[UPDATE: See published version here: MY TURN: Should South Carolina cancel Critical Race Theory?]

“In total, lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced bills that seek to restrict how teachers can discuss racism, sexism, and other social issues,” reports Sarah Schwartz for Education Week.

South Carolina (H630) has joined Republicans across the U.S. challenging Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the 1619 Project.

The key problem with this copycat legislation is CRT isn’t implemented in K-12 education and the 1619 Project is not adopted curriculum.

CRT is rare in higher education, reserved for some graduate programs (specifically among legal scholars), but CRT provides a way to examine systemic racism, not simply the actions of individual racists.

For example, CRT is an academic process for trying to understand why police kill Black people disproportionately to white people. According to CRT, the killing of Tamir Rice is rooted in systemic racism (viewing Black boys as older than their biological age) that does not require the officer being consciously a racist individual.

Ultimately, legislation aimed at CRT or the 1619 Project is misleading, a threat to academic freedom and the education of students in SC. As Eesha Pendharker reports in Education Week: “[E]xperts say the laws ultimately will unravel years of administrators’ fitful efforts to improve educational opportunities and academic outcomes for America’s children of color, who today make up the majority of the nation’s student body.”

What, then, is occurring in SC K-12 education in terms of race and racism?

  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training that covers implicit bias, systemic racism and racial privilege, and microaggressions. This training is now common for educators and students, but worth monitoring because DEI training is often not effective and can serve as superficial distractions allowing schools to avoid harder diversity work.
  • Diversifying faculty and the curriculum. Public school teachers are about 80% white, less diverse than society and the population of students in public schooling (increasingly Black and brown). Also, for many years, a greater representation of Black and brown voices and history have been included in what students are taught (typically in English/ELA and history/social studies). Diversifying the curriculum has prompted controversial legislation by Republicans, however.
  • Implementing culturally relevant teaching. The work of Gloria Ladson-Billings has gained momentum in K-12 education. Culturally relevant teaching, as she defines it, is “a threefold approach to ensuring that all children are successful. That approach requires a focus on students’ learning, an attempt to develop their cultural competence, and to increase their sociopolitical or critical consciousness.” This focus seeks to honor all children while acknowledging that differences remain among students by race, gender, culture, etc.
  • Adopting responsive discipline. Decades of research have revealed racially inequitable discipline in schools, popularly known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Many schools have begun to reconsider inequitable practices such as zero-tolerance policies and expulsion/suspension, for example.
  • Expanding educational access and improving educational quality for children of color. Black and brown students are under-represented in advanced programs (such as Advanced Placement and gifted programs), and often are taught by teachers with the least experience, who are under-/un-certified, and sit in classrooms with the highest student/teacher ratios. Public schools are not the “great equalizers” politicians claim, and often reflect and perpetuate inequity.

State legislation and the Superintendent of Education targeting CRT and the 1619 Project is political theater, a solution in search of a problem. Race and racism remain a significant part of life as well as education in SC. Republicans are poised to ruin the very good and needed, but incomplete, work identified above.

It is critical that teachers and students are free to examine the truth of our past and our present so that we can create the future we believe is possible.