October 1, 2021

Jay Wamsted: Racism matters to our students. So, it must matter to us

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Jay Wamsted is a math teacher in Atlanta who writes about education for several major outlets. Here he guest posts for Maureen Dowd’s column at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, explaining why critical race theory may not be taught in a classroom, but it should inform what goes on there.

I don’t teach critical race theory. I teach eighth grade math.

Long ago, however, I did make a study of critical race theory (henceforth referred to as “CRT”). I’ll be honest, though: if you had told me a decade ago, during my research for a dissertation in mathematics education, that this small corner of social science was going to end up at ground zero of educational argument in a post-Obama world? Well, I might have taken more notes.

As it is, I have done some necessary re-reading of the theoretical lens this summer. It has always been a part of my toolkit for understanding the inequality present in American schools, but these days its utility feels ever more pressing. As I have heard observed more than once, nothing explains the current backlash to CRT better than CRT itself.

As I said, though, I don’t teach CRT. I don’t even teach history or literature, subjects where race and racism might arise naturally. I teach a middle school mashup of algebra and geometry, getting students ready for the increasing rigor of high school mathematics. It is worth pointing out, though, that history and English teachers don’t really teach CRT, either.

You have probably heard that CRT is a legal theory dating back to the 1970s, eventually appropriated into other fields but almost always as graduate study. Even then it was usually an elective. Very few teachers in America are “teaching CRT”—almost none of them below the level of a master’s degree.

This point is worth repeating: our nation’s children are not being indoctrinated with CRT. Before this summer, almost none of their teachers had even heard of such a thing.

That being said, I am a firm advocate for the belief that CRT should be used to galvanize a change in our nation’s schools. A few facts to bolster my argument. More than 80% of teachers are white, while less than 50% of students are similarly white. This means that roughly one out of every four teachers in America is a white person working in a room filled with students who are predominantly Black and brown.

Read the full piece here.

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