OPINION: Elected officials should drop their political theatrics over CRT and embrace the serious issues in our K-12 education system that continues to deny equal opportunity for all students.
Across our nation, families and students have struggled during the pandemic to keep up with their educational progress. For many families, this pandemic forced them into a crisis-induced distance learning that they, and their local school districts, were not prepared for. For students of color, this crisis-induced distance learning demonstrated to the nation the significant gap that they face in equally accessing education opportunities.
While certain communities easily negotiated this process, far too many neighborhoods across our nation saw families struggle with key distance learning components such as access to high-speed internet and having key technology tools like laptops and tablets readily available.
The result of this chaos is the reality that a significant amount of our nation’s students are preparing to return to school this fall with significant learning loss and gaps in their education. For students of color, the learning loss has been far more significant. In a study published by McKinsey in December 2020, it was estimated that the learning loss for students of color in math was 12 to 16 months. The issues and challenges that await teachers, students, and families this fall are serious and require the entire focus of our elected officials.
In this Thursday, March 11, 2021 file photo, desks are arranged in a classroom at an elementary school in Nesquehoning, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
In this environment, you would likely assume that policymakers and elected officials are aware of the serious challenges that our students face returning to school and would be solely focused on addressing learning loss and ensuring that all students had the resources they need to succeed. Unfortunately, that is the furthest thing from the truth.
In many states and local school districts across our nation, elected officials have abandoned their focus on student success and instead found a new political enemy in education to chase, the truth about our nation’s history.
For the past few months, the news has been filled with stories about the rising concerns by those on the political right regarding critical race theory. Critical race theory has been portrayed as being an attack on our nation and attempts by those on the far political left to indoctrinate children. Texas Senator Ted Cruz called it “poison that is being poured into the minds of our kids” on a Fox News interview.
As the right found their new political organizing issue, many state legislatures have taken this opportunity to further attack the historical truth about our nation. In Missouri this week, their legislature’s Joint Committee on Education held an extensive hearing on critical race theory. The hearing went for three hours and had over a half-dozen individuals testify. Shockingly, this legislative hearing about American history and race, did not have one Black student, parent, teacher, or education leader invited to provide testimony.
In Texas, the State Senate recently used Governor Greg Abbott’s called special session to pass legislation that would repeal many of the teaching requirements that were recently adopted in June of this year that ensured that all students were taught about the experiences of marginalized populations in the United States. This new legislation removes requirements that schools teach students that white supremacy is “morally wrong” and removes important historical documents, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” and “I Have A Dream” speech, from the list of historical documents required to be used in classrooms.
The Texas State Capitol is seen on the first day of the 87th Legislature’s special session on July 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
In Tennessee, Republican lawmakers took no time missing a political opportunity and passed legislation to ban the teaching of critical race theory. They collectively wrote an editorial for the Tennessean where they exclaimed CRT as a “dangerous theory” that endangered every child in the state. They closed their editorial by stating “In Tennessee, we believe in the truth. We believe in equality of opportunity. We are proud of our history.”
As this new wave of fear politics and campaign strategies for 2022 and beyond has been released by Republicans, students have watched and are openly amused by the disconnect between their reality as students and that of policymakers. On the Gen Z-dominated social media platform TikTok, users have engaged in discussions on these attempts to ban CRT and hide the truth in American history. One post by TikTok user Nicholas Ferroni, @mrferroni, drew the comparison between the response in the 1950s and 1960s to ending segregation in schools to the current fear over CRT. The post received over 89,000 likes.
Another TikTok post, this one by Drew Blaze, @DrewBlazeOfficial, jumped into what CRT meant for teaching all children about the true Black experience in America. He eloquently demonstrated the fake anti-CRT arguments and captured what so many in Gen Z are feeling. His post has over 135,000 likes.
The generational disconnect about education in our nation is one that is crucial to address. As policymakers and elected officials in many states use the legislative process to chase campaign strategies and fundraising themes for 2022, America’s diverse K-12 students are left to face the reality that what they experienced and lost during COVID-19 seems of little importance to those who are making the decisions about their future.
The overwhelming data from our schools is that students of color, especially Black students, have and continue to be neglected. Black students are far more likely to be disciplined, Black girls are adultified, our natural hair is used to discriminate against us, and we are less likely to be seen as and selected for gifted and talented programs.
If these elected officials cared about “equality of opportunity” they would drop their political theatrics over CRT and embrace the serious issues in our K-12 education system that have and continues to deny equal opportunity for all students.
Haley Taylor Schlitz is in her third year of law school at SMU Dedman School of Law. In May of 2019, she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Woman’s University College of Professional Education. She is also the youngest graduate in the history of Texas Woman’s University and is an elected delegate to the Texas Democratic Party and was elected and served as a Joe Biden Delegate from Texas to the Democratic National Convention.
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