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Commentary

Keith Kindred: Effort to ban CRT in Michigan schools misguided

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"America is changing, as she ever does. Demographic experts predict our country will be majority-minority in 30 years," Kindred writes.

Teachers have been in the cross hairs of conservative legislators so frequently, I thought I was used to it.

But when I heard about the latest attempt by Republicans in the Michigan legislature to restrict public schools from teaching the truth about our past, I felt the urge to lash out and call them names.

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Courtesy of Keith Kindred

But then I paused and took a deep breath.

I don’t presume you care about my personal life, but I’m going to share some of it with you to make a point.

I was raised in an evangelical, conservative family, but married into an extremely liberal one. That experience, along with my many years leading class discussions in an ideologically divided community, has given me a unique perspective on political polarization.

People respond to political change in different ways. And knowing where people are coming from can soften our tendency to be judgmental and can lead to a more fruitful discussion.

America is changing, as she ever does. Demographic experts predict our country will be majority-minority in 30 years.

That scares people like Senator Lana Theis of Brighton, who chairs the Senate Education Committee and sponsored the bill, BECAUSE whites will be in the minority.

Some welcome change, and some see it as a threat.

Some embrace diversity and see it as an opportunity for cultural richness. Some fear it will take away their privileged status.

In my personal and professional world I see both perspectives.

I teach in a community that, not long ago, was rural and conservative, but has changed as numerous housing developments brought in people who are largely more educated and liberal.

Our school board meetings have become more rancorous during the pandemic. Vaccines and face masks have exacerbated the political divide.

I see this juxtaposition in my classroom, as adolescents essentially parrot the political leanings of their parents — on both sides.

And this is what I have found: while it is tempting to rail against those who don’t support a world with more social and economic justice, it is not effective. I never give into such temptations with students or their parents.

But I have with my family, not often, but enough to know it only makes things worse.

I have learned that it is wisest to try and understand someone’s perspective, where they are coming from. You don’t have to like it. But you need to acknowledge it.

It helps you understand them, understand their fears.

Then, and this is critical, you need to ask questions. Questions out of genuine curiosity, yes, but also to get them to examine their own thinking.

Why don’t you want anything critical about America taught to our children?

Why is it bad if young people learn that women had virtually no legal rights when our country started and black people were considered property?

Are you okay with laws that censor what teachers can say or students can read? And who gets to decide that?

Last, don’t let them get a rise out of you, but also don’t waver from your commitment to social and economic justice. Don’t meet their fear and anger with your own, but translate your indignation into action.

Work on a “Get out the Vote” campaign. Speak at a school board meeting in support of a curriculum that takes a fair but discerning look at our history and government. Do a public radio commentary that will get you in hot water with half of the community where you teach.

This proposed bill is political theater, anyway, as Republicans know it will be vetoed by Governor Whitmer, even if it passes.

But their point is not to pass the bill. This is red meat for the base, fear mongering, and a deliberate attempt to stir up racial tensions for political gain.

People willing to sink to such depths might be too far gone, but I bet you have some family, friends and coworkers who are not. Resist the temptation to criticize them.

Do what we social studies teachers have always done; keep your cool and get them to examine their own thinking, all while you hold unshakably to the goal of a better, more just society.

Keith Kindred is a social studies teacher at South Lyon East High School. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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