My Turn: Why teachers resist CRT restrictions

For the Monitor
Published: 7/21/2021 7:30:02 AM

I have seen many letters in this newspaper addressing concerns about Critical Race Theory (CRT).  Do writers opposing the teaching of CRT know exactly what it is?

As a veteran teacher, I sure had never heard of it, and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I had to look it up. I know what the words mean, obviously, but I had a feeling that “essential (or critiquing) of groups of people based on suppositions or a system of ideas intended to explain something,”  didn't tell the whole story.

Some folks seem to believe that CRT states that one group of people is inherently racist over others. Others seem to believe that it is an opportunity to discuss how race affects everyday life, including how government, society and businesses operate. The problem that I have right now is that there seem to be a lot of assumptions and concerns about K-12 teachers indoctrinating our children.

Let me tell you that teaching is a very regulated profession. We have national and state standards that must be followed in our curriculum. Every year teachers must attend multiple trainings ranging from suicide prevention to how to use the latest data-driven research to improve our teaching.

As society continues to lean on schools to solve so many of its ills, from providing lunches to mandatory abuse reporting to providing services to our students with academic and medical needs, all of which teachers embrace as being essential to the health and education of our next generations, teachers do not have a lot of time to gleefully indoctrinate children. We are happy when we can make it through the entire curriculum while still meeting the social and emotional needs of our students.

So why are teacher’s unions resisting the criminalization of teaching CRT? I believe that it is because the concept is so vague that many in the profession are concerned that they might inadvertently stumble onto forbidden territory, endangering their livelihoods.

One of our many goals in education is to provide students with the tools to observe their world and ask questions. If a student asks why more people of color live in poverty than people of European descent, are we no longer permitted to share facts and statistics that help students better understand the cause? Are we no longer allowed to ask that same inquiring student to read books and do research to come up with an answer? Are we no longer allowed to have students come up with an answer that is unpopular with the school community or their own parents?

As a Spanish teacher, my classes not only learn Spanish, but per national standards also work to understand the cultures that the language comes from. If I point out to my class that the Spanish-speaking migrants to our country are sometimes treated poorly because many people assume that they are here illegally, is that against the rules? Is it forbidden to discuss a popular video on social media that kids ask about, which portrays individuals yelling at Spanish-speakers to speak English, when they are in the process of learning a new language?

Is it wrong to ask students to remember that they are going through similar challenges as they learn a new language, and to show empathy when a non-native speaker comes into their place of business and has trouble communicating? If we are working with students to prevent bullying, is teaching empathy for others in challenging situations, which might include racial prejudice, no longer allowed?

Not knowing the answers to these questions is the core of concern for teachers and the union that is trying to protect them. Until there is clarity, this year, several teachers will be holding back what they teach out of fear. Some will teach as they normally do, and hope for the best.

Hopefully, communities understand that while teachers are teaching students what they need to become college or career ready at graduation, asking and seeking answers to questions is part of the process.

(Ursula Askins-Huber has been teaching for 30 years and serves as current past-president on the board for the New Hampshire Association of World Language Teachers. She lives in Plymouth.)

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