Controversy over the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” in the public schools is much in the news these days. The issue itself is important. But the controversy also reflects a larger, if more obscure, point which everyone concerned with the state of public education in America should understand: Practically any and all subjects taught our children in the public schools have the potential for controversy. Parents concerned with the teaching of CRT, whatever their views, are at least showing recognition of the importance of involving themselves in the determination of what’s being taught and how it should be taught.
These days the news is filled with reports of angry parents confronting angry teachers, administrators, and school boards over the questions of whether and how to teach Critical Race Theory. Supporters of teaching CRT claim that doing so is simply telling the truth about slavery and race relations and their roles in American history. Opponents claim that CRT is woke propaganda designed to make White children guilt-ridden unhappy about their skin color and themselves. How the controversy plays itself out remains to be seen.
But this controversy should also be properly seen as part of a larger controversy—how to teach a multitude of subjects in our public schools—not merely history and civics, but English, biology, mathematics, and practically anything else as well.
For example, how should the overall history of America be approached? When I was in the public schools in the 1950s I was taught that the evolution of America was on ongoing process which included a chain of events stretching back hundreds of years—the growing desire for goods from the Middle and Far East first discovered by the medieval Crusaders, the search for shorter routes to China and Japan than the conventional route around the Cape of Good Hope, the attempt to reach the East by sailing west, the discovery and subsequent colonization of the North and South American continents to exploit their natural resources and agricultural potential, the revolt of the English colonies against the attempts of the British Parliament to strengthen its control over them, etc., etc., etc.
But conservative Christians like to stress the religious underpinnings of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. They argue that most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were devout Christians. They attribute Christian beliefs to Franklin, Jefferson, Washington and other Founding Fathers (many of whom were Deists rather than Christians), and see the emergence of the United States as part of God’s plan to Christianize the world.
And what are the origins of our Constitution? Legal scholars and political philosophers trace its foundational principles—separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism—to Greek, French, and English political and legal philosophy, to the institutions of English and colonial governments, to relations among the English colonies and between the colonies and the government of England prior to the French and Indian War, etc. But others search the Bible for Constitutional precedents, or claim our Constitution was inspired by the existence and organization of the Iroquois Confederation.
And controversies extend far beyond the subject of American history. For example, what authors should be read in English classes–Shakespeare? Steinbeck? Hemmingway? Washington Irving? Nathaniel Hawthorne? Herman Melville? F. Scott Fitzgerald? Playwright Arthur Miller? Three traits each of these giants of English and American literature have in common are that they’re dead, they’re White, and they’re male. Shouldn’t our students be assigned to read more women? Or more people of color? And more people who are still alive?
Perhaps no other high school subject has attracted so much controversy as biology. Should science teachers focus on Darwin’s Theory of Evolution? Or should they be exposed to other theories which emphasize a greater role for God in our creation than Darwin was willing to recognize. The United States Supreme Court has consistently ruled that it’s an unconstitutional promotion of religion to teach Biblical Creationism—the doctrine that the creation story in the Book of Genesis is literally accurate—but efforts continue to introduce other doctrines such as Intelligent Design, whose proponents claim evolution is guided by Someone or Something other than blind biological forces.
And what about mathematics? Nobody is arguing—yet– that 2+2=4 for Whites, but not for people of color. But it has been argued that requiring math students to “show their work,” i. e., to show how they solved particular math problems by writing down the steps by which they derived their answers, puts White students at a competitive advantage over Black students and other students of color. They argue that people of different races communicate in different ways, and that students of color must be given a broader range of ways of communicating their mathematical reasoning beyond simply writing on paper the steps by which they solve problems. This controversy is still in its embryonic stage and whether and how it will play itself out is currently unknown.
So while controversy over the teaching of CRT is important in and of itself, it’s merely the tip of a far larger iceberg made up of controversies over the teaching of basically everything in our public schools. And whether the positions of parents involved in this controversy are right or wrong, they are, in one sense, setting an example that perhaps more parents should follow. They’re realizing, and acting on the realization, that what’s taught their children in the public schools is important. Shouldn’t all parents be concerned about everything that’s being taught their kids, and act accordingly?
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.