Panel: Teach inclusive view of American history
Critical race theory has been wrongly defined and conflated into any teaching that reckons with America's fraught racial history, a panel of academics and others said during a community forum this week.
And in light of the controversy and the "loud" voices who oppose a curriculum that seeks to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion, several panelists cited a need to teach an all-encompassing view of American history, noting the stories and contributions of Black people, the indigenous populations and others.
Said one panelist, Aisha Wilson-Carter, a lecturer at Columbia University and an adjunct at Hofstra University: "We need more voices in the room."
Wilson-Carter is co-founder of the Long Island Strong Schools Alliance, which works to ensure that diversity, equality and inclusion are part of schools' mission.
"But the biggest thing is that people who are against these things are very loud. They show up and they show out," she said. Wilson-Carter urged people to attend school board meetings and to write to principals and superintendents in support of equity initiatives.
"There's a lot of misinformation" surrounding critical race theory, moderator Vanessa Miller, a consultant on diversity, equity and inclusion, said in launching the two-hour discussion with a 32-person virtual audience Thursday night hosted by the Women's Diversity Network. Other panelists were Robbye Kinkade, founder of Kinkade Consulting LLC, and a clinical assistant professor at Stony Brook University; Stavroula Kyriakakis, associate professor at Adelphi University's School of Social Work; and Josephine Hall, an elementary school teacher in the Westbury School District.
Miller said she had seen a shift in the national discourse about race, going from national outrage two years ago over George Floyd's murder at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer that prompted calls for more focus on social justice and police reforms, to a backlash today against calls for racial equity.
To give a fuller context on what critical race theory is, Miller showed a video of an appearance on the "Dr. Phil" television show of Shaun Harper, a business professor and diversity, equity and inclusion expert at the University of Southern California who has taught critical race theory. "Critical race theory is now more than four decades old. It was established by legal scholars in the 1970s," alluding to a legal argument about how racial inequities are embedded in societal structures.
"The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor … forced a national conversation about structural and systemic racism," Harper said. "And I think lots of parents and uninformed Americans are conflating conversations about structural and systemic racism with critical race theory. And they're lumping it all under the umbrella of critical race theory."
Harper added that 80% of teachers nationwide are white "and the overwhelming majority of them are white women." He said it was illogical to think that "there's a whole bunch of white women teaching fifth-graders critical race theory. I don't think so. It's a boogeyman. It's not real."
Hall said it was "important to have a working definition of everything we're having a conversation about. He clearly defines what critical race theory is," she said of Harper.
Kinkade said that for her, the "bottom line" issue was "that we're talking about American history." And Kyriakakis said she was hopeful, saying students had access to information outside the classroom, and she saw evidence that some students were being proactive in forging alliances to talk about racial inequities.