Controversy in the N.C. Legislature over the inclusion of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in our public school curriculum is forcing parents and state taxpayers to decide what is important in our tax supported school system - basic education skills or social justice skills. Recent efforts to include a new curriculum based on this new social justice theory, promoted by civil rights scholars, is yet another confusing impediment in an already turbulent world of public education
Public education has become a petri dish for social experimentation while at the same time it serves as convenient target for failure to meet the latest academic standards and fads.
Just ten years ago the education community was criticized for failing to promote greater application of math and science due to the anticipated needs of the nation as it competes in the world economy. There was a great cry and rush to meet the competition U.S. students were facing from foreign students. The result was an academic initiative to focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Several years later ‘art’ was added to the initiative to keep that constituency happy, resulting in a new acronym STEAM.
Concern about American students falling behind academically in comparison to other countries was the topic of a 2019 Washington Post article. Post reporters Moriah Balingit and Andrew Van Dam, using data from the Program for International Student Assessment, noted that “Teenagers in the United States continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science, according to results of an international exam that suggest U.S. schools are not doing enough to prepare young people for the competitive global economy.”
Out of fear that our students were losing ground to students in other countries, national and state education systems established a potpourri of standards to be measured by a variety of exams. In the midst of these standards, teachers complained bitterly that they did not have the time, training or the appropriate resources to meet these increasing standards. This intense focus on educational standards and expected outcomes resulted in complaints from parents and teachers about over- testing and stressing the students.
Adding to the concern about academic performance of our students in relation to other countries is the compounding problem of what is described as the “lost year” of academic achievement resulting from government mandated closure of classrooms for students and teachers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now the latest educational fad is the need to develop a curriculum to teach social justice based on the premise that this country has been founded intentionally to promote racism, sexism and oppression of other groups. This concept of an oppressive society and the need for reform is articulated in Critical Race Theory, which is described as an academic movement promoted by civil rights proponents and scholars. This theory, first proposed in 1970, became a “cause celebre” in 2019 as a result of the creation of the 1619 Project by New York Times Magazine reporter, Nicole Hannah-Jones, who coincidentally will be teaching journalism at UNC-CH starting next year.
CRT has at its core, racial justice and the need to adjust society to some yet to be defined utopian goal. In essence it’s all about feelings and perceptions and not academic knowledge.
Proponents are now pushing to have this movement incorporated into the public school curriculum while at the same time seeking to push students and teachers to increase time allotted to all the other academic initiatives. Based on the current academic schedule and standards there is no time for added curriculum so something has to give.
In response to this new educational fad and an awareness of the obvious need for real attention to academics, the N.C. House of Representatives voted 66-48 to send H.B. 324 to the state senate for consideration. This bill restrains the use of CRT beyond topical conversation between teachers and their students and further requires schools to list online lesson plans and instructional material being used in the classrooms. House Republicans rightfully view CRT as both counter-productive in bringing the country together in “a more perfect union” as our Constitution promotes. And it further confuses the attention that needs to be applied to real academic endeavors such as Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.
It is time for parents and taxpayers to make a decision. Should our schools be used for social development, historically the purview of parents and families, or should they be places of academic endeavor to better prepare the next generation to deal with the world’s expanding complexities and challenges? Our nation’s future as a beacon of freedom and academic excellence rests on that decision.