On February 9th, the Chicago Teacher’s Union posted the transcript of a speech that Seattle educator, Jesse Hagopian, gave at a panel on the ongoing controversy surrounding the teaching of critical race theory in schools. In this panel, he addressed the hypocrisy in the critics of CRT, noting that not teaching about race erases our country’s history.
Hagopian said, “The great paradox of these anti-CRT bans is that they are confirming the central claims of critical race theory — that racism is embedded in the law, even when it appears to use race-neutral language, and that any progress towards racial justice will be met with a white supremacist backlash.”
Historically, CRT is not an educational tenet. The term “Critical Race Theory” was coined in the late 1970s and early 1980s by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado as a framework for legal analysis. What is being called CRT by its opponents is the teaching in public schools of the historical existence of racism.
In the Chicago suburbs, there has been a backlash to the teaching of so-called CRT by parents with members of an organization called Awake Illinois flooding school board meetings around the state to protest the implementation of culturally responsive teaching practices in schools, claiming that the teaching of CRT is divisive. On their website, Awake describes themselves as “a social welfare organization protecting our children, our liberties, and our American way of life” and maintains a “watchdog list” of Illinois leaders to look out for.
In November, a Waukegan public school teacher penned an Op-Ed for the Chicago Tribune, warning Chicago-area parents that CRT is already being taught in schools, although not labeled as such, and that it is important to have well-formed objections to this style of teaching. ~ℝ
In Chicago Public Schools itself, however, the conversation is a bit different. Christine Dussault, a special education inclusion teacher at Ravenswood Elementary, told Rwebel, “My school is really open and has a lot of discussions about race at the teacher level. We engage in professional development quite regularly and there’s an ongoing program from [University of Illinois Chicago]. At a classroom level, we are supported to make sure that we are including the truth in what we teach. I don’t have anybody messaging or coming to me [in opposition].”
In fact, Chicago has had a curriculum in place called Reparations WON that requires middle and high school teachers to teach about the history of racism in Chicago, specifically the “the record of torture committed under the direction of disgraced Police Commander Jon Burge and the fight waged by survivors and their allies for justice.” CPS also has an equity toolkit containing anti-racist resources for educators. ‘
For a city that has a history that is steeped in racial inequity (for example, the shuttering of several majority-Black schools in the city in 2013 and the fact that Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the country today), these pushes to commit to equitable teaching are a first step.