The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 181 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
GONZALEZ: The backlash against critical race theory in schools has grown steadily over the past year. While opponents initially targeted a relatively obscure branch of academia, they are now coming after everything, using CRT as an umbrella term for any kind of instruction related to equity, diversity, inclusion, even social-emotional learning.
The movement has impacted policy in many states—silencing teachers and suppressing progressive practices that took decades to evolve—and it threatens to do the same in many others.
In this episode, we’ll start by looking at how things got to this point. Then we’ll look at the ways this movement is harming and silencing teachers, and what damage it will ultimately do to students if it continues to spread unchecked. Finally, I’ll share a list of things that can be done to fight back.
Before I start I’d like to thank Brain Power Academy for sponsoring this episode. Professional Development and Party aren’t words you’d ever hear together, but that’s exactly what Brain Power Academy provides. Their team of neuroscientists, mental health experts, and educators have come together to create a new format for PD. It’s virtual, interactive, and social. All the joys of offline PD with none of the logistical hassle. To sign up your school or district for a PD Party and get 25% off simply visit cultofpedagogy.com/brainpower . That’s cultofpedagogy.com/brainpower.
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What I’m going to start with is a brief summary of the backlash against equity-driven teaching in the past year, but I am only scratching the surface here. So much of what I learned came from listening to the 7-episode podcast series put out by EdTrust, called EdTrusted: The Critical Race Theory Craze That’s Sweeping the Nation. I will link to the series in my show notes and strongly recommend that you take the time to listen to it.
I also want to pause for a moment to just thank all of the people that have helped me put this episode together. It has a lot of different angles, and I avoided it for awhile because there was just so much to it and I didn’t feel like I had any solutions, so there were a lot of people who read this and gave me feedback, I consulted with a lot of people about what they felt was needed, so I just really want to thank everybody who contributed to this; this is absolutely not a solo effort.
Attention to critical race theory (CRT) started over a year ago, right after protests erupted all over the world in support of Black lives, prompted by the murder of George Floyd. In late summer of 2020, a conservative activist began sounding the alarm on CRT to conservative media. His campaign to focus conservative anger on this obscure term worked, first prompting the then-president to issue a directive prohibiting all federal agencies from conducting any kind of training that addressed critical race theory, white privilege, or systemic racism.
Gradually, the backlash turned to public schools, with groups organizing to demand that schools stop teaching CRT or anything like it. For example, in June of 2021, The Manhattan Institute released a Woke Schooling Toolkit1, meant to equip concerned parents with tools for fighting back against the “extremism” spreading in schools. Similar resources emerged from other organizations, like the toolkit2 published by Citizens for Renewing America, which is full of scary-sounding claims like this: “…once the Critical Race Theory activists show up, they will do everything in their power to take over your school, church, mosque, synagogue, club, business, government, police service, hospital, and any other institution you can think of. …They will stop at nothing” (p. 7-8).
While a good deal of energy has been spent defining CRT, debating whether or not it is actually being taught in the strictest sense—and whether those who oppose it even know what it is—things have progressed past that point. As education writer Peter Greene puts it, “Granted, the term is still being bandied around, but at this point it is meaningless, a placeholder for various grievances.” These grievances include things like restorative justice, specific books in school libraries, and social-emotional learning.
“It’s true that the vast majority of people throwing the term around don’t know what it means,” Greene says, but at this stage, that’s not really the point. “Parents are upset about something; telling them they’re using the wrong name for it doesn’t really further the conversation.”
Now the backlash is being written into law. A growing number of states have passed or are considering laws that serve as “gag orders,” outlawing a variety of topics, ideas, terms, and books from being taught in schools, threatening teachers with termination and the loss of their teaching license if they disobey.
Meanwhile, citizens are taking matters into their own hands: Activist groups are offering “bounty” money to support parents and students in catching teachers breaking these laws. And threats of violence against teachers, which include anti-diversity backlash along with pushback on COVID-related protocols, have increased to a level that has prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved.
These developments have added intense stress, anxiety, and in many cases, fear to the daily lives of teachers who are already struggling through one of the most difficult school years they’ve ever experienced.
Part 2: The Impact on Teachers
The news stories can’t quite capture how this movement is impacting educators. We see the laws being passed and get a sense for the heightened emotion through videos of chaotic school board meetings, but it’s the threats to teachers—whether direct or indirect—that have the most chilling effect on educators’ daily lives.
To illustrate this effect more fully, I’m going to share the stories of two educators whose work has been affected by the anti-CRT movement: Mary and Lauren, whose names have been changed to preserve their anonymity. Both are Black women; I am highlighting their stories because although white educators are also being harassed for equity-framed teaching, for BIPOC teachers that attention carries with it a greater likelihood of physical harm.
“The risk is different,” Lauren says. “It’s not only professional survival but it’s a risk in terms of my own life. We’re not short on examples of how the world feels about Black, Indigenous, and people of color to validate that that risk and that feeling is real.”
One powerful factor in both stories—in the whole movement, in fact—is social media, which not only works to quickly spread misinformation but can be weaponized by parents to publicly target educators. The personal damage this can do in very little time, like it did for Lauren, is enough to make other teachers, like Mary, feel powerless and paralyzed when it comes to their teaching.
I’ll start with Mary’s story. She was willing to be interviewed for the podcast as long as her identity was kept anonymous. Here is our conversation.
GONZALEZ: Thank you so much for being willing to share your story. We have decided we are just going to call you Mary to protect your anonymity.
GONZALEZ: And if you could, maybe, we’re not even going to say where you are, but you do teach in the United States.
GONZALEZ: And you’re teaching in a, is it a public school?
MARY: Yes, I am.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So tell me, just tell me about your experiences in general. I don’t think even the structure of this is all that important as far as — I just want to know what has been the pushback on CRT, anti-racist teaching, or anything kind of related. Because as far as I can tell now, it’s sort of expanding beyond even the whole idea of originally with CRT.
MARY: Yes. So I think that some context is needed. I taught at a predominantly Black school in a predominantly Black district for about six years prior to coming to my current district, which is completely different. So my previous district, it’s similar in the sense that we have a curriculum that we’re supposed to teach in. We have tasks that the students are supposed to do. But as far as what you are supposed to teach, there weren’t any issues. It wasn’t something that I even thought about before.
MARY: When I came to my current district, I thought it would be pretty much the same thing. You find the text that aligns with whatever standards you’re teaching, and you go with it. My first, I guess, incident came about when, I can’t remember exactly what we were teaching, but there’s a software that we use and students, and it had articles and videos and different things like that. And the district wanted us to use it last year, and so we found a video on implicit bias that went along with whatever we were teaching. Again, I can’t remember the exact thing, but it went along with what we were teaching at the time.
MARY: And didn’t think anything of it. It was just a two-minute video clip on this website that was fine to use. We showed it and a student, I guess, was playing it at home and their parent heard it and got upset about that and said that by having the student watch this video, which talks about how we all have these underlying biases, but that we were indoctrinating their students or trying to indoctrinate their students. There was this big thing, blowup, where the parent went to Facebook and was posting about it, and then the principal saw it because this is a small town where people pretty much know each other. And so I guess she’s friends with whoever this parent was and questioned us, me and my colleague, about the video because this parent went online and said that we were trying to indoctrinate her child because of the video. We got questioned about it and basically told that we can’t show that video again, and we have to kind of be careful about the kind of videos or text that we’re teaching because of the demographic. And I do teach in a predominantly white school. Most of the teachers are white. So that was my first experience, and it kind of threw me off because I’m not used to having those types of restrictions when it comes to teaching a text. Like, I said, you’re giving the standard, what the end goal is, and that’s that.
MARY: And then here we are, and I’m in a situation where okay, now I can’t teach. I have to be careful and tiptoe around what I teach and what I talk about in class.
MARY: Because of how someone might respond.
GONZALEZ: Were there, so this was the first incident? Or was this sort of where they said, oh, and by the way, you also can’t teach a whole bunch of other things? Or did you just kind of get the message from this one thing that you had to be super careful from that point on?
MARY: It was from this incident, and this happened to be during our unit on speeches. So we cover “I Have a Dream” in that unit, and there was actually a Malcolm X text that was in the unit too that we ended up not teaching because of this incident with the video.
GONZALEZ: Was that your sort of team teaching decision? Sort of like, let’s just pull this because it might cause problems? Or were you told, also get rid of the Malcolm X text?
MARY: No, that was our decision because of the implicit bias video that we didn’t think was an issue at all. And so it was like, okay, well if that is an issue then these parents are going to be up in arms about us teaching Malcolm X. It’s almost like MLK is like the acceptable, like you can teach that, you can teach MLK, but—
GONZALEZ: Especially if it’s just specific MLK texts.
MARY: Right, right.
GONZALEZ: And I’m curious too, had this Malcolm X text been taught in years past unnoticed? Was it just sort of —
MARY: I would have to do some digging, but from my understanding, no.
MARY: So the person that’s over our department in the county is a Black woman, and so I am, it makes sense that she would include, like it made perfect sense why she would include Malcolm X and MLK together because the purpose was to teach two different perspectives on the same issue. But once we got that pushback, it was like, our decision, like no. Our school is predominantly white. There are other schools in the county where that may have been okay because the demographic is different, but not at our school.
GONZALEZ: So just this one decision on that implicit bias video really had kind of a chilling effect on you as a department?
MARY: Right. It’s just because she went to social media about it, and it just became this huge, you’re trying to indoctrinate our students, like our children because of — and the parents are very powerful in this district. Our district is about community service, and parents have a lot of power.
GONZALEZ: So you’ve seen them use this power in the past to influence other major decisions?
GONZALEZ: Okay. Since this time of the video and you making the decision about pulling the Malcolm X text. Have things increased? Have they gotten worse, especially with all the stuff that’s sort of been going on over the summer with a lot of the other districts around the country having the angry school board meetings and voting out texts and that sort of thing?
MARY: So we did have a meeting at the beginning of the school year where it was brought up just about what’s going on with CRT, and the principals specifically say, we know you’re not teaching CRT, obviously. But there’s this parent Facebook group where they’re determined to, I guess, catch teachers teaching it. And I was actually trying to find the name of the group before we got on this, but if I find it, I’ll send it to you, but yeah, she said that there’s this group and they are, it’s like Parents Against CRT or something like that in X district.
GONZALEZ: Right, right.
MARY: And this just popped up when this debate started happening, but I can say that based on that implicit bias incident, I am not surprised. Just with some of the things that I have seen, even with trying to teach. During Black History Month we would have lessons during our enrichment, and certain students would be like, oh, well I’m not interested in participating in this. There was a lesson where we had, we were showing about the Black Lives Matter movement during Black History Month and during enrichment because you can’t do it during regular instruction. And the student was saying, all lives matter. A lot of this is coming from the parents.
MARY: And then trickling down to students, and it’s uncomfortable for me, like just being a Black woman in this environment where there are not a lot of Black teachers.
MARY: It’s extremely uncomfortable.
GONZALEZ: How, what is the vibe that you’re getting from your colleagues? If you’re teaching in a predominantly white staff, are you, is that also kind of making you feel like you really can’t say anything?
MARY: I will say that on my team, like the people that are on my hall, we have a pretty close relationship. I don’t really see the rest of the staff unless we have a staff meeting. And it’s almost like I forget they’re there sometimes.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
MARY: And I think a lot of that has to do with the pandemic. I think that the vibes that I get are mostly from students, unfortunately, and then from their parents.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. When you say the vibes that you get from your students, the first thing that comes to mind for me is that you feel like you’re being watched. That there may be secret recordings happening. There may be kids who are sort of watching. The parents have told them to look for this word coming up in your class. Is that kind of the way it feels? That you’re just being watched for negative reasons?
MARY: Honestly, yes. Especially like I said after last year in that implicit bias video, teaching MLK, I’ve just, the way I would teach it before, it wasn’t the same. It’s almost like I can’t have passion. And it’s not even necessarily like, oh, I have passion because MLK is Black. It’s not that. It’s the literature, but I kind of have to watch how I say things and not put as much emphasis on certain things because of how they may be perceived and then taken back to parents. Honestly, because the parents have so much power, they would be, I guess their side would be taken.
MARY: They will be, yeah.
GONZALEZ: So you’ve seen the school or the district cave to parent demands basically?
MARY: Oh yeah.
GONZALEZ: So you sort of know how it would go if —
GONZALEZ: — if you were to be accused of doing something that the parents thought was indoctrination or something like that. You know who would win that?
GONZALEZ: Yes. Do you fear for your job?
MARY: I think yes and no. I feel like I know, like I’m a part of, I have protection.
MARY: And so if something were to come up, I know that I could, like I have protection. Now, how long it would take for things to get resolved and if I would have to be out of a job until all of that, you know.
MARY: Yeah. I do fear that.
GONZALEZ: Right. And it would, I’m also thinking that just the distraction that something like that can add to your life and how much energy good teaching requires that to have something like that — not to mention the mess that it would create in terms of your ability to build relationships with your students.
GONZALEZ: To not know who was in there thinking that you’re going to do something that they’re going to take back to their parents as a negative. So how has this affected your teaching, like your day-to-day teaching?
MARY: I definitely feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I definitely think, I mean there are texts that I can’t touch because of that fear of how it would be taken. Texts that I do teach, I have to be careful just about how I approach teaching those texts. And I just honest, I feel uncomfortable. I can, there are certain students that I know just because of things that were said, they have said.
MARY: Things that they wear. I’ve seen Confederate flags, and I have to teach in that setting. So I find myself uncomfortable. Honestly, there is one class where I just feel anxiety being in that setting because I’m so uncomfortable. I do feel like I’m being watched, and I have to just be, like I’m just not comfortable.
GONZALEZ: Right. And this makes you definitely approach the curriculum very differently just in terms of your passion and your enthusiasm for it? That’s just really being tamped down.
GONZALEZ: Has this impacted your thoughts, your mental health, your home life in any way? Has it created any distractions for you in its current state?
MARY: Definitely, sorry. Mental health, yes. And I would say it’s CRT, it’s just the environment that I’m in. Like I said, I’ve had students when we were virtual, one had purposefully put up the Confederate flag. Today I had a student make a racial comment to another student in class. Something was done about it, but this is the first time that I’ve been confronted with this head-on. You know it happens and people think that way, but this is the first time. So I’ve been talking about this in therapy for the past year at least. I bring this up with my therapist because it does impact me. I have anxiety when I’m in a certain class, I’m around certain students.
GONZALEZ: It sort of sounds like you’re getting this sense that kids who are coming from families where there may be some serious issues with race, white families, they’re starting to feel more and more empowered that those attitudes are okay and they need to start being more vocal about that in school, as opposed to hiding it and pretending it’s not there. They’re starting to feel like, no, this is the right way to be, and I’m going to, they’re emboldened.
MARY: Yes, yes. They’re definitely that. Like I said, you can tell it comes from parents, and I feel like there’s nothing that I can do about it.
GONZALEZ: So what, it sounds like in terms of your specific district, things are almost, you’re just sort of in a holding pattern right now. There hasn’t been a whole lot of official stuff that’s happened. The way that it has happened is we’re hearing on the news in certain districts around the country where they have actually passed policy that is overtly saying, no, you can’t teach about, we can’t have these words come up.
GONZALEZ: We can’t use these texts. It sounds like in your district, the leadership is trying to basically forestall something like that happening by saying, let’s just pull way back and be super conservative about the way we teach everything.
MARY: Yeah, so that no one can say —
GONZALEZ: So that, right. And I would bet that that’s even more common than the big stories that we’re hearing that there is just this freeze now, kind of, on stuff like that.
GONZALEZ: From the perspective where you are currently working and teaching, the way that you’re seeing things, what do you think could make this better?
MARY: I think in an environment where I am where there haven’t been laws passed, I think it’s going to take some standing up to parents, and I think that that’s something that has even across the board in different areas as well in my district. I understand customer service, what they pride themselves on.
MARY: But to the point where it’s affecting the way that people teach and what children are exposed to, I really do think there needs to be some administrative support, like support from the top saying this is not what we’re doing. We don’t teach CRT. This is the curriculum, and your child is going to be exposed to diverse texts. It’s not caving every time a parent has a complaint because I see that a lot. They just give in. The parent complains, whether it’s true or not, it’s okay, well let’s just put this fire out, let’s just do whatever to please this person.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Do you happen to know or suspect that there are parents in your district that actually oppose the views of the parents you’re talking about that would be supportive of diverse texts and challenging bias and all the things that since the summer of 2020 we have been, schools have been saying they’re going to start doing? To me, the turnaround in a year is stunning.
GONZALEZ: But do you feel like there is also a portion of the community that you feel would really want to see that kind of teaching happening again?
MARY: I think so, but as I’ve seen with other issues like we were one of the districts where we didn’t have masks. When we went back to masks, there was just, there were parents that wanted it and the way that they were treated by the parents that didn’t and are continuing.
GONZALEZ: Want to get rid of masks. Yes, yep.
MARY: Yeah. So there are, it’s just, are their voices being drowned out by these other parents?
GONZALEZ: Yeah. So if we could see more volume, more strength, more solidarity between school leadership. I’m thinking also white teachers who have a lot less to risk by coming out publicly in favor of the kind of teaching practices that, you know, challenging our biases, that celebrate diversity and that teach anti-racist principles, really. Do you feel like that kind of a critical mass could push back enough?
MARY: I think so. I think that if the white teachers in my building alone weren’t silent. Everyone’s nice and polite, but when it comes to actually speaking up and saying, okay, we have to draw the line somewhere.
MARY: Like, there’s nothing wrong with this video.
MARY: This is why we’re teaching this text. We’re not trying to do this to your student. We’re trying to teach them different opinions. If we got that support, white teachers standing up and saying it, then I think that it’ll be different. It will be received differently than if it’s coming from me.
GONZALEZ: Right. Knowing that this is going to be listened to by teachers across the country, lots of administrators, and possibly parents too, is there anything else that you feel like we need to know about the situation that teachers in the United States are in right now?
MARY: The biggest thing is that it’s hurting the kids at the end of the day. There’s so much that they could learn and be exposed to that they’re not getting, especially in those districts where they banned certain texts. There’s so much that they’re missing. I think that everyone — parents, administrators — should consider students, the kids. Because if we want them to be good citizens and prepared and teaching them a watered down or one-sided view, it’s just not, it’s not doing them any justice at all.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. I feel like if we were to succumb to this pressure, we would be taking so many steps back. I really appreciate you taking the time to share all this with me and I just, I hope things get better. I hope that a coalition can build in your district to turn this around.
MARY: Me too.
We’ll now turn to Lauren’s story. Lauren chose to give me her story privately and agreed to have me summarize it, so what I’m reading to you are my own words along with direct quotes from Lauren.
For over five years, Lauren had provided professional development to many school districts through a regional service center. She trained teachers on a variety of topics, including those that would fall under the umbrella of diversity, equity, and inclusion, topics like belonging in the classroom, using diverse texts, and having difficult conversations; things that would help educators understand how to best support marginalized populations. Her trainings were in high demand and she received consistently high ratings from the schools where she did her work.
In early 2021, she got a phone call from an administrator at one of the schools she served. The district had received emails from several concerned parents about whether CRT was being taught in their schools, with specific concern around the trainings Lauren had given. Since she wasn’t 100 percent confident of the specific tenets of CRT, Lauren’s first instinct was to Google it.
“I thought, I don’t want to tell this person no if I might actually be teaching it,” she explained to me. “So after I did a little bit of digging and research, I returned the call and said No, I’m not teaching CRT. We do talk about race and racism, and I have pulled some articles and resources by some of the folks that have been involved with the scholarship around CRT, but I’m not directly teaching Critical Race Theory to your teachers, so the answer was no.”
When the administrator responded to the parents, asserting that the work was focused on inclusion and belonging, the parents replied back and said that if the focus was on equity and inclusion, that meant CRT was indeed being taught in the district.
Then Lauren received a voicemail from a woman she’d never met or heard of, asking if Lauren worked as a consultant for a specific school district. Feeling uncertain about the caller’s intentions, Lauren opted not to return the call but passed the information on to the district in question. Someone from that district got back to Lauren a few days later and said that the woman had also made a public records request for emails and voicemails related to their interactions with Lauren. (Many states make these items available upon request under their interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)).
This request was followed by another one that came directly to the organization Lauren worked for, looking for emails Lauren had exchanged with the same school district.
Lauren’s anxiety was mounting. She began searching through all the emails in question to see if she had ever written anything that might be inappropriate or misinterpreted. This process took a toll on the confidence she’d once had in her overall mission. “At this point, I’m feeling really insecure about the work that I’m doing, because I’m just trying to do work that’s really good for kids, really thinking about how we create spaces that foster that belonging and community we know kids need in school. But here I am worried about every word I put in an email, backtracking through thousands of them. I turned up nothing, but it still left me with this feeling of, Am I doing the right work?“
Throughout the spring and into the summer, more questions and more public records requests came in from other districts. “Other administrators were calling and asking the same questions. No one understood it and they were all very confused and frustrated by these emerging loud voices pushing back against work that they felt had so much support after the murder of George Floyd. I remember thinking, How did we go from Black Lives Matter statements and Antiracism resolutions in school districts to this? It was so disappointing.”
The request that was most unsettling was when a district requested Lauren’s personnel file. Although these records must have certain information redacted before being handed over, like social security numbers and bank information, they still contained a detailed history of Lauren’s work history.
“There’s a stack of about 120 pages that is on a kitchen table somewhere of someone I don’t know, and it has every single evaluation that’s been done on me, my resume, any reference that I put down for my job application, salary notifications… they have all this information that was just sent over to them because they asked.”
As Lauren’s sense of security and safety diminished, her own organization remained mostly silent. Other people from districts she’d worked with reached out to see what they could do, but her own leadership did very little. “That’s probably what hurt the most,” she says. “Looking back on it now, I think they should have spent time learning more about the work, they should have understood the complexity of the situation. They failed to see the severity of what was actually happening all across the country. They could have gotten out in front of it to support districts, to speak to what was actually happening, but instead they took the path of least resistance, complied with the FOIA requests, and kept it moving.”
Things got worse. A friend of Lauren’s gained access to a private Facebook group for concerned parents. The group had specifically targeted Lauren as one of a small group of people in the area who were pushing CRT. When they began posting screenshots of Lauren’s social media accounts, she decided to deactivate these.
The attention accelerated: Voicemails came to Lauren’s cell phone from people who purported to be requesting her services. Requests for access came through her Google Drive for documents she’d shared in trainings. At school board meetings that were recorded and played on YouTube, her name would come up and slides from her training would be displayed and discussed out of context.
“People I had never had any contact with would stand up at these meetings and pick apart and critique my work from a perspective that was really hard to listen to,” she says. “If only these folks would be willing to sit down and have a conversation—I’m not necessarily interested in changing their minds, but the way in which they painted me in those board meetings…as though I was some monster coming in, trying to do terrible things to children, which was the exact opposite of the work that I was leading in the district. That was really tough.”
“In one board meeting, they pulled the phrase ‘white supremacy’ out of an article I had shared. When some people hear ‘white supremacy’ they immediately think of Nazis and the KKK. They don’t understand the tenets of white supremacy and how it lives and exists in our world and organizations. Everyone in the board meeting was just in an uproar. One person got up and said, ‘Is this Lauren person teaching our kids to be Nazis and to join the KKK?’ It didn’t even make any logical sense. But to an entire group of people grasping to stop schools from engaging in this work, it was the fuel they needed to gain more support.”
It got to the point where Lauren and her husband were discussing safety plans for what they would do in the event that they were approached in public, especially if they happened to be with their children. “The folks in this particular district had been known to do that, to confront people in public, showing up to their houses, their driveways, etc.”
Ultimately, Lauren ended up leaving her job for a similar position in another organization, where she feels more supported.
While some say this is just the latest in a series of passing moral panics drummed up by the right, the impact this movement is having on teachers—especially those who work in conservative areas—will likely last well beyond this particular moment in history.
“It was so psychologically damaging. It was awful,” Lauren says, reflecting on the series of events that dominated 2021 for her. “I feel like something died inside me.”
At this time, she is not doing any teacher training.
Part 3: The Impact on Students
While teachers are clearly struggling to deal with these threats, ultimately, the people who stand to lose the most in this battle are students.
Without the tools to recognize, address, and dismantle racism, their world becomes more full of hate, fear, and violence. They will be less likely to see themselves as people who can influence how their world operates.
Without an accurate and complete understanding of history, they are less likely to recognize harmful practices, policies, and leadership. They are less likely to spot problems before they grow out of control.
Without a curriculum that includes and celebrates all identities, they are less likely to grow into fully actualized human beings who can pursue their passions and contribute to the world with their unique gifts and talents.
Without programs like social-emotional learning and restorative justice, they are less likely to learn how to regulate their emotions and resolve conflicts in healthy ways, skills they can carry into their partnerships, their parenting, their friendships, and their professional relationships. More students are likely to end up in prison. School shootings are more likely to continue and increase.
Without a resolute and unyielding push back on this movement, by not stepping in when a small, loud minority works to frighten policymakers into reversing all the progress that has been made, we are looking the other way while democracy dies on our watch.
Part 4: Next Steps
The backlash against equity-driven teaching has been strong, well-organized, and loud, and an equally strong response is needed to fight it. If you haven’t already started taking some kind of action to push back, there is no time to waste.
This is especially true if you have any kind of privilege: If you are a white teacher, administrator, or parent, this is the time to use that privilege to speak up. In the summer of 2020, so many white people made personal pledges to work harder to eradicate racism. Now it’s time to make good on those promises. This is the work that is needed right now.
Resistance may look different in different contexts. Multiple avenues can and should be taken at once. In the space below, I’ll start a list of ideas for preserving all the progress that’s been made in equity-driven pedagogy, for rescuing it from its current attackers, but I’d like to keep building it. If you have more suggestions or links to groups that are taking more direct action, please share them in the comments or through our contact form, and I will add them as they come in.
At the Local Level
- Work to undo harmful policies. If anti-equity decisions have already been made in your area, speak out against them, because they can be changed. The school board of Spotsylvania, VA voted last week to remove what it called “sexually explicit” books from its library, then reversed its decision this week after a group of parents, students, and other citizens showed up to give four hours of public commentary in opposition to the initial decision. (Librarians facing book challenges can find support resources through the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom or your state affiliate of the AASL.)
- Take proactive measures. Research what’s happening in your local school district on this issue. If an anti-equity movement has already gathered steam, build a coalition of parents and students to speak out against it. If nothing has happened yet, build that coalition anyway to proactively and publicly support equity-driven teaching. Call your legislators, even if there are no bills up for a vote, to voice your support for equity-driven teaching. Actively and vocally support your school and public libraries.
- Watch your local school board elections. Some of the people pushing back on school curriculum are now running for and getting elected into positions of power. If a school board election is coming up in your area, look carefully at the candidates and what their platforms are, and share that information with other voters in your area.
- Revisit last year’s diversity statements. Look at the commitments to equity, diversity, and anti-racism that were composed by many school systems in 2020 and challenge those who wrote them to follow through. This is the first big test; resisting this kind of backlash is exactly what honoring those commitments looks like. Are districts going to capitulate under the first push?
- Know the policies that are already in place. So many of the practices currently under fire are the direct result of policies that have been in place for years. Mandates to improve test scores and graduation rates for specific student groups, for example, have led educators to learn how to do a better job of teaching students from all backgrounds, so reversing equity-driven practices violates those policies. On the book challenge front, it will also be helpful to know your district’s policies on how instructional materials and books are reviewed and approved, and how formal challenges must be initiated.
- Share within your own circles. Don’t underestimate how influential you could be on your own social media. Simply writing a personal statement about your opinion on the anti-CRT movement, your own personal experiences, and what you would like to see taught in schools could have an impact on how those in your social circles view things. It may not change the minds of those who are on a regular diet of anti-CRT media, but it might make a dent.
- Band together. This work will be far more successful if you join forces with others who share your mission. If you are an administrator, your teachers desperately need you to stand behind them, but doing it alone carries a great deal of risk. Find other school leaders who will stand with you.
- Donate. Donate to organizations working legislatively on this, especially the ACLU, which filed its first federal lawsuit in late October against Oklahoma’s anti-CRT law.
- Learn the Law. The more people who understand the relevant laws around these issues, the better. For starters, get to know the 1982 Supreme Court ruling against book banning and the concept of viewpoint discrimination. Listen to Episode 2 of the EdTrusted podcast, which discusses the legal implications of the state gag orders in depth.
- Study the Opposition. One key to addressing the backlash is getting familiar with the arguments that have been crafted to create it. Materials like the ones listed in the References section below offer a close look at the way equity-driven practices are being reframed as a conspiracy, and how parents are being explicitly instructed on how to push back.
- Educate. So much of the anti-CRT rhetoric is simply inaccurate; there is not some group of “CRT activists” working behind the scenes to infiltrate our schools. What schools are doing is trying to teach more accurate history, to resolve conflicts responsibly, to help our teachers get more comfortable talking about race, and teach our students to name and manage their emotions. Offering opportunities for parents and community members to look at the materials that have already been used in your schools could calm their fears. Those with the most conservative viewpoints might still disapprove of what they find, but the more moderate parents who are imagining the worst might come to realize that your materials simply don’t align with the descriptions that come from conservative media.
- Prepare. Know what could be coming to your district, your library, or your classroom, and get ready. This thread by librarian Angie Manfredi provides an invaluable blueprint specifically for librarians, but it’s worth a read for all educators; the advice is transferable to classroom materials and teaching practices. Follow the #FReadom hashtag on Twitter to find more resources and others fighting for students’ rights to access the books they need.
Everyone Can Do Something
Pushing back against this frightening backlash will be no easy feat, and it comes with varying degrees of risk, depending on each person’s situation. If your job is at risk and you’re not in a position to give that up, that’s understandable. But everyone can do something to push back.
With that in mind, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Dr. Luvelle Brown, superintendent of Ithaca, New York, City School District. He shared these thoughts at the end of episode 6 of the EdTrusted podcast series; it offers some perspective on this fight.
“What privileges are you prepared to give up to disrupt oppressive systems? We know that something’s wrong with our system, so that means we must do something to change it, and to change it, it’s going to require us to give up some privileges. One of those privileges is a right to comfort. We feel like we must be comfortable at all times. (But) if you’re going to be comfortable, you’re not disrupting a system that has failed generations of young people. We know we won’t survive this—I don’t know of any superintendent who has had these conversations for an extended period of time who has survived it—but what we hope we’ve done is inspire somebody to take our places when we’ve gone.”
To find links to the resources mentioned in this episode or read a transcript of my interview with Mary, visit cultofpedagogy.com, click Podcast, and choose episode 181. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.