Critical Race Theory is being put on the stand across the country as legislators decide whether or not it should be taught in public education. In June 2021, right here in Atlanta, the Cobb County school board banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory. This was followed by the Georgia Senate passing a similar bill in March 2022 where the bill’s sponsor, Bo Hatchett claimed “at the end of the day, what this bill says is that a teacher should not tell the child that because of their race, skin color or ethnicity, that they should feel guilty that it is their fault. This bill allows history to be taught.”
Sorry but WTF? Because of this you now have teachers walking on eggshells afraid to be caught and punished for speaking the truth. And on the other hand, we have parents and representatives worried about their children being exposed to the realities of racism and the foul atrocities that come with it. Also, why would the Cobb County school board, near Atlanta where diversity and civil rights are motivated and encouraged, not promote the same thing in classrooms?
“I feel like it puts a limit on what can and cannot be said,” says Savanna Lowe, a sophomore at Pebblebrook High School in Cobb County. “Discomfort is always not a bad thing. History repeats itself in today’s society. Not everyone will know the real truth and story, with further bans on what is taught in History.”
This ongoing legal debate made me think, what truly is Critical Race Theory (CRT) and where did this great divide come from?
Defined by Britannica CRT is an “intellectual and social movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour. Critical race theorists hold that racism is inherent in the law and legal institutions of the United States insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.”
After learning this, The first thing I thought was how at school we learn about race and racism through the typical discussions about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement, boycotting, and the effects on America, etc. Right now, the only way Atlanta high school students can get more than a rushed Martin Luther King, Jr. lesson on his birthday (for sympathy) is through taking specific social sciences electives. With the chaos of high school, many students, especially in the Atlanta school systems, don’t take it or get dropped into the class without students’ consideration, like me and my Ethnic Studies class.
But honestly, after taking the class my experience of learning past Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks and digging deeper into historical figures like Zora Neale Hurston and Henrietta Lacks, and many more that haven’t gotten the mainstream media attention, has been an enlightening one. A class that I thought was forced upon me turned into a period where I was curious about what I would learn, and how it has impacted us to today. I enjoyed the participation, disagreements, and different points of view.
“I believe it allows for greater discussions and discourse from the student’s views and perspectives,” says Phillip Neely, the Ethnic Studies’ teacher at Pebblebrook High School. “Students should feel free within our schools to express themselves, debate, and have meaningful discussions about race, politics, and community engagement. These are topics and issues that are embedded within the American fabric of our society, and I believe it’s the youth that will decide the coming future of America and hopefully lead with knowledge of its past and knowledge of self.”
Ja’el Morgan, a senior at Pebblebrook High School, who has taken the Ethnic Studies class says the class “goes way more in depth with cultures and teaching of racism than any other social studies class I have had before. I have learned more about cultural appropriation and other cultures.”
Talking about racism and segregation shouldn’t be uncomfortable or awkward. We have to do our part and inform, not attack others about racism and how it’s not always about being denied to pee in a “ Whites Only” bathroom. Psychologically, talking about racism dives deeper into how interpretations and stereotypes are made, like the fear of young black boys wearing hoodies, or minority parents afraid of their children walking into a white-dominated world. Granted, hood-wearing KKK members aren’t in our front lawns burning crosses anymore, but racism is better disguised in the real world, with some of those same types of people using their power in law and politics to their advantage. Resulting in trends like CRT being banned in classrooms.
“My only concern is that [classes like] Ethnic Studies may become misinterpreted for political gains and attacked due to a lack of understanding of its original purpose, and less empathy for learning about America’s diverse and marginalized communities,” says Neely.
Senators and Representatives are key components for CRT since it comes to them in the Georgia Assembly to decide if CRT is a “threat” to public education. I have never witnessed a lesson solely on CRT being discussed; however I do see school districts restrict racism and political and societal discussion to teaching what only shows a small portion of the truth. Not how jails are designed to incarcerate minorities and revoke them of their citizen rights such as voting or obtaining a job without being put on a trial and judged again. People and politicians who are anti-CRT in public schools like to promote “unity and diversity” in schools. But, I can’t wrap my head around it because without understanding how deep racism is traced and used today in society, how can we actually promote unity?
I enjoy disagreements and listening to students’ points of view and reason. Do I agree with all of them? No. However, this is how we grow and mature as humans. Atlanta school students should be taught about the atrocities that America has committed and not through a false teaching of historical figures, but the truth.