I feel fortunate to live in Connecticut. If you’re the parent of a school-aged child, you should, too.
Amid all of the misinformation, hyperbole and manufactured hysteria surrounding “critical race theory” and its supposed siege of America’s public schools, Connecticut remains mostly above the fray. Not that the polemicists haven’t tried to implicate the state’s schools.
A closed forum in Guilford last month, for example, featured presentations from the likes of Michael Breen, New Hampshire’s state director for No Left Turn Education, a national group that contends an “anti-white, radical leftist agenda is being used by public schools to indoctrinate students.”
Similarly, Daniel Richards, the CEO of Global Rescue, an emergency-response firm that has nothing to do with education policy, also happens to be from New Hampshire. At the Guilford forum, “He shared his success in working against a diversity, equity and inclusion committee in his children’s school district.”
Bear in mind, not one shred of bona fide evidence linking Guilford schools to the complex and nuanced concept of critical race theory was offered by these out-of-state guests.
The fact is, while five states have already passed laws banning critical race theory from public schools and another 17 states are considering similar bills, Connecticut rejected such an initiative, albeit along party lines.
Moreover, the state passed a very different law (Public Act 19-12) now in effect: “Gov. Ned Lamont [on Dec. 9] announced that Connecticut has become the first state in the nation to require all high schools in the state to offer courses on African-American, Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino studies.”
“The adopted curriculum focuses on a two-pronged, inquiry-based approach, including both content knowledge and student identity development,” according to the governor’s press release. “It utilizes Connecticut’s Social Studies Framework themes and inquiry-based approach already familiar to social studies teachers to deliver a content-rich and personalized learning experience.”
The elective courses, which must be in place by the 2022-23 school year, represent Connecticut’s authentic, research-based approach to education – a method that is decidedly not a characteristic of the new anti-CRT laws in other states.
“Tennessee House Bill SB 0623, for example, bans any teaching that could lead an individual to ‘feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex,’” write four authors of a recent New York Times op-ed. “In addition to this vague proscription, it restricts teaching that leads to ‘division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people.’”
The authors of this op-ed include a progressive, a moderate, a libertarian and a conservative. They explain how “the very act of learning history in a free and multiethnic society is inescapably fraught. Any accurate teaching of any country’s history could make some of its citizens feel uncomfortable (or even guilty) about the past. To deny this necessary consequence of education is, to quote W.E.B. Du Bois, to transform ‘history into propaganda.’”
Yale historian Timothy Snyder adds, “History is not therapy, and discomfort is part of growing up. As a teacher, I cannot exclude the possibility, for example, that my non-Jewish students will feel psychological distress in learning how little the United States did for Jewish refugees in the 1930.”
“My experience as a historian of mass killing tells me that everything worth knowing is discomfiting; my experience as a teacher tells me that the process is worth it,” continues Snyder. “Trying to shield young people from guilt prevents them from seeing history for what it was and becoming the citizens that they might be. Part of becoming an adult is seeing your life in its broader settings. Only that process enables a sense of responsibility that, in its turn, activates thought about the future.”
As I’ve written before, American history is rife with contradictory events that paint both positive and negative pictures of the country – a paradox. To understand it, one must accept this reality and study the facts. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, often cited by historians as our best president, suffered from periodic bouts of depression. A full understanding of Abraham Lincoln, therefore, requires an honest and balanced review of this paradox, as Doris Kearns Goodwin provides in her book, “Team of Rivals.”
Likewise, an honest study of America must include racism. American history, in short, is about studying facts that provide a complete understanding of the events that have led to the successes and failures of the nation.
Even as critical race theory, developed originally for law school, is not a concept applied in K-12 schools, its underlying premise rings true: Systemic racism in America is real. To deny that reality is to ignore the Middle Passage, the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, Japanese-American internment, Jim Crow laws, and so much more. It would be educational malpractice to avoid these events simply because they might cause “anguish” for some students.
I’m grateful that we still study these topics in Connecticut’s schools. I would hope other state residents feel the same way.
Barth Keck has completed 30 years as an English teacher and 15 years as assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy and AP English Language and Composition. Email Barth here.
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