Despite what you may have heard from some right-wing politicians, educators are not using critical race theory (CRT) to brainwash young people into hating our country. As all eyes look to Texas' recent anti-critical race theory law, it's important to note that CRT isn't even part of the curriculum in Texas.
I should know: Up until recently, I was a high school student in San Antonio.
Throughout high school, none of my teachers introduced the topic of CRT, an academic framework used mostly in graduate programs that interrogates the role of racism in American society as a systemic issue rather than focusing on it as a matter of individual bigotry. Although it seems to come as a shock when I mention it outside of my home state, my high school, which uses the same history curriculum as all other Texas public schools, didn’t even teach me about the Civil War. In fact, my 11th-grade U.S. history class began with Manifest Destiny, skipped the Civil War and Reconstruction, and picked back up at the turn of the century, offering a rose-colored depiction of the country’s Gilded Age and Industrial Revolution set in some alternate timeline in which European settlers had always occupied American land and nothing of note occurred in the second half of the 19th century.
Republican politicians are mostly aware of this, but they have nonetheless turned CRT into a nationwide cultural flashpoint to generate outrage among their base and solidify support for a wide range of other issues. A recent poll by The Economist/YouGov showed that the vast majority of American adults (58%) have a “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” view of the controversial framework, while just 38% reported favorable views. Additionally, seven states have banned or restricted the teaching of CRT, and another 17 states have introduced new bills or state education policies that would restrict teaching about racism.
In July, a group of Texas Republicans, backed by Governor Greg Abbott and perceiving a threat to “American values,” proposed legislation that would ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. While it shouldn’t have come as a shock, recalling my own high school U.S. history experience, it seemed wholly unfounded. I didn’t even hear the term “critical race theory” until my first year of college, in a specialized course 1,800 miles away from my high school in San Antonio. So why are Texas Republicans so determined to ban it from our schools?
Senate Bill 3, or SB3, is an amended version of a bill first passed by the Texas Senate in June that aimed to ban the teaching of CRT in the state’s public schools. Since its introduction, the bill has taken on a new form, now aiming to end curriculum requirements for educators to teach about a myriad of race-related topics, including the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, and Indigenous history in general. At one point, SB3’s corresponding bill in the Texas House even sought to ban schools from requiring teachers to frame entities like the Ku Klux Klan as “morally wrong.” While these bills seem not only outlandish but also entirely unnecessary, Republicans have successfully built momentum against CRT through months of fear mongering, warning parents that without a ban like this, history curriculum would amount to “state-sanctioned racism” against white students and “perpetuate the lie that we should be treated differently by virtue of our skin color.” My own district’s House Representative, Chip Roy, called CRT “a direct affront to our core values as Americans.” At the core of Republican objection to the imagined teaching of critical race theory is the idea that teaching students about historical injustices caused by systemic racism may somehow make white students feel bad about their racial identity. In reality, Texas’ current history curriculum, which consistently overlooks the histories of Black, Latine, and Indigenous Texans, already elicits this feeling in students of color. In attempting to remove curriculum that acknowledges non-white histories, Texas Republicans like Chip Roy are making a concentrated effort to perpetuate this racist cycle.
Texas Republicans have attempted to justify SB3 by arguing that it merely asks teachers to present “both sides” of the issues. What is the “other side” of the KKK? What’s the “other side” of the civil rights movement? Or of Indigenous history? More importantly — what benefit does framing these issues as somehow double-sided provide for students of color? Why does Representative Roy’s fear of the mere possibility of making white students “feel bad” take precedence over a historically accurate education for all students? I attended a public high school in a district that is over 90% Latine; I can testify from personal experience that while our history curriculum is overwhelmingly one-sided, the scale does not tilt in our direction. The reality of my history courses was not some “reverse racist” tirade that aimed to shame white students, but rather a highly sanitized version of American history that rarely acknowledges systemic racism. I was taught a brief, censored history of the civil rights movement but not nearly enough about our state’s fraught history with enslavement, the KKK, or Jim Crow laws. I was taught about the founding of San Antonio but not about the Coahuiltecan Indigenous people upon whose land our school was built. I was taught about the glory of the Alamo but not about the Texas Ranger Division’s decades of racist violence against Black and brown Texans. What our curriculum provided instead was a warped retelling of history that jumped over major events and even decades of time to justify silencing those voices.
In my senior year of high school, I had the privilege of being able to take an elective course that covered basic Mexican American history, something that — despite growing up Mexican American in a predominantly Latine school district and city — I’d never seen incorporated into my curriculum. In that single semester-long course, I learned more about my own history, and a more accurate history of Texas as a whole, than in any other history course throughout four years of high school. For most students in my home state, opportunities like this still do not exist. Instead of trying to bar Texas students from educational experiences like these, perhaps Texas lawmakers like Representative Roy should place more emphasis on incorporating them into our standard history curriculum. Instead of focusing on “protecting” our students from the supposed dangers of critical race theory — a term that, had Roy not used it as a racist dog whistle, they too would likely not have heard until college — perhaps he should be doing more to ensure all students see themselves represented in our state’s curriculum.
The students at my alma mater, located in a district still reeling from a pandemic our governor has fought against mitigating, won’t be learning from a framework of critical race theory this year. But perhaps they should be.
Paulina Rodriguez ’24 is a second-year student at Barnard College.