Education History Local Government

Systematically tackling the word “systemic.”

Banning language in history classrooms is a lot like banning books that make you uncomfortable. It’s a lot of rhetoric, and makes you look bad later.

If you’ve been a part of the interwebz at all then you know that the way history is taught in k-12 schools is under attack. I’ve already created a few blog posts that discuss the attack on history and here I am again, singing another song. This time it’s a ballad.

School boards and/or state legislatures are attempting to ban certain language in a history classroom. This is an insidious move, because language matters, and the way we speak about the past matters. By attempting to ban specific language, Conservatives imply to their base that “systemic racism” and “equity” either doesn’t exist or are an attempt to make white people feel bad.

Do you teach CRT?

Before school started, a colleague straight up asked if I teach CRT. I asked them to define what they meant by CRT. This person said “well, like, do you teach about systemic racism?” and I said “yes, because racist systems have and do exist in history.” Then, I said “why don’t you define what you mean by the terms “systemic and racism'” They couldn’t define the terms.

This is a problem, because Conservatives are spreading fear about language to a base that doesn’t even understand the language being used.

So let’s break it down.

One word that makes every “banned” list is the word “systemic.” Of course, systemic simply means affecting all parts of a system, whatever that system may be. In a historical sense, it usually means the system of laws that define our nation.

And see, here’s the thing. We do have systemic racism built into the very fabric of our laws. This is true now, as well as historically. Banning the word only bans the history, which perpetuates bias and…wait for it…more systemic racism.

If you’re saying, yes, but what laws?! Well, that’s a long answer, but I’ll give you a run down. I wont even talk about the slave codes or the 3/5 compromise. Let’s talk about citizenship and the rights of citizens.

Dred Scott v Sanford stated that Black people in the United States (free or enslaved) were not citizens. It wasn’t until the Fourteenth Amendment that the Black community received citizenship (Indigenous peoples wouldn’t receive citizenship until 1924).

Ok ok ok, that was so long ago right? Well yes…but…we know that the Reconstruction Amendments didn’t fix racism, instead it was woven into laws in different ways. For example, Black men were segregated during war time until Vietnam. Often, this meant that Black families couldn’t benefit from the service acts that came after WWII.

Don’t get me started on the internment of Japanese Americans, or the “repatriation drives” of Mexican Americans during the depression.

These are just a smattering of real, impactful, lasting laws that were made by this country that directly impacted citizens. These laws weren’t based on birth, rather they were based on heritage and skin color.

So…they are examples of systemic racism!

OK…So What?

One thing that Conservatives don’t want to feel is guilt for the past. Another thing they don’t want is the education of demonstrable truths. You see, if teachers educate students in straight facts about the laws in our nation, then the students might grow up to tear those laws apart, resulting in a loss of privilege for Conservative politicians and their base (white liberals I’m eyeing a lot of you too).

The strategy to teach a Conservative history of the United States is not new. However, this is its current iteration. Just like book banning, the banning of language is an attempt to hamstring teachers from teaching about the darker parts of our American past. Here’s the problem with that attitude…we can’t continue to “progress” if we don’t change.

And there’s the crux of the matter. Change means the loss of power and priviledge. It also means discomfort and reckoning with actions of the past. Redlining was legal until 1968, and it still exists outside of the law through “standard practices.” This is not a long ago past, this is our present. Until we fix the laws that treat citizens unequally, we will never be a United country.

School board elections are as important as national elections

By mshipstory


I'm Lindsay Adams. I'm passionate about history, teaching, and writing.

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