The topic of Critical Race Theory being taught in K-12 schools has been a highly divisive one that was amplified by the social justice movement spurred by the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
The attempt to take what many feel would be an educational step forward has been met with much resistance, as evidenced by the 54 “educational gag orders” that have been introduced by legislators in 2021 alone.
Critical Race Theory, or CRT, highlights the role that systemic racism has played throughout American History, including how it permeates various facets of our society, like criminal justice system, health care system, educational system, labor market, housing market, and has negatively impacted people of color.
Along with America’s latest racial reckoning came a large push to teach history through the lens of CRT, and that push has been met with an equal amount of opposition that has taken the form of the bills introduced by 24 legislatures between January and September 2021.
The bills would ban “prohibited” or “divisive” concepts related to topics including “discussions of race, racism, gender, and American history” within “K-12 schools, higher education, and state agencies and institutions” according to a report published by PEN, an open expression protection organization.
Eleven of the bills have already become law in nine states.
“As many Americans and U.S. institutions have attempted a true reckoning with the role that race and racism play in American history and society, those opposed to these cultural changes surrounding race, gender, and diversity have pushed back ferociously, feeding into a culture war,” reads the report.
“Anyone who cares about freedom of speech and democratic values should be appalled by these exclusionary bills,” said Jonathan Friedman, one of the report’s authors and the group’s director of free expression and education, according to CNN.
“Educational gag orders muzzle entire subject areas, scare teachers from engaging in important discussions and deprive students of opportunities to ask questions, learn, and grow. These intrusive bans have no place in our classrooms and institutions.”
Although CRT is not currently taught in secondary or elementary schools, the discussion of its inclusion has become highly politicized.
The report attributes the rise of “educational gag orders” to conservative activist and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo, who was instrumental in the instigation of the Trump administration executive order and “acknowledges that he intentionally uses the label to rally political support, saying that CRT is ‘the perfect villain’ and a useful ‘brand category’ to build opposition to progressives’ perceived dominance of American educational institutions.”
PEN hopes that by publishing the report, they’ll “sound the alarm” to the public and open more eyes to their true nature as “attempts to legislate constraints on certain depictions or discussions of United States history and society in educational settings; to stigmatize and suppress specific intellectual frameworks, academic arguments, and opinions; and to impose a particular political diktat on numerous forms of public education.”