Commentary

The fight over critical race theory is a solution in search of a problem | Lloyd E. Sheaffer

The GOP, traditionally seen as the “Grand Old Party” has devolved into the “Groveling Orange Party”

July 23, 2021 6:30 am

People rally against ‘critical race theory’ at the Loudoun County Government Center in Leesburg, Va. on June 12, 2021 (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images/The Conversation).

Teachers, by the very nature of their calling—explicit and implicit— are already nonpolitical in the classroom. Whether teaching an American History lesson or mentoring a student on a research project with a political topic or leading a current events discussion with a focus upon fact versus opinion, effective teachers encourage discourse engaging all points of view; students develop critical thinking skills by hearing all perspectives on a topic.

Lloyd E. Sheaffer (Capital-Star file)

Teachers do not need partisan politicians from the Right or the Left or the Middle dictating what can and cannot be included in the instructors’ curricula. Nonetheless, such is the fiat in House Bill No. 1532 in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. The issue that has Republican knickers in knots is the academic construct Critical Race Theory (C.R.T), a topic not taught in any public school in Pennsylvania.

Lauren Jackson of The New York Times explains C.R.T this way:  “The theory argues that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other modern institutions, and that the legacies of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow still create an uneven playing field for Black people and other people of color. The idea is that racism is not a matter of individual bigotry but is systemic in America. Recently critics have made C.R.T. a catchall target for opposition to equity efforts, affirmative action and ‘wokeness’ in general.”

It seems ironic that all 29 sponsors and co-sponsors of this legislation are Republicans, members of the party that was founded in 1854 as an anti-slavery—and, I suppose, anti-racism—party are now roiled up over a program that might shed a full light on the effects of the racism which their founders opposed.

Republicans, who traditionally have espoused individual rights and responsibilities and have often argued for more local control of community affairs, now are proposing that the content of local curricula be imposed from the top, in this case the state legislature.

We must remember, though, that the GOP, traditionally seen as the “Grand Old Party” has devolved into the “Groveling Orange Party,” reflecting the divisive, undemocratic, and un-American conspiracy theories of the disgraced loser of the 2020 Presidential election and current “man behind the green curtain.”

Teachers come under pressure as politicians, parents battle over ‘critical race theory’

[In both Baum’s book and the film The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard himself proclaims, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” which seems good advice.]

As true sycophants, the 29 Republicans pushing this legislation in Pennsylvania—and those in the other 21 states that have enacted or introduced similar bills—are imitating their esteemed leader’s use of fear to push through this law. Perhaps they are fearful that discussions of such racial issues will unveil the truth of racism in this country.

Perhaps they are panicky about the U.S. Census Bureau’s prediction that by 2045 whites will be the minority population in the nation. Perhaps they are worried that their own bigoted and xenophobic leanings will be exposed.

Who knows? Freethinking, logical, broadly educated students just might in the future elect politicians and presidents who put the good of the nation and all her citizens ahead of their own biases, parochialism, and lust for power.

– Lloyd E. Sheaffer

Those who wish to erase the blackboards and whiteboards of history are doing a great disservice to their progeny. Social studies lessons must present all aspects of any historical narrative, warts and all, as they say. Teachers must help their charges study both the admirable and the abhorrent events of our past if the students are to learn what to emulate for growth and development and what to change so that past atrocities are not repeated.

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery,” asserted American educational reformer Horace Mann in 1848. The educational system cannot, however, achieve equality for all if it is poisoned by zealous partisans of any persuasion. Students and teachers alike hampered by doctrinaires and their preachings will be unable to consider fully the aspects of life-affecting problems.

Even before I hung up my teaching mantel some years ago, courses and programs designed to develop critical thinking skills were scrubbed from curricula in lieu of top-down imposed governmental testing edicts.

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Weeks and weeks of classroom time devoted to test preparation to ensure nothing other than “passing the test” quashed lessons designed to help young minds discern biased information from verifiable facts. Effort spent on fulfilling the untenable goals of the Federal Government’s 2001 No Child Left Behind Act precluded units and lessons aimed at boosting analytical abilities to discern fact from fabrication, truth from deception, historical from mythical, and genuine from spurious.

We are now reaping the outcome of not sowing those honorable civic seeds because of blinkered politicians micromanaging our school systems.

Again, stay out of our classrooms, politicians.

Let our teachers determine what to teach based on the needs and skills and levels of the students seated before them every day.  Trust our skillful local teachers to engender a generation of broad-minded pupils who are not afraid to confront the truths of our past, however afraid of the truth you may be.

Who knows? Freethinking, logical, broadly educated students just might in the future elect politicians and presidents who put the good of the nation and all her citizens ahead of their own biases, parochialism, and lust for power.

Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].

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