A parent raised concerns about a “how whiteness is a problem in science” assignment in a high school chemistry class. Another sent a slide of a teacher’s presentation about “color-blind racism” and the “privilege” associated with those who do not identify racism as the cause of “contemporary inequalities.” Multiple parents reported the assignment of “Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.
Critical race theory (CRT) has come to North Carolina.
These are just three examples from the multitude of complaints filed with an education task force created by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson designed to uncover ideologically and politically slanted lessons delivered by teachers in the state’s public-school classrooms. The sheer volume of initial submissions underscores the challenge we face in fending off the imposition of taxpayer-funded CRT in the state’s public schools.
Now it’s my challenge.
In March, I was among a group of education professionals invited to join the Fairness and Accountability in the Classroom for Teachers and Students (F.A.C.T.S.) Task Force. Robinson created the task force as a “resource for parents and students who feel that they are unable to tackle the issues that they are facing in their schools.” Chief among those issues are instances when public school personnel abuse their positions by championing critical race theory and other progressive political dogmas at the expense of the knowledge and skills that various outcome measures confirm most children lack.
The code of ethics for North Carolina educators is clear about the need for objectivity and fairness in all classroom activities. As part of their commitment to the profession, all North Carolina educators are required to acknowledge “the diverse views of students, parents and legal guardians, and colleagues as they work collaboratively to shape educational goals, policies, and decisions.” In addition, educators are told to “not proselytize for personal viewpoints that are outside the scope of professional practice.” Despite these prohibitions on injecting personal bias into the classroom, the practice has become uncomfortably common in public schools in North Carolina and across the nation.
Teachers want to be respected as professionals, and they should be. But it’s a two-way street. Exacerbating the problem is the current structure of curriculum adoption and implementation. Parents mistakenly assume that instruction is uniform across public school classrooms, schools, and districts. But despite the imposition of very general content standards and annual testing, school districts and state education agencies do not offer a day-to-day curriculum with prepackaged lessons and materials. Perhaps they should.
The lack of standardization produces mind-boggling variations in instructional methods and tasks assigned to students. This arrangement has benefits and costs. On the one hand, skillful teachers can adapt lessons to the unique needs of the children in their classroom. On the other hand, it permits ill-equipped educators to fill students’ time with ill-conceived busywork pulled from the bowels of the internet. At its worst, teachers exploit this flexibility to push an ideological or political agenda on their impressionable pupils.
This perception that teachers draw from a common stockpile of vetted, research-based curriculum materials explains why so few parents believe it necessary to scrutinize activities assigned to their children. Yet, mandatory remote learning during the pandemic afforded parents an unprecedented opportunity to see and hear educators in action. Some parents were awestruck by the knowledge and creativity exhibited by their child’s teachers. Others were appalled.
In response, North Carolina is among a handful of states to propose legislation designed to prohibit teaching the central tenets of critical race theory. But lawmakers also advanced a long-term strategy to address the mysteries of classroom instruction: a common-sense academic transparency bill that would require teachers to post outlines of lesson plans and assignments to publicly accessible websites after the conclusion of the school year. Most school administrators already require educators to use unit and lesson plans to guide daily instruction, so the law would not place an unnecessary burden on teachers. Rather, it would broaden opportunities for parental involvement, enhance opportunities for professional collaboration, and deter the kinds of shenanigans that have become all too common in our public schools.
If we fail to fend off the imposition of critical race theory and the lax professional standards that enable it, we will hasten the disuniting of America. Our kids deserve better.