannot take place if questions cannot be asked and topics are forbidden. Teachers are concerned about consequences when they decided to continue teaching the facts about race and slavery in the U.S. There is overwhelming agreement that people who support the so-called movement to silence critical race theory do not know what it is.”

Eric, an eighth-grade history teacher in Oklahoma who prefers not to use his last name, tells Teen Vogue that bills like HB 1775, which will “prohibit Oklahoma public schools, colleges, and universities from incorporating certain messages about sex and race into any course instruction,” are damaging students' education and impeding young people from understanding the social and political context of the world in which they are growing up. “[These bills] hurt real conversations and real growth in understanding the history and power dynamics of race in our state, country, and world,” he says via email. “Students want to have these conversations, and we have teachers capable of going through these topics and having moments of real learning. This bill is seeking to erase the work education has achieved in recent years. I can't properly teach U.S. history without getting into deep conversations about race. I can't teach students to think critically and find their own vision for the future if I am lying to them or omitting content from the past. That's not a classroom.”

Other organizations have also condemned these bills. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union published a statement decrying this new legislation as “a nationwide attempt to censor discussions of race in the classroom.”

“Being a Black student is really hard because you're often being educated by people who do not look like you or understand what life is like for you,” says Julie, the student in Fort Worth. “I do not want to be educated on racism by people who do not experience it. After the trend of Black Lives Matter last year, my sense of safety in my school has significantly declined and school has been much harder for me socially.... I [just] want to be treated fairly, graded fairly, and taught well.”

Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Republicans Are Trying to Rewrite America’s Racist History

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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue