We write regarding Tony Monzo’s op-ed, purportedly about critical race theory (CRT), published in the Herald Aug. 11 and 18.
We were both educated in the schools of this county. Theodore Bryan is a retired teacher and former chair of the history department at Middle Township High School, where he taught their popular African American history course for over three decades. Charles Payne has chaired African American studies departments at Northwestern and Duke universities. We have both won awards for teaching.
In a manner worthy of a latter-day McCarthy, Monzo hurls charges of a grand, decades-long Marxist conspiracy in local schools without a shred of evidence, unless one wants to count the two “opinion pieces” he cites.
The accusation verifies itself. Teachers must be either unwitting dupes or conspirators in the destruction of their county. Beyond attending a Lower Township School Board meeting, there is no indication that Monzo has talked with principals, teachers or students. Still, he is comfortable concluding that the efforts of the state to promote teaching that stresses “diversity, including economic diversity, equity, inclusion [and] tolerance” amount to CRT and CRT is part of a broader Marxist/neo-Marxist strategy to control the thinking of Americans.
Op-eds like Monzo’s are dangerous, in part, because they obscure real issues. The truth is, despite progressive legislation in the past, it is very difficult to get issues of race and ethnicity discussed in our schools. Professor Christine Sleeter, of California State University, summarizing a sizeable research literature on the content of school textbooks, found:
Whites continue to receive the most attention and appear in the widest variety of roles, dominating storylines and lists of accomplishments. African Americans, the next most represented racial group, appear in a more limited range of roles and usually receive only a sketchy account historically, being featured mainly in relationship to slavery.
Asian Americans and Latinos appear mainly as figures on the landscape, with virtually no history or contemporary ethnic experience. Native Americans appear mainly in the past, but also occasionally in contemporary stories in reading books.
Immigration is represented as a distinct historical period that happened mainly in the Northeast, rather than as an ongoing phenomenon… Texts say little to nothing about contemporary race relations, racism, or racial issues, usually sanitizing greatly what they mention.
That is simply not the history of this country. Sleeter’s extensive review of the research finds that it overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that well-taught ethnic studies classes – presumably a part of what Monzo considers CRT – is associated with improved engagement, achievement and agency for minority students and improved “democracy outcomes” – willingness to consider the views of others, skepticism about stereotypes, increased interest in being politically active – for all students, but with especially strong impacts on White students. Sleeter concludes, “Rather than being divisive, ethnic studies helps students to bridge differences that already exist in experiences and perspectives. In these ways, ethnic studies play an important role in building a truly inclusive multicultural democracy and system of education.”
This is consistent with our experience as students and teachers. African American studies includes some tenets that Monzo may associate with CRT. In his 36 years teaching African American history at Middle Township Hight School, Bryan does not recall any student, parent, or member of the school community objecting to the subject matter of the course. Students seemed genuinely interested in studying how Americans (Black and White) sought to fulfill the nation’s promise of freedom and equality for all. Many students, Black and White, remarked after the course that it should be required for everyone.
No matter what label we put on it, schools need to reflect on the wondrously diverse and complicated history of this country and there are parts of that history that may make people who identify with the distorted version of the past most of us were raised on uncomfortable. We don’t see that as divisive. The discomfort that comes from understanding just how hard and bitter the fight to expand American democracy has been can help young people understand how crucial it is for them to make their contribution to the ongoing battle.
The students who will be best equipped to do that will be those who are exposed to a variety of perspectives and who develop the skills to critically analyze any of them, whether of the left, right, or middle. Introducing students to “equity, inclusion and diversity” is an important part of developing effective citizens, not a plot to control them.