To Parents, School Boards, and Administrators,
I am an English teacher finishing my tenth year in what has been one of the most stressful times our country has seen in living memory, and the struggles of the pandemic have profoundly hit those schools that can afford them the least. Schools like the one I teach at. The pandemic has more effectively highlighted the problems inherent in the public school system than any meeting or committee I have seen this past decade, but the horror of the pandemic itself has overshadowed it.
For eight of my ten years in education, I taught in a predominately white school in Maryland, and I taught the last two in schools that are predominately comprised of minorities. In all of these schools, the students who were impacted the most by the pandemic were the poor, which our students of color are unevenly represented. The absenteeism in the lower academic level classes was absolutely astronomical. However, in the Honors courses and the AP courses, they were not. Yet there were and still is something absent from those classes: The minorities.
In my school, approximately 49% of the population is Hispanic, yet the percentage of the AP test takers were in the single digits. What makes that more startling is that in the 2020 AP tests, the average percentage of Hispanic AP test-takers in the US was 20.9%, (College Board) and comprise 18.5% of the US population (US Census Bureau). Why are the national averages so close, yet so far off in schools like mine? Should there not be a number of students taking AP and Honors classes that are commensurate with its population?
In order to answer those questions, one would have to investigate the root cause of why our minority population is not as present in higher-level academic classes. We’d have to investigate the history behind how those populations were and are taught in this country, how they were treated throughout history, how their culture views education, how public funding impacts those same areas, and of course, how that public funding was allocated and why. These things are important to the future success of our country, considering that, according to recent estimates, by 2045, the country will be composed mostly of minorities.
These questions and answers are all a part of the much maligned Critical Race Theory. CRT is vastly misunderstood by most in this country. Some believe it is saying, “We’re a racist country” and “I hate America,” or whatever political pundits are trying to vilify it as. If that is true at least that would be simple and then easy to dismiss, but like anything dealing with race in this country, nothing is that simple. CRT, at its heart, is us being honest with ourselves and our past in order to proceed into a future that benefits all of us. Our country is made up of hundreds of ethnicities, and ignoring what happened to any of them, the good and the bad, is ignoring part of what made us what we are today. Acknowledging where we succeeded is not a challenge; acknowledging where we failed takes courage and strength, because it is not easy. Few things worthwhile rarely are.
We have all learned that to be critical of something is to be negative about it, but to be critical, according to Merriam Webster, is “exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation using critical thinking.” This is the most literal definition. Should this not be the goal when we are discussing something as fundamental to America, using careful judgment about our respective heritages? Banning Critical Race Theory only shows that those bodies who are doing so do not understand it, and people fear it because they don’t understand it. So instead of taking the harder path, the one that requires more courage and effort to build something new because they fear what it might say about something they hold dear, they simply seek to destroy it. That has always been the path of least resistance and one that this country has used to great effect more times than can be counted.
However, to refuse that part of who we are and only focus on the white-washed history of this country that makes some of us more comfortable, is cowardice. What’s worse, if we don’t look critically at the reasons why the rest of us have and continue to suffer, if we just accept lies like, “That’s just how it is, the strong survive,” or “It’s always been that way,” or “That’s just how “they” are,” we are now talking about supremacy. The idea that the current state of affairs is how it’s supposed to be, that there are people who are meant to be less, who are destined to endure hardships so the rest may prosper, is supremacy, and we all pay dearly for it. We have seen where that path leads us time and again, in our own country and in those of our allies.
No group has an inherent “goodness” or “brilliance” to them, but there are those who have an inherent advantage by right of their birth and the privilege of their family’s station. That is also a part of CRT: Looking at who benefits, at the achievements of those groups, and not just their shortcomings. Take, for example, some of my Irish forebearers. Suppose you take away the part of our history that vilified them, that relegated them to certain parts of New York and Boston and Chicago, that treated them as cheap labor and second-class citizens for decades. You’ll miss out on how the Irish became one of the predominant members of the police force in those areas, about their involvement in unionizing, and why the celebrations of Irish and Catholic heritage are so predominant in those same cities that once demonized them. They did not just show up on a boat after a bad crop in Ireland and became valuable members of society, they clawed their way up and achieved the American Dream. They worked for it, but they also suffered.
In the end, it is all just information. What we do with it determines if it is good or bad, and we should have the freedom to do with that information as is needed. To withhold that information, to restrict those freedoms, is to go against our First Amendment right. If we teach only what is good about certain groups and ignore the achievements and treatments of others, it leaves the realm of censorship and becomes fascism very quickly.
Banning Critical Race Theory doesn’t stop us from teaching history, critical thinking, or keeping people from talking about how race affects us every day. All it does is punish teachers and educators from doing the very job you require of us to do, and in doing so makes what you are trying to ban even more attractive to others while further driving educators away. We are in a crisis in our education system; this past year has left our problems wide open like a festering wound, and by banning Critical Race Theory, even considering it, not only is making our jobs harder, you are making finding the solutions to the problems caused by racial inequalities harder to identify too.
Our greatest strength as a country is not our blindsided reverence for one truth, for one leader; it is our innovation and our diversity. It is Democracy. E Pluribus Unum. From many, one. We just have to be brave enough to support it. We just have to be brave enough to be it.
Thank you for your time.