Home > Essays > Critical Race Theory Opponents Overlook Inconvenient Truth: The “Traditional” History Curriculum Produced Graduates Who Formulated the Theory!

Critical Race Theory Opponents Overlook Inconvenient Truth: The “Traditional” History Curriculum Produced Graduates Who Formulated the Theory!

May 4, 2021

Michelle Goldberg’s recent op ed essay, Why the Right Loves Public School Culture Wars, describes how the right wing of the GOP party manages to engage the grassroots in local elections by keeping the focus on contentious— and largely trumped up— issues like “Critical Race Theory”. As Ms. Goldberg accurately notes, “critical race theory” belongs in quotes:

…because the right has transformed a term that originally referred to an academic school of thought into a catchall for resentments over diversity initiatives and changing history curriculums.

And in one of the unintended ironies of the GOP, their party is using the opposition to this bogeyman they created to cancel the canal culture. And here is another irony: the people who developed “Critical Race Theory” were educated in public schools that never included it in their curriculum! I am a case in point.

I attended public schools in SE Pennsylvania in the 1950s and early 1960s, graduating from HS in 1965. The history my age cohorts and I were taught is identical to the history the anti-CRT crowd wants to see offered in public schools. We learned that explorers were brave men who sailed West to find gold, to spread the gospel, and bring glory to their homelands. We learned that the Founding Fathers were patriots who fought for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness throwing off the British overlords who wanted to impose taxes on them without offering them a voice in how those funds would be used. Once freed from British rule, these men wrote a Constitution whose precepts and laws were timeless and inviolable and our country began to expand westward conquering the wilderness and the savage Indian tribes who roamed the countryside. After a bloody Civil War that put an end to slavery and brought our nation together. In the 20th Century we joined our European allies in two Wars against powers intent on ending Democracy. As we left high school, we witnessed the passage of laws that would end racism and poverty, the conclusion of a massive infrastructure project that would link our nation through the completion of an interstate highway system, the launching of an initiative that would place a man on the moon within a decade, and the placement of troops across the globe that would prevent the further spread of communism.

Like many of my cohorts, once I left high school to attend college and/or travelled across the country and the globe, I began to see that what we were taught in school was incomplete. It was at best a glossed over narrative designed to make us feel good about the country we lived in and the economic system that made it possible for us to thrive. At worst it was propaganda designed to perpetuate the status quo. When I attended college in Philadelphia and student taught in the urban schools I saw for myself that MY experience was wildly different from that of the high school students in my classroom. A I became acquainted with my colleagues and mentor on the faculty I saw that MY experience was different from their as well. In my 20s, I lived through the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr, Bobby Kennedy, the riots that ensued and the subsequent turmoil of the 1968 election. Later I experienced the disillusionment of the Watergate break-in that was the subtext of the 1972 election, the release of the Pentagon Papers, and the misbegotten ending to the Viet Nam conflict. During this same time period, I was teaching in Philadelphia schools and attending graduate school part-time before getting a Fellowship to pursue my doctoral degree in education administration. It was during my tenure as an intern in an affluent suburban Philadelphia school district that it became abundantly clear that the system was inherently unfair and that race played a major role in that unfairness. The closer I looked, the more clear the inequity became. And conversation with friends and colleagues who served in Viet Nam or who were raised in less fortunate circumstances that I had made it even clearer that we needed to make some changes to the system if we ever hoped to have EVERY child experience life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Restoring the history curriculum of the Father-Knows-Best era will not prevent many Americans from concluding that the current system is racist, misogynistic, imbalanced, and in need of improvement. Sanitizing history cannot change the facts…. and cynicism about schooling can often emerge when students dig deeper into the stories they were told in history class and discover that the history books they read left out uncomfortable truths. If we hope to address divisiveness that exists, we need to learn about it and discuss it early and often. The solutions to the problem cannot be found otherwise.

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