Opinion: Weaponizing education for politics a danger – The Cincinnati Enquirer

Civil rights activist the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Several years ago, I wrote this quote on a whiteboard in my classroom as a reminder to me about why education matters and why it is important to present diverse perspectives to students to exercise their minds. I also explained the point to my students in a direct but profound manner: Ignorance is a sincere lack of knowledge, but a failure to seek knowledge and feed the mind is a choice to lack intelligence. Sadly, this is where we are currently.

When teaching persuasive writing, in general, English teachers discuss the various propaganda techniques that society uses to persuade. These techniques can be quite effective in society. They can influence people to buy a car, try the latest weight loss supplement, or donate to protect wildlife or animals who will be euthanized. Propaganda isn’t new, and it isn’t new to politics. It is the frenzied propaganda we are witnessing currently that has collided with education. This collision centers around Critical Race Theory (CRT) and a particular demographic of citizens who want it banned from being taught in K-12 schools.

There is little evidence at this time that this complex theory is included in the curricula of school districts anywhere in the United States. In fact, the nonpartisan organization Association of American Educators conducted a survey and received 1,134 responses and 900 of them were from traditional public schools. According to this association, “More than 96 percent said their schools did not require them to teach critical race theory and only 45 percent said that teachers should have the option to add it to their lesson plan” (“Teaching critical race theory isn’t happening, teachers say in survey,” NBC News, 1 July 2021).

I need to be transparent: I used this theory when I wrote my dissertation. It was not a theory I was familiar with until I pursued a doctorate. This particular theory fit the research questions that I wanted to examine. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to use CRT. I took classes and studied it, relying on numerous texts and research articles about Critical Legal Studies, history, and CRT in education. It took a considerable amount of time (two years) to master CRT enough to write my dissertation.

Let me emphasize this: YEARS. To be clear, teachers don’t have months or years in K-12 to present any theories to students when we have standards and a timeline to move through curricula.

I won’t spend time explaining CRT because there is a plethora of information that can be accessed in seconds. The fact that this theory has been used as some “catchall” for some political and ideological agenda to excise discussions of uncomfortable truths in American history is disturbing. If people want to know the nascent nature of this anti-CRT “movement,” that information is available as well, and some reading will help connect the dots. Anti-CRT protests are actually anti-truth protests.

The truth is some horrible things happened in American history just like some great things happened. However, there is a concerted effort to eradicate the horrific parts to recreate and revise how this country was formed and the extent those in power went to build the United States. Because some are uncomfortable with the bad and ugly of history, schools are being pressured to withhold parts of history, start history at 1776, and prevent schools and teachers from providing multiple perspectives of history so that students can critique the information for themselves. Schools are pressured to lie to students to maintain a myth.  Districts are being pressured to not discuss diversity and inclusion and not mention words such as slavery, race and racism. Weaponizing schooling for a political agenda and power grab is dangerous.

Students deserve an opportunity to receive accurate and complete information and be encouraged to grapple with this information through analysis and critique. This is how we help students become critical thinkers and informed citizens. Anything besides this is indoctrination. It is ironic that anti-CRTers accuse CRT of indoctrinating students, but the indoctrination takes place when students are deliberately being denied the truth. At this point, we have to sincerely question the purpose of schooling. Are we going to open the minds of students and let them acquire knowledge or are we going to engage in mind control?

On which side do we want students to fall? Sincerely ignorant or conscientiously stupid? What would we prefer schools to do? Teach facts and let students wrestle with them and critically think or inculcate them with lies and a propagandized curriculum? This contrived controversy is dangerous and is hurting students and teachers’ ability to deliver instruction with fidelity. This precarious time for education and for our students.

Adonica Jones-Parks is a Northside resident and educator with over 20 years of experience in K-12 traditional and specialized settings.