We all agree racism is bad. Right?
So teaching people to be less racist is good.
And teaching teachers to be less racist is even better.
So why are three western Pennsylvania schools suing the state Department of Education (PDE) over guidelines for antiracist teacher training programs?
The Mars Area, Penn Crest and Laurel school districts filed a lawsuit Monday trying to stop Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration from implementing a program called Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Education (CRSE) in every school district in the Commonwealth starting next school year.
CRSE is a set of 49 cultural competency standards kind of like the Common Core – guidelines for teacher training programs to be used for both new educators and continuing education credits for current educators.
Plaintiffs complain that the program is vague, requires teachers to think a certain way, encroaches on districts’ autonomy to pick their own curriculum and threatens to take away owed subsidies if districts don’t comply.
Let’s examine each in turn.
Is the policy vague? No way. It has nine core competencies, each with between 4 and 7 standards. These are guidelines and certainly don’t outline every possible use, but you could argue they’re detailed to a fault. One regulation requires educators to disrupt harmful institutional practices. Another asks educators to acknowledge microaggressions – when someone unintentionally expresses prejudice towards a person or group.
Do they require teachers to think a certain way? Yes. They ask teachers to embrace the idea that racism is bad and to strive to work against it. I’m not seeing how that’s a problem.
Do they encroach on district’s autonomy? That’s debatable – but should districts really resist taking steps to make themselves less racist?
Do they threaten districts with loss of funding if schools don’t comply? I don’t see anything explicit in the program that says this, but that could be implicit in the program or have been expressed by PDE employees. In any case, I don’t see why it’s a problem to offer tools to do something you really should want to do anyway.
In short, there’s nothing wrong with the guidelines, per se, if you agree that racism is something schools and teachers should strive against. Now I can’t read people’s minds, and I don’t know explicitly what their motivations are, but the real issue seems to be that certain people don’t believe in the cause.
They don’t believe racism is much of a problem today or that schools should be engaged in antiracist work.
It’s a culture war issue for them. That’s all. Republicans vs Democrats. So-called conservatives vs so-called liberals. The usual cable TV political football game.
However, for some of us, the matter isn’t so simple.
Frankly, I’m of two minds when it comes to these new guidelines for antiracist teacher training.
On the one hand, I am in favor of teaching people to be less racist – especially when those people are teachers, themselves, who can spread the message even further and use it to be more fair and equitable to students.
However, taken in context, such guidelines are little more than passing the buck onto teachers while letting the most powerful get away with doing nothing.
Consider where these guidelines come from.
They were created by the previous Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration with help from The New America Foundation. In fact, most of these guidelines come directly from the foundation by use of a creative commons attribution.
This is a left-leaning DC think tank with ties to President Barack Obama’s administration. Why does that matter? Look at who funds the organization – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Family Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, etc.
These are the architects of the most dominant education policies of the last two decades – high stakes standardized testing, charter schools, etc.
Think about that for a minute.
Here we have the same people responsible for the most racist public school policies of the last several generations writing guidelines to teach educators how to fight racism!
Well isn’t that something!?
Imagine if these same billionaire philanthropists demanded an end to their own policies! Now THAT would be antiracism!
Standardized testing is based on eugenics. Children of color and the poor get lower test scores than wealthier whiter kids BY DESIGN, and we use those scores to justify doing all kinds of terrible things to them – narrowing the curriculum at their schools, cutting funding to anything but test prep, closing their schools and forcing them into unproven privatized alternatives.
Speaking of which, take a look at charter and voucher schools. These are institutions surviving on public tax dollars that aren’t held to the same accountability standards. Charter schools target black and brown kids giving them less quality educations and pocketing the tax money provided to educate them as profit. Voucher schools use tax dollars to fund religious and parochial education, teaching blatantly racist and anti-scientific ideas.
If the people behind CRSE really wanted to make a dent in racism, they’d abolish these policies.
If the state really wanted to be antiracist, it would stop the tyranny of high stakes testing, abolish no account charter schools and stop funneling tax dollars to private and parochial schools. It would work to reduce school segregation, equitably fund all districts – especially those serving poor and minority children, etc.
But no. They do none of these things. Instead they throw it all on teachers.
Once again the powerful do nothing to actually fix our problems but put the burden of our crumbling societies on our crumbling public schools and traumatized teachers.
THAT’S my problem with this program.
It’s not that they want to teach teachers to be antiracist and to take steps to create more fair and equitable classrooms. It’s that this is all a smokescreen to allow the people who are really behind many of the racist systems in our society to keep getting away with it and perpetuating more and more inequality.
I can just imagine how well the state would greet educators “disrupt[ing] harmful institutional practices” by refusing to give standardized tests!
Teachers have an attrition rate of nearly 50% every 5 years. We can’t keep dumping every social problem into their laps and expecting them to perform miracles all by themselves.
Public schools are a PART of the solution to our broken society. But they are not the WHOLE.
We need real public policy to address these issues. We need to get rid of reductive and prejudicial laws.
And the fact that we don’t have any of that is certain to poison the fervor of many teachers next year who will be required to sit through antiracist programs paid for and conducted by the same folks behind the public school apartheid that is our everyday reality.
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