This past April, the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District banned the teaching of critical race theory. In response, Cal State Fullerton announced that they would be temporarily halting the placement of their student teachers in the district, claiming that the new policies of the district did not align with the university’s beliefs. Critical race theory is an academic framework that centers on the idea that racism is systemic and not just the product of individual people or prejudices. The events to ban it are a part of the broader portrait of anti-critical race theory panic gripping the nation. It is necessary for schools to not keep their students in complete ignorance of complex issues like race, and how they affect them and the society they live in.
Marie Evanston, a UCR Professor that teaches contemporary moral issues such as racism, explained, “Critical race theory asks us to look more closely at the assumption of individualism. That as an individual person living in a society you are subject to systems and institutions, which mean that you’re not completely free.” Understanding the deeper systemic forces that affect an individual’s path to success is important because it is impossible to dismantle them otherwise. This is why there is such a push to demonize critical race theory. If it is seen as a problem and not a solution, then there is less willingness to embrace any tools that will allow people to critically assess the forces that shape – and for some, oppress – their lives. It allows the government to pretend everything is fine and that the system doesn’t need change.
Fullerton’s punitive response to the school district’s resolution may prompt some to question if it was reasonable for a higher education institution to demand this of public school districts. Fullerton and Placentia-Yorba Linda have an almost symbiotic relationship. A large percentage of the district’s students will go to California colleges, like Fullerton, where they will employ the knowledge and critical thinking skills they learned in school. Once they graduate, a number of them will go back to school districts like Placentia-Yorba as educators. Fullerton has chosen now to break this mutually beneficial relationship, and it has the right and responsibility to do so.
The moral panic conservatives have generated over critical race theory has been slowly working at a microscopic level, through the actions of individual school districts such as Placentia-Yorba Linda. It signals a bleaker future for critical race theory. As the demonization of it continues, ideological stand-offs like the one between Fullerton and Placentia-Yorba Linda will only get worse unless there is a concerted effort to combat this. A hard line has been drawn, and students along with overworked teachers will be the ones hurt the most if America continues to be unable to have a meaningful talk about systemic racism that leads to real change.