Some politicians and activists have recently claimed that teaching about race and inclusion in schools is divisive or a means of indoctrinating students.
However, the growing threat of white supremacist extremism in the United States has raised concerns among education advocates about Republican-led efforts.
Now, advocates who spoke with ABC News say that a mass shooting allegedly carried out by a self-proclaimed white supremacist targeting a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, has raised concerns about prohibiting race education in schools.
According to research, children become aware of race and racial inequality at a young age and may develop racial biases between the ages of 3 and 5. Children who engage in honest and frequent conversations about race, racial inequity, and racism have lower levels of bias in young children, according to research, including that of award-winning social-developmental psychologist Phyllis A. Katz.
Children pick up on what they see around them, so avoiding discussions about race and inequality only allows “prevalent stereotypes [to] remain unchanged,” according to Katz’s research.
In 2019, Katheleen Belew, a historian specializing in the white power movement, testified before Congress, recommending education as a solution to the problem.
Experts on radicalism in the United States, such as Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center, believe that education can be a powerful tool in combating racism in a variety of ways. However, Hayden warns that portraying white people solely as antagonists may “continue this cycle [of division] in our culture.”
He primarily suggests that federal agencies fund programs that promote media literacy, mental health resources, and other such programs in order to support early intervention of radicalization and inoculate communities against extremism.
Bills addressing “critical race theory” in K-12 classrooms have been introduced or passed in more than 30 states across the country.
Critical race theory is a discipline that studies how racism has shaped American law.
According to teachers, the theory is taught in law school and higher education courses but not in K-12 classes. Nonetheless, critics contend that the theory is being used in public schools to discriminate against white students and to blame them for the actions of white people in the past.
A simultaneous Republican-led effort has been launched to prohibit young adult or children’s books that discuss race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
In the last two years, the anti-race education movement has dominated school board meetings, midterm primary elections, and conservative media. It has sparked heated debates about whether children are taught in schools about the long history of racial oppression and the fight for equality.
Critical race theorists, educators, and some parents, on the other hand, claim that opponents are actively distorting the theory in order to reverse progress made in diversity and racial equity.
They claim that basic lessons on civil rights, LGBTQ rights, gender equality, and other movements may no longer be explored and discussed in classrooms as a result of these laws.
Some educators believe that if these lessons are not taught, attacks on historically marginalized groups will continue to rise.
A document allegedly left behind by the 18-year-old alleged Buffalo shooter, detailing his racist plans, underscores the growing threat of white supremacist extremism in the United States. He allegedly expressed racist and antisemitic motivations in it, as well as white supremacist conspiracy theories about America’s changing demographics. In the document examined by ABC News, he stated that his beliefs were cultivated in recent years through information obtained from the internet.
Elana Yaron Fishbein, founder and president of the anti-racism education organization No Left Turn in Education, told ABC News that anti-racism efforts are not a solution to the white supremacist extremism seen in Buffalo.
However, Ronda Taylor Bullock, the lead curator of the anti-racism advocacy organization We Are, believes that educators must educate students about racial inclusion and equality so that they are prepared to confront radical, racist ideals.