Critical Race Theory has sparked a nationwide debate over how to talk about race in schools. In Connecticut, the debate arose within schools, and made its way to the state legislature.
The academic theory, typically taught in undergraduate and law school settings, generated controversy within the last year. The theory originated in law schools in the 1970s, as a response to failures in addressing racism in the criminal justice system.
While teachers nationwide argue that the theory has not made its way to primary and secondary education, concerned residents continue to fight against racial education.
A Change.org petition emerged last year towards Connecticut’s Guilford Public Schools after the district launched a social justice initiative. The petition argued that critical race theory was “harmful to the mental health and well-being of all of our children.”
Meanwhile, the school board denies any changes to the school’s curriculum that reflect the teachings of any ideology.
“The school curricula have not been changed and cannot be changed without public Board of Education approval,” they said in an email statement sent out to school parents.
Danielle Scarpellino, the petition’s creator and Guilford Schools parent, gave an email statement to News to Stay Sane addressing her concerns.
She cites anonymous examples from white students who expressed distress over lectures holding white people responsible for systemic racism.
In response to backlash, Scarpellino stands her ground.
“It is this kind of treatment that one receives when opposing this divisive and racist ideology that causes parents to stand down,” she said in a subsequent email. “Our children should not be taught this kind of political, divisive and racist propaganda.”
Just Another Talking Point
Dr. Noel Cazenave, a sociology professor in the University of Connecticut, dismissed the debate as “silly.”
“Critical Race Theory is rarely, if ever, taught in schools below the college level,” he said in an email. “Neither its opponents or [sic] even many of its proponents even know what critical race theory is.”
During a phone interview, Dr. Cazenave shared that he believes the theory devolved into another right-wing talking point.
“This is a new thing that the conservatives are coming up with,” he said.
After an undergraduate student expressed concerns to him about how a special course on police brutality could be traumatic for students, Dr. Cazenave responded by saying the African American experience is traumatic in itself.
“What is traumatic are the killings themselves, and the impact they are having on the African American community, daily,” he said. “That is the real trauma.”
Having conversations about race in America would only help alleviate the pain, he argues.
“Talking about these issues, especially for people who are affected by them, can be therapeutic,” he said. “It can help [people] to understand that we are not making this stuff up.”