• Olivia Wong

Is the Critical Race Theory Core to Every Curriculum?

The struggle for the balance of diversity and control over education has sparked a controversial curriculum battle for the inclusion of race-centered lessons in the Philadelphia school systems. Created by Harvard Professor Derrick Bell, the critical race theory (CRT) has raised multiple questions and concerns regarding the extent of teachers’ powers in the classroom.

Being a rather ambiguous term, the CRT has initiated conversations about race and created exposure to students about some of the unfortunate and ugly truths in American history. A prominent belief of proponents of the CRT is that everyone has racial biases, regardless of intent. In addition, various systems in the country, such as law enforcement, education, workplaces, or healthcare, have racism embedded in them; in order to combat this, change began in schools. No longer do social studies classes only consist of lectures about the heroics and bravery of Christopher Columbus, teachers have begun to assign literary works by people of color or highlight minorities’ significant roles in American history. More specifically, lessons covering Black history have shifted away from the sole aspects of slavery and colonialism and have been modified to open a space for Black voices and perspectives. Supporters of the CRT are enthusiastic about the normalization of newfound representation in the school system.

With these progressive changes, the mere label of the critical race theory incited loud and angry objections because of the misconceptions around the history of white supremacy in America. Many critics have felt that a race-centered curriculum is “fueling hostility to whites” or ruining the perfect image of the country. Since the theory heavily relies on communities’ identities, people saw the inclusion of these once hidden truths as a personal threat to their pride. For instance, some white Americans feel targeted for being held responsible for “systemic racism” because they believe that only individuals are to blame for their respective attitudes, not an entire ethnic group. These emotions were multiplied when the CRT was applied to schools because opponents wanted to maintain control over their children’s education and intellectual development.

The relevance of this dichotomy is dependent on Pennsylvanian state representatives’ recent attempts to control and limit dialogue surrounding race in school curriculum. In June 2021, House Bill No. 1532 was introduced by Representatives Russ Diamond (R) and Barb Gliem (R). Titled “Teaching Racial and Universal Equality Act (TEAACH),” the bill would ban teaching of any concepts that insisted the following:

  • “An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

  • “An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by members of the individual’s race or sex.”

  • “Meritocracy or merit-based systems are either racist or sexist.”

  • “The United States of America or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is fundamentally racist or sexist.

Pennsylvania may also see a limit on its abilities to teach lessons about race if Republican candidate Lou Bartletta wins the gubernatorial race in November of 2022. His stance on the issue is crystal-clear: “We will never, ever, ever teach critical race theory in Pennsylvania while I’m governor. We are not going to teach children to hate each other. In fact, we are going to teach them to learn our history and be proud of our country we live in.” Not only may this apply to schools in Pennsylvania if the bill passes or if Bartletta wins, but teachers in other states around the country have also already suffered the consequences of teaching the CRT or anything remotely related to race. Since educators have been fired or suspended for denouncing white supremacy or including people of color’s works in their curriculum, it sends a loud message to the government that race can be a touchy subject for the public school system.

Despite the possibility of these changes, Thomas Jefferson University has acknowledged systemic racism and actively initiates conversations surrounding race in the classroom. Since the university is largely focused on healthcare, the statement under “Commitment to an Antiracist Education” on the Jefferson website affirms, “Over the course of their training, students will reflect on the history of race in medicine and healthcare, unconscious bias, the impact of structural racism and its cumulative effect on social determinants of health.” In addition, a banner reading, “We Stand Against Racism,” was printed and placed outside Kanbar Campus Center, which ensured that the majority of Jefferson students could see and acknowledge that race is not a taboo topic on campus.

The actions backing these words come in the form of current lessons in the classroom, including cultural competency in Intro to Health Professions and analyses of Gene Yang’s graphic novel, “American Born Chinese” in Writing 101 class. The Nexus at Jefferson also does not shy away from uncomfortable yet eye-opening conversations, such as Dr. Marcella McCoy-Deh’s research, titled, “How Do We Decolonize African Studies?” The mere presence of these materials encourages the fight for real representation in history and in school.

As the fiery debate over curriculum and the amplification of rhetoric surrounding race and identity in America continues, it is only a matter of time for the people to decide the fate of the CRT.

241 views0 comments