State Superintendent Michael Rice added his voice to the growing chorus of educators pushing back against Republican-led efforts to ban teachers from discussing issues of race and racism in the classroom.
“To choose to ignore race and racism in our teaching is to efface or erase history, implicitly or explicitly, and to shortchange our children, who deserve to learn the full breadth and complexity of our extraordinary history,” Rice said in remarks to the State Board of Education last week.
Michigan’s children need to know our history’s layers, contradictions and complexities, Rice told board members. “Race and racism may be inconvenient for some, uncomfortable for others, and searing for still others, but, because they are inextricably a part of our history, they must be taught,” he said.
Rice was responding to Senate Bill 460, which would restrict educators’ classroom speech on the subject of race. The bill bans so-called “critical race theory” – which is not a K-12 curriculum – along with “anti-American” ideas about race and the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the history and consequences of slavery in U.S. history from The New York Times.
Critical race theory is not a curriculum, and it is not a pre-K-12 curriculum, Dr. Rice explained—it is in fact an academic umbrella of reflections and writings developed in higher education (colleges, universities, law schools, and graduate schools) since the mid-1970s.
“It is an academic lens or set of lenses developed primarily by those in higher education to consider the elements and impacts of racism and particularly institutional racism on our country and citizenry,” he said.
Rice quoted from the U.S. Constitution to note that America is still striving to be “a more perfect union.” He used several examples in American legal and constitutional history illustrating how our country has been working to improve itself for the rights and benefit of all citizens.
He noted that 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution; multiple U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the years; and landmark civil right laws have all made progress towards forming a more perfect union.
“I have confidence in our teachers to work through and teach these challenging issues to share the fullness and complexity of our history with our children….and by extension to permit our young people, armed with a knowledge of the past, to help assess the progress that we have made….and the progress that they wish to help make in their lifetimes.”