Black History Month, CRT, and Dr. Carter G. Woodson

Why the narrative that critical race theory ‘makes white kids feel guilty’ is a lie


The Hechinger Report:
August 2, 2022

‘Our classrooms are not sites of demoralized children who hate themselves and their country. Students are hungry for explanations — real explanations — for the world they have inherited.’

The wave of state legislation and school board policies restricting what educators can and can’t teach shows no signs of slowing. These efforts rely on a narrative that learning about the history of racism and white supremacy harms students — particularly white students, leaving them feeling guilty and ashamed. We emphatically reject this narrative; it in no way matches our combined 30-plus years of experience as public school teachers.

It is not teaching about racism that endangers our students, but the curricular gag-rules that seek to perpetuate their miseducation.

Our use of the term “miseducation” comes from the 1933 Carter G. Woodson text, “The Mis-education of the Negro.” Woodson argued that the struggle for education was not just about access, but also curricula. How could formal education be liberatory for a child if “the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies?” Woodson was also clear that racist curricula affect Black and white children. To those who claimed children were too young to confront the history of racism in the classroom, Woodson replied:

“These misguided teachers ignore the fact that the race question is being brought before Black and white children daily in their homes, in the streets, through the press and on the rostrum. How, then, can the school ignore the duty of teaching the truth while these other agencies are playing up falsehood?”

We are white women, who teach mostly white kids, in two of the whitest states — Oregon and Vermont — in the country. Woodson’s argument — that all children deserve a curriculum that challenges the lie of white supremacy — has deeply shaped how we view our role as educators. Our identities and educational genealogies have made us particularly alert to the way white children have become props in the recent onslaught of miseducation policies.

Woodson asserted that the prevailing narratives in too many U.S. schools harmed Black and white children, albeit differently. Both groups were inculcated with scripts of Black racial inferiority and white racial superiority. Two sides of the same old and ugly lie.

To avoid confronting this lie, the narrative of history lessons making white kids feel guilty has taken hold. Many of the recent “anti-CRT” bills ban any curricula that could lead an individual to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” A Heritage Foundation commentary endorsing the laws asked, “How would you feel if your child came home from school and said her teacher had told her that everything that happens in the world is ‘racist’ and that she’s part of the problem because of the color of her skin?” The universal language here only thinly veils the assumed white subject for whom this concern is whipped up.

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OPINION: Why the narrative that critical race theory ‘makes white kids feel guilty’ is a lie

Carter Godwin Woodson (December 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950 was an American historian, author, journalist, and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). He was one of the first scholars to study the history of the African diaspora, including African-American history. A founder of The Journal of Negro History in 1916, Woodson has been called the “father of black history”. In February 1926 he launched the celebration of “Negro History Week”, the precursor of Black History Month. Woodson was an important figure to the movement of Afrocentrism, due to his perspective of placing people of African descent at the center of the study of history and the human experience.

Born in Virginia, the son of former slaves, Woodson had to put off schooling while he worked in the coal mines of West Virginia. He graduated from Berea College, and became a teacher and school administrator. Earning graduate degrees at the University of Chicago, Woodson then became the second African American, after W. E. B. Du Bois, to obtain a PhD degree from Harvard University. Woodson remains the only person whose parents were enslaved in the United States to obtain a PhD in history. He taught at historically black collegesHoward University and West Virginia State University (and became an academic dean successively at both institutions). —-Wikipedia