Back in May, Mike Petrilli, head honcho at the right-tilted Fordham Institute, proposed that when it comes to the current culture wars surrounding "critical race theory, “anti-racist” education, and diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom," a common ground exists. As Petrilli's sub-head puts it, "five promising practices most of us can get behind, regardless of politics."
Is it possible? So many of the conservative participants in this war are not making good-faith arguments, but are exercising some political opportunism (looking at you, Governor's Abbot and DeSantis). Some are either uninformed or willfully ignorant. At the same time, while Benjamin Wallace-Wells at the New Yorker did a great job laying out how one conservative activist stoked this fire, the article is clear that Christopher Rufo did not manufacture examples of bad diversity training out of thin air. Plenty of the objections to what's being lumped inaccurately under the heading of Critical Race Theory involves some serious nutpicking, but if the nut being picked happens to come from your school, some alarm is predictable.
Even when you find a discussion of the issues being conducted by two people in performative good faith, the gulf seems somewhat unbridgeable. In this piece, Conor Friedersdorf and Anastasia Higginbotham seem hopeless separated both by ideas and by language (What is "whiteness"? How far should we bend to keep white children from feeling bad?)
Petrilli says he's hopeful for common ground, if not between the "hard-liners on either side, then at least among parents and educators out there in the real world of kids." Here are the five practices he thinks can be broadly supported.
Adoption and implementation of "culturally-affirming" instructional materials.
Back in 2010, Arizona's legislators and Governor Jan Brewer passed a law banning ethnic studies in schools; in 2017, it was thrown out for being unconstitutional (and, said the judge, racist). That highlights a sticking point here; the folks who believe that one can't affirm non-white culture without somehow diminishing white culture. In education the stakes are raised because there are only so many hours in the year; you really can't just keep adding to the reading list without taking something away. You need look no further than the ongoing battles over #DisruptTexts, which looks to expand the canon, but is often characterized as an attack on the canon.
Culturally affirming materials ought to be in classrooms; at a bare minimum, culturally destructive materials should be removed. We can probably all agree on that idea; I have my doubts about whether we can agree on what that actually looks like.
The effort to diversify the education profession.
We agree. I'd call the need to recruit and retain teachers of color one of the major issues facing education right now. Are conservative lawmakers ready to hear that their attempts to ban the teaching of controversial issues of race are probably not going to help?
Helping teachers maintain high expectations for all students, regardless.
I'll admit that this point touches a nerve, going back to the days when Arne Duncan et al would insist that expectations solve all educational issues, and that we deal with all barriers to student achievement by just expecting them to do better, which is not only dumb, but cruel. At the same time, every teacher knows that expectations are key, and too often, for various reasons, teachers lower expectations for some students, and that's not helpful.
Teaching students to empathize with and understand others, especially those whose lives are more difficult than their own.
Years ago, a friend of mine who was teaching a gifted class, decided o doing a unit about world religions--just what they are, where they are, basic beliefs. One student and her family said no. When asked why, the response was "I don't need to understand them, because they are all wrong." Petrilli rightly connects this type of learning to social and emotional learning and character education.But there’s a case to be made that, given America’s growing diversity and inequalities, it’s more important than ever for children to appreciate that some kids have it much harder than they do. And in particular, that many Black Americans face particular challenges because of racism that their fellow Americans need to better acknowledge and understand.
“A common goal of our educators is to equip the students with the skills and tools to move through that process effectively while facilitating respectful dialogue,” she added.