The varying reactions to Critical Race Theory has brought about many questions: What states allow Critical Race Theory to be taught? Which states do not? What exactly does the common Critical Race Theory material include?
A notice of change published by the Florida Department of Education on May 5, 2021 defines Critical Race Theory as “the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.” Many scholars have contested the FLDOE’s definition of Critical Race Theory.
The FLDOE also outlines that teachers may not use material from the 1619 Project, an initiative working to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” Lastly, the state outlined that American history must be exclusively defined as “of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
The same notice explains that instruction must feature topics like the Holocaust, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement and the contributions of women, African American and Hispanic people that is supported with facts. In addition, an objective approach must be taken when teaching these topics. After highlighting major topics as part of American history, the official notice also references Critical Race Theory as a theory that is not included in school curriculum as an effort to minimize distortion of history.
In June 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis directed the Florida Department of Education to ban any teaching of Critical Race Theory in the public school system. After a unanimous vote by Florida’s State Board of Education, it became one of the largest public state education systems to take this position.
On Dec. 15, 2021, DeSantis announced the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act. Under the proposed act, parents are granted the right to “private right of action” to help enforce the state’s ban in schools. This act would extend itself to companies as well. If employees receive training on Critical Race Theory, they would have the right to sue the company or business. DeSantis’ proposal can not be located within the state House or Senate. As governor, DeSantis does not have the power to file or propose bills in either the state House or Senate. Some feel DeSantis’ proposal of the act serves as the basis to create the idea that this act is in effect while in all actuality, it does not exist.
“I think it’s hypocritical for DeSantis to tell private companies that they can’t train people, however they see fit to run their business, considering he believes in free market principles and private enterprise. What roles he wants to take with regard to public education is part of his purview as the governor of the state,” speech and debate teacher Dr. Jacob Abraham said. “I think that they are not pedagogically sound decisions. He doesn’t have any training in pedagogy, so I can understand why he might propose ideas that do not make sense in a larger educational landscape.”
On Jan. 19, the Florida Senate Education Committee, which has a majority Republican makeup, advanced SB148, also called “Individual Freedom,” which was sponsored by Republican Senator Manny Diaz. The bill would not allow for legal recourse, but instead would allow for restricted conversations based on students or workers feeling “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.”
The bill outlines that teachers would be allowed to discuss or address the effects on a person’s freedoms due to sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation and racial discrimination as well as the enactment of laws. However, teachers can not “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular view point.”
“I think that Critical Race Theory gives students a chance to really examine history in its raw form, allowing us to see where people went wrong in the past. It creates an environment of accountability and growth,” junior Noldine Belizaire said.
In the Florida House of Representatives, companion bill HB0007 has been filed by Republican Representative Bryan Avila, also named Individual Freedom.
Critical Race Theory is currently banned in six other states: Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee. While only a few states have official bans against teaching Critical Race Theory, 16 other states are currently working on bills to pass through the state legislature to ban teaching the theory in classrooms.
As many states continue to work to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in classrooms, some question what specifically is banned. For example, some wonder if specifically teaching the theory using the theory, is banned or can teachers teach the aspects of the theory as long as they do not specifically reference the theory? Are some teachers going to stop teaching something that isn’t Critical Race Theory out of fear that it will be mistaken?
Some also ask if the theory can be used to teach other aspects of the curriculum. For example, the Broward County Public Schools High School Debate 3 Honors curriculum standard LAFS.1112.RI.1.1 states “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.” With many similar standards seen in other subjects, would assignment 30 pages of Critical Race Theory be allowed as reference material for teachers and students to work on other course standards?
“I don’t know of a single educator across the country at a high school or lower level other than myself, that’s actually given actual Critical Race Theory material to their students as an opportunity to learn from the authors of the concept, so it’s a moot point to ban something that no one’s teaching if I’m the only one that’s taught it,” Abraham said.
In a survey of 364 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Students, 57% of students say they have no understanding of Critical Race Theory. Of the 57% who say they understand what Critical Race Theory is, 60% think Critical Race Theory should be taught in schools, 25% think Critical Race Theory should maybe be taught in schools and 13% do not think Critical Race Theory should be taught in schools.
“There are people who think they’re teaching it that aren’t and are otherwise teaching history, which is fine, but if the attempt is to ban history is the goal, then we need to reckon with what it means to censor and sanitize or whitewash American history. Let’s have a conversation about that,” Abraham said. “Not whether or not racism exists, because it does, and whether or not we can critique the racism that exists in the system. To argue that those things don’t exist and shouldn’t be critiqued is to dehumanize the people who are the victims of racism.”
With many across the county debating the place for Critical Race Theory in society, this discussion is ever-evolving as new perspectives come about. As time passes by, many people, political parties and elected officials continue to debate whether or not Critical Race Theory has a place in society. Only time will tell the fate of Critical Race Theory in classrooms, business training and other areas of society.
This story was originally published in the February 2022 Eagle Eye print edition.