By Marcela Perez
As the smoke begins to settle from the global protests of 2020 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following police violence, systematic racism and lack of social justice is being questioned at a local level here in Monterey County.
Critical race theory, or CRT, has been the hot topic of discussion at recent school board meetings in Salinas. As the debate becomes more heated with each meeting, the Monterey County Board of Education is working behind the scenes to analyze what changes to our history curriculums could look like.
Ron Panziera, board president of the Monterey County School Board, has been investigating how bringing in this ideology to the table would impact our districts. According to Panziera, local board members have acquired information from the California School Boards Association on CRT/Ethnic Studies integrated curriculums.
But CRT is a new term to the vast majority of the population. Darcie Adams, a teacher at Soledad High School, shared some insight on her thoughts about the topic as an educator. She first heard the term “critical race theory” unintentionally 10 months ago while tuning in to a national news station that was reporting on the backlash from conservative politicians on CRT.
As the debate got more heated, she found herself conducting research, reading academically reviewed books on the theory and connecting with a fellow professor whose doctorate focused on critical race theory. But she adds that this most definitely isn’t the first time she’s heard of the concept. She says in academia, CRT is fairly new — regardless of the fact that the ideology has been around for decades.
Adams has an extensive portfolio as an educator in social studies, recently completing her 11th year at Soledad High as a history teacher and her second year teaching at Hartnell College. In 2019, she brought the first ethics studies class to the Soledad High School campus, teaching History of Women in the U.S., a course that dove into roles of women in ethnic and social groups. The class has been positively received by students, who learned about women’s participation in history and their fight for equality. But to Adams’ perspective, turning a class like this into a requirement is not the safest approach.
“I think that it is a more serious social issue than that,” said Adams. “We really need to revamp what we teach to children and if we want to teach children about America’s progress and moving forward, we need to stop neglecting the fact that we did it on the backs of the working class, the migrants, the women, the minorities. We need to acknowledge the fact that we did these horrible things to other people.”
She points out that new activism groups within the county have arisen and have all worked towards bringing forth change. City council meetings are virtually occupied by residents who are cross-examining city budgets and their contribution to police departments in contrast to city welfare. Prisons within the county have been described as contributors to the school-to-prison pipeline. And in our schools, the way we teach history is being questioned along with its ability to be adequately presented in the lens of racism.
'If we really want change, then it's going to take a revamping of our whole education system.'
Social studies is a huge part of the general high school graduation requirement. Within the UC and CSU systems, both public university systems and the largest within the state, there is a requirement of a pattern of high school courses for admission. These 15 courses are defined as the A-G requirements. Of these, students are mandated to take and pass two years of history, including one year of world or European history and another of U.S. history. While admission officials are strict on ensuring transcripts of incoming freshmen include these courses, there is no regulation of the coursework and curriculums which these classes possess.
The absence of edict around course material has resulted in a lot of new ideas being brought to the table, educating youth on topics that aren’t usually talked about within the classrooms. Adams said that with the political climate that we live in, jumping into racial issues can be quite tricky.
“Public education is very much a political arena. It is based on what the politicians decide and based on what will get the school money and what will keep money. Schools and governments are going to be careful about what they require students to learn because they are afraid to get sued,” she said.
The concept of racism being anything more than individual prejudice is often dodged in public high school social studies curriculums. Teachers are afraid to teach CRT, even if it’s an elective course, because they can be threatened by parents.
CRT also has connections to other scholarly arenas, including those crafted by sociologists and philosophers who examined connections between political force, social association, and language. What’s more, it has since informed other fields — the humanities, sociology, and educator schooling.
“There are a lot of issues that CRT is trying to address that are more societal,” said Adams. She notes that while it’s evident implementation of CRT has its benefits, it’s crucial to remember that it is theory. CRT is a more of a mindset in social studies, and isn’t something that can be implemented by adding a unit to the class. There are state-regulated principles that educators and school officials must satisfy when it comes to public education. In order to implement CRT, the standards must be changed at the state level.
“If you pull up the California social science framework, you’ll find that a lot of it focused on America’s progress and America’s movement to become a world power. There are mentions of other aspects like women’s history, the civil rights movement, LGBT rights. But it is mostly about America’s progress — and unfortunately America’s progress was built on the backs of minorities.”
Nelson Mandela once deemed education as “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Adams said that if we really want to see change, we’re going to have to start with the education system as a whole.
“If we really want change, and we really want people and students to be aware of these histories, then it’s going to take a revamping of our whole education system,” said Adams. “I don’t think it’s going to be fixed with a course.”
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