I teach on the college level and see this fervor around Critical Race Theory as a modern era book burning. We teach college students to critically evaluate many theories that are vital to their intellectual growth.
There is a mass hysteria around this particular theory right now that doesn’t make sense. On one level, we have to care about providing a fuller, more accurate history — just as Better Days 2020 worked to fill in the gaps in women’s history in our state, we have work to do with black history and indigenous history as well. On another level, by understanding how this unequal system was built and enabled, the next generation is empowered to continue to move the needle on civil rights.
How many of you were taught about the Tulsa Massacre? About redlining? About polluting factories built in certain parts of town? Closer to home, how many of you were taught about the Timpanogos massacre? About the “Lamanite” program to re-educate indigenous children? About the Internment camps in our own backyard in Vernal and in Orem?
CRT helps us understand how subtle racism still exists in our systems, and why we must continue to work for greater equality. It’s not scary. It’s about telling history without the white-washing, with an eye towards awareness of subtle, and not so subtle, racism that was ingrained and still exists in our systems.
We need a movement of parents just as invested in telling a fuller history of our country, as those wanting to shut it down. In eighth grade I was taught about Hitler and Nazi Germany. I saw the news reels from when the camps were liberated. It made a profound impact on me. I had a pen pal from Latvia, Lithuania and learned the cyrillic alphabet so we could talk to each other — all at the height of the Cold War. I had a social studies teacher, Ms. Smith, who respected my ability to learn about tough topics during formative years. Learning about the past and building bridges between communities is important. I wasn’t too young for that lesson in eighth grade.
But the danger here, is in suggesting something is happening that isn’t happening, and creating a fear narrative around CRT when it is taught. This theory is not being taught in elementary school, or even middle school — though it probably can be discussed in some form 7-9th grade. I’d be surprised to find it taught anywhere but advanced high school honors courses and university level courses right now, which is a shame. To suggest it is too scary to teach on some level to our students is ludicrous. As a descendant of German ancestors, if I can learn about the Holocaust in 8th grade and understand the inhumanity that can exist, so too can our students learn about the treatment of Black people and people of color and the systems that were built to support it.