Thursday, September 23, 2021

Let’s Stop Talking About Critical Race Theory and Empower Families Instead

Is it just me, or are partisan bullfights over critical race theory (CRT) getting old? Conversations about CRT have become unproductive, dividing education reformers, disrupting communities and distracting from things that matter—like the school choice movement. Therefore, I think it is time we get back to discussing viable and impactful solutions that empower students and their families.

Critical race theory has further divided a polarized nation when policies like school choice—which have record levels of bipartisan support—are needed to bring Americans closer together.

Over the past few months, CRT has seemingly come out of nowhere, dominating airwaves, editorial pages, and social media, and stealing the spotlight from the so-called year of school choice. In addition, CRT has further divided a polarized nation when policies like school choice—which have record levels of bipartisan support—are needed to bring Americans closer together. And as even those of similar political ilks can’t seem to agree on a standard definition of CRT, these divisive discussions are unlikely to stop any time soon. 

But enough is enough. Education reformers, more specifically school choice proponents, need to take a stand, unify communities and shift mainstream education conversations back to empowering students and families who need change by refocusing their efforts on school choice.

Luckily, some education reformers have done just that, taking a proverbial stand against divisive CRT discussions by ignoring them, focusing instead on providing solutions to empowering students and families in state legislatures. Their work can be seen in the 21 expanded school choice policies and the seven new school choice programs created in 18 states in 2021. Some of the school choice victories even came from places like West Virginia, which passed one of the most expansive school choice programs despite strong union influence in the state.

The main takeaway from the exciting school choice victories, especially in atypical states, should be that progress in reshaping the American education system comes from uniting people, not dividing them.

However, the main takeaway from the exciting school choice victories, especially in atypical states, should be that progress in reshaping the American education system comes from uniting people, not dividing them. So far in 2021, school choice victories have come from education reformers encouraging broad coalitions consisting of parents, state policymakers, national leaders, and others whose underlying desire is for parents to have the freedom to choose schooling options best suited for their children.

Examples of these coalition builders abound. They include national nonprofit groups like EdChoice, providing statistical analysis of the benefits of school choice, community members engaging in grassroots work, and policymakers passing bills. Even students have put their shoulders to the wheel. Take Isabell Marte, for example, who helped sow the seeds for change to education systems by sharing her story about how a scholarship to attend Catholic school made her a better student.

It’s too bad all this empirical research and anecdotal evidence that school choice produces better outcomes is taking a back seat to ideologues’ hot takes on CRT.

It’s too bad all this empirical research and anecdotal evidence that school choice produces better outcomes is taking a back seat to ideologues’ hot takes on CRT. Inflammatory, attention-grabbing opinions on the matter have pitted everyday Americans against one another, leading to even more division and confusion amongst communities—the last thing we need as we try to pull our schools back on course in the pandemic’s wake. Communities once focused on working with each other to implement school choice earlier in the year are now focused on working against each other regarding the implementation of CRT in schools. 

It won’t be easy to shift the conversation when mainstream media is hyper-focused on the political football of critical race theory, but the high stakes of student success can not wait any longer. Education reformers need to resume the struggle and lead the way in re-unifying communities toward the common goal of school choice. 

Let’s refocus the conversation on empowering students, parents and families to provide viable solutions to help students who need real changes to their educational experience. It is an uncomfortable step to go against the grain, but education reformers looking to make a tangible change for students must do so.

Photo by Prostock-studio, Envato Elements.
Cooper Conway
Cooper Conway is a Young Voices contributor and a Frank Church Scholar at the Boise State University Honors College. 

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