Friday, August 27, 2021

"Principal Kafele, Please Refrain From Referencing CRT in Your Presentation"



About a month ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, Critical Race Theory, Sleight (Slight) of Hand, Smoke & Mirrors ("slight" in parentheses because I had no idea until I wrote it that the correct spelling is "sleight"). Although the blog post was widely read, a month later, I feel a need to write a follow up and hence, this essay.

The banning and the push to ban what is called Critical Race Theory has really picked up steam over the past few months. Politicians in many of the states have made the banning of CRT a legislative priority, and some of my clients in the affected states are literally requesting / saying to me prior to my presentations, "Principal Kafele, please refrain from referencing CRT in your presentation." Talk about the misguided paranoia that has been created! The premise is that CRT is inherently racist and has no place in a K-12 classroom. The purpose of this essay is not to discuss what CRT is or is not. I discussed that in the aforementioned essay...please refer to it. The purpose of this essay is to argue that for those of us who are strong advocates of "curriculums of inclusion" for students of color, coupled with culturally-relevant pedagogy and teaching the truth and fullness of American history with fidelity, the CRT battle is NOT a K-12 battle. It is not a component of the K-12 fight for "classroom curricular and instructional justice" for children of color in general and Black children in particular. This CRT banning is nothing more than a distraction from the decades long fight to ensure that Black children are afforded the right to curriculum and instruction that are inclusive of their reality as Black people in America.

I want to share a personal story that I have never gone public with until this essay. Back in the fall of 1997, my last calendar year as a 5th grade Social Studies teacher before transitioning to administration, I made the decision that my 5th graders needed exposure to and could handle the classic, The Miseducation of the Negro by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. My school was located in East Orange, NJ, one of the "Blackest" cities in America and it was my intent to ensure that learning was always culturally-relevant for the population of students I served.  In using this book, I started with a paragraph from the introduction that was a game-changer for me personally when I was evolving from a "misinformed boy" into a "socially-conscious man" in the 80's. As I tell anyone, this paragraph was the impetus for me becoming a classroom teacher. In the introduction, Dr. Woodson said,

“When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

As the teacher of my students, I wanted to take a deep dive into the meaning of this quote in a historical, cultural, socioeconomic context. This meant that in teaching American history, I had to ensure that each and every era of American history was inclusive of the Black experience in America as well. I wanted my students to see the relatability of America's past to themselves in everything that I taught. In doing so, the aforementioned Carter G. Woodson quote made that much more sense to them.

Since The Miseducation of the Negro is in public domain, it is published by a plethora of different publishers which is unfortunate. There are no copyright violations when one publishes or photo copies this book. I therefore created small booklets of the introduction and the first two chapters for each of my students. I used to observe them walk with those booklets with pride. It was an amazing thing to see. I knew I was doing the right thing by my students.

Since we were departmentalized, my students had several different teachers. One of the teachers was a young white woman who took issue with me using The Miseducation of the Negro in my classroom and subsequently providing the students with copies of the chapters I referenced above. She confronted me one day and told me I gave them a racist document. I was stunned and appalled and proceeded to educate her about the book and the author, who happens to be the founder of Black History Month. I thought she was "hearing" me until a week later, my homeroom students returned to my classroom one afternoon for dismissal with a gift from this teacher - each of them had a book in their hands entitled, Robert E. Lee, My Hero. I will never in life forget this day and I'm surprised it took me this long to write about it. How dare this teacher give my class of Black children a book that calls the leader of the confederate army a hero. A hero to whom? Certainly not the ancestors of my students. We subsequently had an "interesting" discussion and consequently, the books were returned to the teacher and my class and I discussed Lee the next morning. 

This CRT hysteria that we are seeing play out is not new. It is decades old. There has been a battle to keep the Black experience in America marginalized, distorted, trivialized, caricatured, hidden and omitted for over 100 years. Why? Because there is power in that narrative and there are forces out there that never want that power to be shared. The Black experience is NOT Critical Race Theory. I REPEAT - the Black experience is NOT Critical Race Theory.  The Black experience is the experience of Black people in America. There is nothing "theoretical" about it. It is documented, although hidden history. So with my new reality of some of my clients in the affected states asking / requesting that I refrain from mentioning CRT, I will continue to enlighten them to the fact that "Critical Race Theory" will never be mentioned by me in a presentation because it isn't my fight....never has been. My fight is to ensure that the truth and fullness of the American story is told with fidelity....no matter how painful it may be.

For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.

6 comments:

  1. This is a powerful essay full of layers for thoughtful pondering and discussion. So many different perspectives about communication and miscommunication as well as perspective. I love the embedded sample of how we become more antiracist by keeping the lines if communication open. I am interested to see where this can take our Minority Leadership members in one of our future discussions.

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  2. Enjoyed reading your essay....very interesting facts!

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  3. Yes, our children need to know and have deep conversation concerning the history of our past. The distortion, marginalization, and limited acknowledgement regarding our rich history and contributions to this country provides enrichment and enlightenment to where they have an appreciation for who we are. It also provides a different perspective to where it is not obscured.Continue to educate because there are many who would love to obliterate the truth.

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  4. Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Thank you for writing this. Your experience mirrors mine in many respects. The attempts to censure truth doesn't end at the K12 level, unfortunately. #teachingwhileblack

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