If “critical race theory” is the latest battlefront in the culture war, it is merely because culture warriors on the right have tried desperately to make it one.
The latest example of this in Indiana is Attorney General Todd Rokita’s release of a “Parents Bill of rights” where he warns of the danger that the “radical ideology” of “critical race theory” will take over Indiana schools. The fact that the Attorney General, elected to represent Indiana in legal challenges, issued a document about education without even consulting the Department of Education tells us all we need to know about the political games behind flaming this culture war.
In reality, “critical race theory” is an academic framework that examines how racism is not only an individual prejudice, but is also embedded in our society and legal system. This goes beyond the legacy of slavery, including, for example, housing policy which denied Black Americans the same opportunities at homeownership and wealth-building as white Americans. Government officials have drawn lines around predominantly minority neighborhoods, also known as red lining, and deemed them “poor financial risk.” This resulted in banks refusing mortgages to Black families, denying them the opportunity to be homeowners and resulted in Black families building financial equity at a devastatingly disproportionate rate compared to white families. If we want to build stronger communities and offer all Americans access to the American Dream, shouldn’t our students—our future lawmakers—know our true history so not to repeat discriminatory acts but instead build a better America?
Luckily, we don’t have to agree on the definition, because, contrary to the warnings of Attorney General Rokita, “critical race theory” is not currently being taught in Indiana public schools. It’s a collegiate-level theory that advocates for history classes teaching, well, history. All of our history. The good and the bad. There is no curriculum in Indiana teaching white students that they are inherently evil oppressors or teaching minority students that they are inherently inferior. Using politically charged language to misrepresent curriculum and allege that educators are emotionally damaging our children does nothing more than fuel a political war that Hoosiers, and Americans, are tired of.
It is true that we have seen schools in Indiana address concerns of racial justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide protests they sparked. Some Hoosier parents have raised concerns at school board meetings about this direction.
There will always be disagreement on what to emphasize in history instruction. It was not long ago that many public schools in this country taught a “Lost Cause” mythology, downplaying the horrors and evils of slavery in this country. It is pushback of this type of suppression of our true history that has led schools to re-examine the lens through which our history is taught. I support schools’ efforts to make U.S. history curriculum more comprehensive and accurate. And I trust our experienced teachers, elected school board members and parents to make decisions about curriculum that will best educate our students. They don’t need help from politically-charged think tanks that have no involvement in day-to-day education.
This past legislative session, I was proud to support the bipartisan legislation, HEA 1384, which mandates civics education be taught in Indiana classrooms, with curriculum to be established by the State Board of Education and the newly created Indiana Civic Education Committee. This curriculum will teach our children about government and instill in them an interest in being well-informed citizens that are engaged in community and government at all levels. This is how we maintain our government of the people, for the people. I believe that this kind of action is far more beneficial to our students than political pundits and Republican politicians doing nothing more than trying to make people angry.
I sincerely hope Indiana does not follow the footsteps of other states, who in the name of stopping the boogeyman of “critical race theory,” are passing laws which will censor academic freedom and deny our past. I want to be clear: this approach does not teach or ask students to adopt the shame or racism of that past. The idea that acknowledging and learning about our nation’s history is an exercise in making certain races feel ashamed, is a regressive mindset and a convenient excuse to continue blocking out the parts of history that are uncomfortable. As I said before, we can only move forward as a unified nation, with actual justice for all, until citizens are taught all of our history.