University of Connecticut alumni, staff and students gathered Wednesday evening for the #ThisIsAmerica: Critical Race Theory in Schools panel. The panel, featuring five professionals, one of which was a moderator, discussed critical race theory and its importance, especially in today’s school system.
Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools and UConn alum, hosted and moderated the panel discussion, which consisted of Professor Nadiyah Humber, an associate professor at UConn Law, Dr. Alexandra Freidus, an assistant professor of educational leadership, Dr. Paul Freeman, superintendent of Guilford Public Schools and lastly, Dr. Saran Stewart, professor of higher education and student affairs and director of global education.
The panel focused on the specific concept of critical race theory (CRT).
Dr. Stewart describes CRT as, “body of legal scholarship and a movement of critical civil rights activists and researcher’s research.”
She states that it has two overarching ideals. The first is to understand how the regime of white supremacy and its systems use policies and regulations to support the racial subordination of people of color. The second aim is to learn how to change and “dismantle oppression all together,” she said.
One of the many controversial topics within CRT is the inclusion of it in K-12 curriculums. Currently, there is little to no evidence that CRT is being taught in schools, which Dr. Freeman confirms in his own Guilford school district. In fact, he says there was no previous discussion about CRT until individuals began shedding light upon it.
Dr. Freeman provides insight on why he believes the incorporation of race and racism, which is far different than Critical Race Theory, can aid in a more welcoming and inclusive environment.
“It’s the acknowledgement that there is more than one story,” he said. “Our students come to our classrooms with different backgrounds, with diverse experiences from diverse families.”
Some individuals hold the opinion that teaching the racist history of the United States of America can be damaging and traumatic. Dr. Freidus sheds light on why it’s such an important subject to discuss, rather than run away from.
“If you don’t recognize that children and their families and their communities are dealing with the racialized realities in our society, there is no way to provide them with an equitable education, there is no way to include them,” she said. “You are saying that you want them to not be able to talk about or process or critically assess their actual lived experiences.”
The inclusion of these subjects is not meant to bring shame to white students or victimize black and brown students, but rather to have an understanding of the history of the United States.
Guilford Public Schools are able to achieve this through the inclusion of race and racism in their schooling, rather than CRT.
“White children, like all American citizens, have an obligation to understand our country, and if we want to become that more perfect union we have to understand where we came from,” said Dr. Freeman.
In Guilford, students participate in a project called the ‘Witness Stones,’ where students examine the lives and contributions of actual enslaved individuals in Guilford, CT. Rather than only studying about slavery in the South, students are learning about it at a hyper-local level. At the end of the experience, the students implement a Witness Stone to commemorate the individual’s life.
While it can be intimidating initially for teachers who themselves do not feel knowledgeable enough to teach about CRT, they will be (hopefully) given endless support.
“I want educators to know that there are national efforts as well that are happening,” said Professor Humber. “Of course, our educators are supported.”
To be clear about my comments: I was not advocating for the teaching of CRT in K-12 public schools. We do not teach CRT in GPS. We do feel that it is important to talk openly and honestly about race and about historic and systemic racism. We believe that all students need to see themselves represented in the texts and materials that we use. We believe that all students need to know they are welcomed and supported in their schools. I was not, however, and I am not advocating for the teaching of CRT in our public schools; as a topic and as an academic structure, that is more appropriately done at the higher ed level.