Teaching. It’s basically just, like, apples, books, pencils, and blocks. Everybody knows that.

The truth hurts

But it’s necessary.

Over the last few months there has been a series of conservative political pundits and politicians claiming critical race theory is destroying the United States, in much the same way their forebears claimed communism, television, socialism, Eastern religions, rock & roll, video games, comic books, rap music, LGBTQ+, the internet, social media, etc, etc, etc. would.

They are wrong on so many levels… and always have been. If the fact that the United States still exists isn’t proof enough, I do not know what is….

But anyway, I wrote a letter to Dr. Matthew Blomstedt, the Nebraska Commissioner of Education to hear his thoughts on all of this mess. In honor of our eleventh official federal holiday, Juneteenth, I thought I’d share an edited version of that letter here.

Dr. Blomstedt,

I have taught in Iowa and Nebraska and have been a proud card carrying member of the teachers’ union in Bellevue Public Schools for 15 years and have been an adjunct at UNO for 11. I have taught everything from 9th grade English to yearbook and so much in between and beyond. I have multiple degrees and the teacher voice and stare down to a fine art.

And I am emailing you with a simple question….

On June 3, 2020 you came out in uncompromising support of diversity and equity, and even anti-racist teaching and policies in Nebraska schools. Given that Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts recently offered a jumbled and meandering logical fallacy about critical race theory (CRT), I thought I would take a moment to ask if you still feel the same way you did a year ago. As I’m sure you know, in his mess of a statement, Ricketts equated teaching critical race theory (CRT) — which can be summed up as the legal theory scholars use to examine the law and other societal constructs through a racial lens — with teaching diversity, equity, and anti-racism.

This is wrong.

Contrary to the beliefs of conservative pundits and willfully ignorant politicians who claim teaching historical and current facts and events that do not always paint the United States as perfect will somehow destroy this country, it will not. Like Ricketts, who obviously has no clear concept of what CRT is, they conflate it with teaching students anything that makes them (the politicians and pundits) slightly uncomfortable. Speaking about CRT, Former Vice President Mike Pence even claimed, “one of the most disturbing developments of the past few months has been the Biden Administration’s wholehearted embrace of the radical left’s all-encompassing assault on American culture and values.”

This is wrong.

When it comes to education, though CRT is not the monster Pence and men like him claim it is, it is also not something we tend to literally teach with any regularity. As I mentioned above, it is a half-century old scholarly theory used to examine laws and social constructs — a very specific, legal, and academic theory. In many ways, it is a concept even people unclouded by the shadow of blatant racism, classism, and sexism would have trouble understanding. What frightens Pence, Ricketts, and others is that teachers, alongside teaching students the great accomplishments the United States has had (of which there are several), they are also striving for honest examination and exploration of some of our country’s less than noble historical and current events and people as well. In other words, we try to teach the truth, unvarnished. Our country is not, in fact, exceptional. It was not built by angels, it has no nobler origin and history than any other. Yes, our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence but they also held slaves and committed genocide on the native populations. Yes, President Franklin Roosevelt pulled the nation from the Great Depression but he also issued Executive Order 9066 and his state department claimed that Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazis could “threaten national security.” And don’t even get me started on things like the Tuskegee Experiment and Project MKUltra. For the record, none of this means that our country is terrible or that I hate it or that I do not want to be here.

In order for us to grow as a society, we must never forget these, and similar, facts. It is true that we must also never forget the good. But to ignore the bad is to ignore the full picture. The history of the United States is rife with proof that learning about diversity, equity, anti-racism, the Civil Rights struggles of minority groups, as well as all of the less than noble things our leaders have done and are doing is necessary. Everything from the aforementioned injustices to the Tulsa Race Massacre to today’s prison industrial complex and beyond prove this.

Studying these historical events, studying them, hell, admitting they even happened, does not attack our country’s culture and values. Also, it is not CRT. No. Studying these shows our students that the United States is not perfect, that there is room for growth, and, that just like every other country in the history of the world, our leaders are not now and never have been perfect, nor has our society, our people, our beliefs, or our institutions. And while some of our historical events, social constructs, and organizational structures are problematic (to put it lightly), it’s not all bad and the fact is we have improved. But we can improve even more. If students are taught that there is no room for improvement, that they are exceptional simply because they are citizens of the United States, then why would they try? Simple minds believe that teaching the bad negates the good.

Simple minds often fear what they do not understand. Clearly, they do not understand CRT or the difference between teaching it and teaching what literally has happened and is happening.

When that final school bell rings every day it comes down to one thing really. If we keep lessons on racism, sexism, historical atrocities, and past and current social injustices from our students, we keep knowledge from our students.

So tell me true, do you still support diversity and equity, and even anti-racist teaching and policies in Nebraska schools?

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

AE Stueve

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AE Stueve

AE Stueve

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AE Stueve teaches and writes in Omaha, NE. Check out all of his available work at aestueve.com