The Academic Curriculum is a Racial Battlefield

The United States educational system is a major social institution in sorting and preparing people for different social locations in the social hierarchy. It is a formal institution whose central purpose is to promote white-dominant cultural beliefs about how and why society is the way it is. It is an important site of racial conflict over the breach between its professed egalitarian mission and its unequal structure, process, and outcomes.

America’s standard academic curriculum is designed to foster patriotism, capitalism, and oppressive systems based on race, sex, class, and sexuality. These oppressed groups are challenging the standard curriculum. This article will focus on how the dominant white ruling elite attempts to undermine and impede anti-racist changes in the academic curriculum.

The major problem is the white right-wing political opposition to a conceptual framework for understanding and challenging racism. The solution is the implementation of a standard curriculum that is historically accurate, insightful, and open to critical examination.

White Republicans Stifle Anti-Racist Education

Right-wing propaganda institutions like the Center of the American Experiment and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research launched an intensive political campaign against anti-racist education. Fox News was a major outlet for their propaganda.

Former President Donald Trump translated this propaganda into policy by issuing an executive order that banned racial sensitivity training in the federal government. Republicans in state legislatures picked up the cause, drafting and introducing bills limiting government agencies, public higher education institutions, and K-12 schools teaching “harmful sex- and race-based ideologies.”

Right-Wing Opposition to Anti-Racist Curriculum

White Right-wing opposition exists at all governmental levels. Former President Donald Trump created the Presidential Advisory 1776 Committee by executive order in September 2020 to counter a “radicalized view of American history.”

The 1776 Committee was formed to advise the president about the core principles of the American founding and how to protect those principles by promoting patriotic education. The bogus Commission did not include a single professional historian. More insulting was their fabricated report released over the Martin Luther King Day weekend.

Historians largely condemned the report, and American Historical Association executive director James Grossman said, “It’s a work of contentious politics designed to stoke culture wars.”

“To say the racial divisions that have existed for the last half century are due to insistence by African Americans on ‘group rights’ rather than to the depth and breadth of racism, to say that on a page where you have a photograph of Dr. King is offensive to Dr. King’s legacy,” Grossman said.

State Level Opposition

At the state level, academic curriculums that include concepts of racism and sexism are viewed by many politicians as threats. Thus, anti-racist courses became targets of hostile legislation. There has been a recent wave of educational “gag orders” restricting the teaching of race and gender because some politicians discredit them as divisive concepts.

Examples from Multiple States

At the core of state legislation is the desire to prevent discourse about America’s racist past and present. Many scholars in Florida are angry and scared because Governor DeSantis plans to defund state public universities’ diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

press release describing his proposed legislation said it would prohibit higher education institutions from using any funding, regardless of source, to support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Critical Race Theory (CRT), meaning teaching about racism.

These kinds of restrictions make faculty members afraid to teach subjects on race. A new report by the RAND Corporation found that a quarter of K-12 teachers changed their curriculum or practices because of limits on discussing race and gender. Black teachers disproportionately were the ones changing their teaching.

Consequences for Educators and Institutions

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed a bill restricting what teachers can teach in K-12 schools and public universities, particularly regarding sexism and racism. The law has sparked confusion and distress among educators who fear they might face the consequences for even broaching nuanced conversations about racism and sexism in the context of US history.

In Tennessee, a high school teacher was fired after teaching Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essay “The First White President.” More teachers are expected to be silenced because of the current social climate.

A Black principal in Texas was recently suspended without explanation after a former school board candidate complained that he was implementing critical race theory, promoting “extreme views on race” and “the conspiracy theory of systemic racism.”

Joseph Frilot, a middle school humanities teacher, learned from his curriculum manager that all the content he developed about Black Lives Matter and the civil rights movement wouldn’t be part of his lessons this year, considering the Texas law that limits discourse on racism and sexism.

In Tennessee, the state’s guidance lays out significant consequences for schools and educators found in violation: schools could stand to lose millions in annual state funds, and teachers could have their licenses denied, suspended, or revoked.

Public Attitudes Toward Anti-Racist Education

A July Reuters/Ipsos poll found that fewer than half of Americans (43%) said they knew about critical race theory and the surrounding debates, with three in 10 saying they hadn’t heard of it.

Most Americans said they support teaching students about the impact of slavery (78%) and racism (73%) in the US. State laws banning critical race theory in public schools received less support (35 percent).

Divisions Across Political Parties

There was a partisan divide on all fronts, with Republicans more interested in banning talk about slavery, racism, and the teaching of critical racial issues. Students and teachers have gone to school boards to demand ethnic studies courses and have worked to make anti-racism part of the curriculum. Teachers also want their students to understand how racism is systemic and that they can be part of a multiracial struggle to bring about change.

Right-wing policy institutes, media outlets, and politicians are conspiring to stifle anti-racist educational projects, even though most of the public has a positive view of them. The dominant white ruling elite continues to undermine and impede an anti-racist academic curriculum because it challenges white prevailing cultural beliefs about how and why the United States is racially stratified and unequal.