Anti-Racist Racism Public Education Needed Now (Opinion)

Most public school educators had never heard of “critical race theory” until political strategists seized on the term in 2020 to discredit public education. Today, many people are lumping everything from diversity, equity and inclusion to anti-racism into the new critical debate on race theory. It’s gotten so extreme that many states are banning books, rolling back policies, and dismantling curricula. School systems face political strategies to dismantle fair practices and policies and revert our public education systems to a pre-civil rights era if we don’t pay attention and respond methodically, strategically, and unapologetically.

To that end, our school systems would benefit from banding together to launch a movement against racism in schools by implementing six evolutionary steps to escape the reactionary trap that continues to perpetuate systemic racism in our public schools. It is imperative that educators take these steps to build an anti-racist school or school system:

1. Know our history. We need to know and teach our history to young people to provide context and insight into today’s problems and shed light on tomorrow’s solutions. We must ensure that schools teach the most accurate history of America as well as the most accurate history of our students’ communities. We have taught myth about history for too long, which has led to confusion and mistrust. For example, I remember learning in elementary school how Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, not to mention the fact that indigenous peoples were already there. I was taught stories about Pilgrims wanting to bring peace through a Thanksgiving feast, but not the real story of murdering and enslaving Indigenous people to create wealth.

Such omissions and false teachings in schools have prevented many people from knowing the real foundations and pillars of our country and how it was developed through racist practices to marginalize and oppress black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC). If we want to teach accurate American history – the good, the bad, and the ugly – we must counter the argument that this history is inherently “divisive” for students to learn.

2. Commit to racial equity. School systems must actively commit to racial equity if we are to dismantle systemic racism in education. Many people misinterpret equality and equity. Equality, or equal access, is only the starting point for ensuring that students’ needs are met in schools. Equity in education is about meeting students where they are, not necessarily where we want them to be, while providing them with the social, emotional, and academic learning supports to achieve their goals.

Additionally, racial equity will ensure that race does not define what a student will achieve in school, career, or life. A commitment to racial equity aims to create a learning environment that removes barriers to student success. School systems must create safe and courageous spaces for students and adults to accept racial differences and equity.

3. Dismantle intra-school segregation. Public schools developed widespread tracking and barriers to rigorous coursework within schools after integration in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These practices hampered BIPOC students for several decades and continue to create segregation in education today. Public schools have created intentional and unintentional mechanisms to prevent BIPOC students from accessing rigorous curricula, including talent and gifted curricula, specialized teaching practices, and strict guidelines for enrolling in certain grade-level courses. advanced.

4. Abolish police practices in schools. Policing is a contentious national debate, and schools are not immune to this controversy. Discipline for BIPOC students reflected some policing practices that have contributed to the prison pipeline for decades. From zero-tolerance policies to school arrests for disciplinary infractions, American public schools have harmed BIPOC students by implementing disciplinary policies derived from policing. The focus on the social and emotional needs of students, including restorative practices, instead of suspension and expulsion practices, is key to abolishing policing in schools.

In the school division I lead, as we work closely with our local law enforcement to keep our schools, students, and staff safe, we have also incorporated 30 minutes per day of downtime. social-emotional learning for all schools in our school division. . In our current strategic plan, training in restorative practices for all teachers is now a priority area.

5. Prioritize strategic thinking and planning. Instead of engaging in politics that exacerbates some educational challenges, school systems need to focus on strategic thinking and strategic planning. Unfortunately, many people use damaging and sensational tactics, such as organizing to berate school board members and demanding the exclusion of words such as “equity” from schools to distract school systems from dismantling the systemic racism in public education. Strategic thinking enables methodical and rational approaches to serve all students, regardless of race, zip code, or life circumstances.

6. Show courage and audacity. To answer the accusation that anti-racism advocacy is divisive in public schools, you must be brave and bold. It takes courage to speak out against this renewed era of scare tactics and false narratives. Many school boards and superintendents face threats and personal attacks for working to provide an equitable education for all students. It also requires vision, integrity and passion to support the advocacy needed to overcome adversity.

As educators unabashedly advocate on behalf of all children, including our BIPOC students, we must understand the urgency and importance of challenging the divisive narrative in public education. I learned that I cannot do this work alone. This is a call to action for you to join us in this work and help build anti-racist school systems across America. Not only do our young people rely on us today, but many generations to come will benefit from our efforts to dismantle systemic racism in education.

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