Morningside Statement: "Critical Race Theory"

The manufactured controversy over the supposed teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools is being used to outlaw and suppress discussions of race, racism, and a fact-based teaching of history.

As an organization dedicated to partnering with schools to create joyful, equitable, and rigorous learning environments, we are saddened by the manufactured controversy over the supposed teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools. It is being used to outlaw and suppress discussions of race, racism, and a fact-based teaching of history in schools.

Critical race theory emerged from legal studies and feminist movements of the 1970s as a response to attacks on the achievements of the Civil Rights era. It posits that race is a socio-political construct, and that racism is embedded in our society, including in our legal rules and historical myths. Although this theory is generally taught in higher education, not in K-12 schools, it is being used as a rallying cry by those who want to stifle honest discussion and truthful teaching in our schools about people’s lived experiences of racism and the true impact of racism in our society. 

We believe that enabling a full and open sharing of knowledge and exchange of ideas is critical to education. Young learners deserve honest discussion about our nation’s history, which we all have inherited. That includes the history of enslavement, Jim Crow, colonialism, racism, sexism, and other systemic injustices and inequities – and how they have impacted our nation and continue to shape it today. Although some truths may be painful, our children want and need to understand the world they live in. 

The foundation of Morningside Center’s work is to create caring and inclusive classrooms where young people can share their experiences through empathetic connections. This includes unpacking racism and other ‘isms’ of the world. From this foundation, students can begin to imagine and work together for the better world they want to see.

We aim to create a sense of belonging for all of our young people, which, as research has made clear, is essential for students to thrive and learn. But students cannot feel that they belong if we deny or ignore their own lived experiences, or the impact of history on their lives, families, neighborhoods, and nation.

Whether adults choose to discuss race and racism in class or not, students are already talking about it – not only because it is in the news, but because it is part of their daily lives. Discussion of racism won’t end simply because a government entity chooses to ban it. Racism won’t be interrupted or dismantled until we DO talk about it – and that involves cultivating a belief in the value of brave and difficult conversations.  As education researcher Dena Simmons has stated, “We can’t heal wounds if we don’t attend to them.”

With social and emotional learning and restorative practices as guideposts, educators and students alike can deepen their perspectives on historical events and lived experiences. They can build authentic interpersonal relationships based on respect for all.

Sometimes, it can be uncomfortable to talk about sensitive issues like racism and white supremacy, but the goal of education is not to avoid discomfort – it is to teach. In fact, we often need to lean into discomfort in order to learn and grow. The very practice of having a difficult conversation is a skill we all need to learn. 

Educators are expected to nurture the social, emotional, intellectual, and civic development of their students. Learning about injustice can spark a quest for deeper learning and a passion for critical thinking and social action.

Our society socializes us not to talk about race or racism – at least not in multiracial settings. But this is not helpful to anyone, including white students. Such discussions, when skillfully facilitated, not only increase understanding of how racism (or sexism, or transphobia, etc.) operate, but also cultivate empathy and the ability to make connections across cultural differences. Learning to participate in such discussions enables us to become aware of how we can either disrupt or contribute to systems of oppression.  

It’s not about instilling guilt, shame, or causing trauma in white students, as some maintain. It’s about preparing young people to thrive in a diverse world. No one should be denied that education.

The New York State Board of Regents has recognized that school districts need to provide “inclusive and culturally responsive teaching and learning.” This, they state, includes acknowledging the role that racism and bigotry play in the American story, developing students’ abilities to connect across lines of difference, cultivating critical thinking, and empowering students as agents of social change.

We believe that having the very discussion that some would choose to outlaw is essential in the education of our students and in creating spaces where we can collectively learn. It is essential in putting us on the path toward a caring, democratic, and multiracial society.