Texas Teachers: How We Actually Teach About Racism

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tags: Texas, culture war, teaching history

As a child in her San Antonio fourth grade classroom, Alejandra Lopez learned about the Battle of Alamo the way most Texas students do: The Anglo fighters were valiant heroes against the Mexican enemy, led by Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh no, I have the same last name as the bad guy, as the villain in this story,’” she said. “That is really messed up, to carry that as a fourth grader.”

When her father tried to tell her the story from the Mexican perspective — that the white settlers were colonizers — she said she didn’t trust him.

“I put the trust in my teachers,” she said.

Years later, arriving as an undergraduate at Stanford University, she took an introductory course in Chicano/Chicana studies. She said she learned that white settlers wanted independence from Mexico largely to preserve slavery, which Mexico had outlawed, and she quickly realized that the history she had learned in K-12 had been “severely lacking.”

“It was written from a perspective that is not the perspective of my people — that is meant to indoctrinate me, a working class woman of color, into an American narrative of exceptionalism,” she said. “As a young brown child, I was being meant to experience history through the lens of the colonizer.”

That “absolutely atrocious” feeling eventually helped lead her to become a teacher back in her hometown.

“I wanted to teach differently than I had been taught,” she said.

How Texas students learn about race and history has become an incendiary topic in recent months. In a state where more than half of public school students are Hispanic and 27% are white, many conservative state lawmakers have raised alarm about the idea of lessons that seek to reframe history lessons.

Those lawmakers have repeatedly claimed that “critical race theory” is being used to teach children that they are racist and that the U.S. is an irredeemably racist country. They have already passed one measure, House Bill 3979, purportedly to combat the theory, though the bill never mentions it by name nor does anything to ban directly teaching its concepts, such as racial formation and intersectionality.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott has called for more legislation, declaring that he wants to “abolish” critical race theory in Texas classrooms and adding the issue to the agenda for two consecutive special sessions of the Texas Legislature. One such bill that calls for students to be taught a “a commitment to the United States and its form of government” has already passed the Senate and will be heard in a House committee hearing Tuesday.

But as those debates rage on, some teachers across disciplines are pressing on with approaches to teaching that are influenced by forms of critical theory — such as critical race theory. These approaches look very different from how Republicans characterize it, they say.

Far from trying to incur guilt in white students or establish racial superiority, they say, anti-racist teaching efforts are about affirming and empowering all students, in light of their race, class and all aspects of identity, to be critical thinkers and agents of their own learning — and to make sense of themselves, their communities and their society in complex ways.

Read entire article at Texas Tribune

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