Kiara Alfonseca, ABC News, May 19, 2022
Some politicians and activists of late have made accusations that teaching about race and inclusion in school is divisive, or a way to indoctrinate students.
However, the growing threat of white supremacist extremism in the U.S. has left education advocates increasingly worried about those Republican-led efforts.
Now, a mass shooting allegedly by a self-proclaimed white supremacist targeting a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, has sparked fears about banning race education in schools, advocates who spoke with ABC News said.
Research shows that children become aware of race and racial inequality at a young age and may develop racial biases by ages 3 to 5.
Studies, including those from award-winning social-developmental psychologist Phyllis A. Katz, have long shown that children engaged in honest and frequent conversations about race, racial inequity, and racism, lead to lower levels of bias in young children.
Children take cues from what they see around them, so avoiding conversations about race and inequality only allows for “prevalent stereotypes [to] remain unchanged,” Katz’s research states.
Katheleen Belew, a historian who specializes in the white power movement, testified before Congress in 2019 to recommend education as a solution to acknowledging extremism as a nation.
Experts on radicalism in the U.S., like Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center, suggest that education can be an essential tool against racism in different ways.
However, Hayden warns that only portraying white people as antagonists could “keep this cycle [of division] going in our culture.”
In more than 30 states across the country, bills targeting “critical race theory” in K-12 classes have been introduced or passed.
Still, critics claim the theory is being used in public schools to discriminate against white students and blame them for the actions of white people in the past.
There has also been a simultaneous Republican-led effort to ban young adult or children’s books that discuss race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.
“The whitewashing of history, the banning of books, the silencing of diverse voices do everything to rob students of the truth of our history, and do everything to plant the seeds of white supremacy,” Kim Anderson, executive director of the National Education Association, told ABC News.
Without these lessons, some educators argue, attacks against historically marginalized groups may continue to rise.
However, Ronda Taylor Bullock, the lead curator of the anti-racism advocacy organization We Are, argues that educators need to educate students about racial inclusion and equality so they are informed before they encounter radical, racist ideals.
“Someone feeling guilty [about racial inequality] is not the equivalent of Black people being murdered by a white supremacist,” Bullock told ABC News.