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After critical race theory fears, state’s social studies standards scheduled for a vote

 Students at Red River Elementary in Coushatta, Louisiana work on a reading comprehension exercise. June 8, 2021.
Students at Red River Elementary in Coushatta, Louisiana work on a reading comprehension exercise. June 8, 2021.

Critical race theory has pushed back the review of state social studies standards. But the new standards don’t ever mention the concept.

State social studies standards have become an arena for critical race theory debate, especially in Louisiana.

After delaying its review process due to an overwhelming number of public comments, the new standards, which were released Tuesday, are scheduled for a final vote in March.

Unsurprisingly, the standards make no mention of critical race theory, an academic framework that looks at how race and racism have shaped the United States.

“Critical race theory does not belong in K-12 education,” said State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley when asked about the proposed standards in an interview Wednesday morning.

Critical race theory, which dates back to the 1970s, is sometimes taught in law schools and isn’t intended for K-12 classrooms.

The concept has never been a required part of Louisiana’s social studies standards, and state leaders haven’t passed legislation concerning critical race theory — though the topic will likely be discussed during the state’s regular legislative session, which begins March 14.

Instead, the proposed changes to Louisiana’s K-12 social studies standards include extending high school U.S. history courses to 2008 and adding “financial responsibility” to civics instruction.

The standards will also take into account the experiences of people of color “more now than ever before,” Brumley said, adding that including perspectives in the standards that previously did not exist is something he’s been committed to from the beginning.

Discussions regarding the state’s revised social studies standards have been delayed three separate times, largely due to parent concerns about critical race theory. State officials received more than 1,600 public comments on the proposed changes by mid-December, which led them to push back votes previously set for December and January.

During an interview with WWNO, Brumley equated critical race theory with the idea that America as a whole is “inherently racist.” That’s one of the main reasons why he thinks it should stay out of K-12 education.

“I just don't believe that,” he said. “I don't think it's proper for that conversation to be happening in our K-12 schools.”

Mohan Ambikaipaker, a professor at Tulane Law School, said he disagrees with Brumley’s understanding of critical race theory. Ambikaipaker said his course, which he’s taught for 10 years, interrogates the conversations and conflicts around race throughout the country’s history.

“Robust democracies are not about special dogma that you are supposed to just imbibe, like ‘The U.S. is not a racist society. The U.S. is a racist society.’ We don't teach that stuff,” he said.

Ambikaipaker said he finds the continued discussion of critical race theory as a dangerous concept that needs to be kept out of K-12 classrooms to be incredibly damaging.

“It's shameful when educational leaders jump on the bandwagon because they should have the autonomy and respect for their own vocation and discipline to speak from that point of view and not from a political point of view,” he said.

For the last year, families across the country have accused schools of teaching white children to be ashamed of their race and their country. Parents argue it’s evidence of critical race theory.

“Do we talk about racism? Yes. Do we talk about critical race theory? No,” said Anton Schulzki with the National Council for the Social Studies. “It's not a theory that is taught in K-12 classrooms.”

Fourteen states have passed bills banning critical race theory, though the policies often don’t mention the concept by name. Some prohibit the discussion of “divisive” or “controversial” concepts, while others prevent teachers from discussing racism or sexism.

Mississippi began the process of banning critical race theory in its K-12 public schools, public universities and community colleges last year.

The bill passed the state’s Senate 32-2 in late January, even after Black senators withheld their votes, and still needs to be voted on in the House.

Schulzki said while new legislation is meant to outlaw a concept that wasn't being taught to begin with, it still has a negative impact on students and teachers.

“It’s creating situations where every little thing that is discussed in a classroom has to be cleared ahead of time and that's a dangerous precedent,” he said.

Louisiana’s proposed standards have been updated based on community and educator feedback and are available for additional public feedback until Feb. 22.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote on the standards, which would apply starting with the 2023-24 school year, during its March 8-9 meeting.

Louisiana’s social studies standards are supposed to be revised every seven years, but haven’t been updated since the 2010-11 school year.

Copyright 2022 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio. To see more, visit WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio.

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.