As a Moorhead teacher I have observed with unease the escalating discussion of critical race theory. From my perspective the discussion has been short on understanding.
The anxiety over the supposed instruction of critical race theory in schools combines a legitimate concern about what children are being taught in school with an unnecessarily politicized response. The debate should not tilt on what political party you adhere to but on what is best for students.
As a teacher, I have received no instruction in critical race theory. In elective graduate course work I have learned that critical race theory is a way of thinking about the world that asks researchers to consider the role of race as they ask questions and strive to understand the way systems affect society (originally the theory was used to understand legal systems, but now it is applied to myriad others, like education and finance).
I have received training at school in culturally responsive teaching. In our country there are pronounced racial disparities in achievement and discipline according to traditional measures; these disparities are wider in the state of Minnesota and - alarmingly - even wider here in Moorhead. As our district and community continues to diversify, school districts and teachers must work to improve our ability to support all of our students. The factual disparities help us understand that the students we are less successful at reaching are students of color. If we are to do our jobs well, we must consider how we can better meet the educational needs of these students, the children and future of our community.
- Woman detained following scuffle during critical race theory conference in Moorhead
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I want to address two real fears that I have sensed in those who use critical race theory as a code word to incite anger towards educators who are working to address racial concerns in their curriculum and teaching. First, many fear that teachers will “indoctrinate” or even “brainwash” their children. You are right to expect that when your children go to school they will learn! Educators who choose to address race in the classroom (and not all do) do so because race is an undeniable part of our society. Teachers who are successful at engaging their students are those who connect the skills being learned in the classroom to our world.
Second, I sense that many fear that if teachers and schools focus on students of color that white students will lose opportunities to learn - a zero-sum understanding of how education happens. Educational researchers and sociologists agree that this is a false idea. In practice, as more student perspectives are included in the classroom, all students benefit from the multitude of ideas and increased participation and energy towards learning. And ultimately, in our diversifying society, all students will benefit from communicating across racial boundaries.
Finally I’ll share an example from my own teaching. When I first started teaching here in Moorhead, I was concerned about the struggles of my students of color. As I considered my curriculum, I realized that the texts I taught were almost exclusively written by white authors from middle-class backgrounds, identities that more or less matched my own. Since then I have worked to change my curriculum so that now I teach texts by Native, Black, middle-eastern, and Latino authors. I have seen students from these backgrounds come alive to texts as they are able to make personal connections. I have also seen white students enthusiastically engaged in perspectives that challenge them to see the world differently. These curriculum changes benefited the education of all in my classroom.
I hope that as our community thinks increasingly about what is being taught in our classrooms that we will seek accurate information, we will look past our fears, and we will seek to advocate for changes that will support success for all of our students, white, Black, or brown.
Marc Wilson is a teacher in Moorhead.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.