Critical race theory legislation in Pa. misses the more urgent issues in our schools | Opinion
Rep. Donna Bullock: Many of our schools are underfunded, toxic, and dilapidated, lack resources, and are unsafe.
Heading into a new school year is both exciting and stressful — from school supplies, bus routes, teacher assignments, to dreaded school board meetings. While parents, students, and educators navigate returning to the classroom during a pandemic, a confusing conversation about curriculum has spiraled out of control and it requires clarification.
Many of our schools are underfunded, toxic, and dilapidated, lack resources, and are unsafe. Instead of addressing those very real issues that affect, and can even threaten, the lives of students and teachers every day, a Republican bill in the legislature has been introduced to create further divide and instill fear in parents and educators across the commonwealth by spreading misinformation about a particular subject: critical race theory, or CRT.
Let’s start with the definition of CRT. Don’t Google it, since the definition of CRT has been hijacked and muddied by those who demonize it without even understanding what it truly is.
In general, it dissects the idea that law is neither just nor neutral. It is a theory about the history of racism and American law designed to be taught in law schools, not elementary schools. The American Bar Association describes it as “a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship.” The theory examines the legacy of racism and how it manifests in the legal systems of redlining, mass incarceration, voting rights, and even the underfunding of schools. But it’s now being twisted by those who seem to not understand it or who want to push a false narrative to further their agenda.
It seems that is the goal of the Republican members of the General Assembly who have introduced a bill, HB 1532, to prohibit the teaching of CRT.
The proposed legislation would “prohibit the teaching, funding, or dissemination of racist and sexist concepts by the commonwealth ... including school districts.” On the surface, it sounds like something many people would agree with. However, this is the language that the bill’s authors, Reps. Russ Diamond and Barbara Gleim, have used to describe CRT. That’s problematic and disingenuous because CRT is neither sexist nor racist. Furthermore, CRT is not, and has never been, taught in our K-12 schools.
In their sponsorship memo, the bill’s authors further explain that “our schools should be teaching that every individual is equal under the law.” Yet, we don’t treat our students equally under the law. We fail to equitably fund Pennsylvania schools. Students of all races attend underfunded schools. Black and Latino students, however, are overwhelmingly represented in those districts — meaning their schools have larger class sizes with fewer qualified teachers in dilapidated buildings. Their educational experiences aren’t exactly equal to students at better resourced schools.
Where is the discussion about school funding? Where is the outrage over toxic schools? Where is the debate about access to broadband and technology?
Instead of promoting misguided and divisive legislation to prohibit classroom discussions about race, lawmakers should instead focus on fixing the problems of toxic, unsafe, and underfunded schools.
Donna Bullock is the state representative for the 195th Legislative District in Philadelphia.