Learning Machine: The Uncertain Future of Education

What's really going on with CRT in schools? w/ Jazmyne Owens & Elena Silva

November 21, 2021 Nathan Levin & Sam Squillace Season 2 Episode 3
Learning Machine: The Uncertain Future of Education
What's really going on with CRT in schools? w/ Jazmyne Owens & Elena Silva
Show Notes Transcript

There’s a lot of talk about Critical Race Theory and Education in the media these days, but what’s really going on with CRT in schools? In this episode we spoke with educational policy experts from New America Jazmyne Owens and Elena Silva. As we discuss the current political and cultural landscape that teachers find themselves in, Jazmyne and Elena talk about the realities of multicultural teaching and discussing race in the classroom.  Along with this episode, check out Jazmyne's article: Critical Race Theory in Schools: What's Really Going On

Jazmyne Owens is a policy advisor on the PreK–12 team at New America. Elena Silva is director of the PreK–12 team for the Education Policy program at New America. 

For more episodes, or to support the Learning Machine Podcast, visit www.learningmachinepodcast.com

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[0:04] And welcome back to the learning machine podcast this is Raven here with my co-host.


[0:15] Today we'll be hearing from Jasmine Owens a pre-k through 12 education policy advisor at new America and Elena Silva director of the pre-k through 12 Education team also at new America.


[0:28] Jasmine and Elena's research lately has largely focused on the many challenges that have occurred in schools since the pandemic started including current arguments around critical race Theory and culturally responsive teaching.


[0:40] Today we'll be taking a look at these debates from a state level view to get a better sense of what has formed and fueled anti CRT language how does that sound to y'all.


[0:51] Let's do it.


[0:52] I'm excited.



[1:02] All right so first I want to get your thoughts on this some have argued that because critical race theory is not necessarily taught in schools anti CRT legislation is merely symbolic.

Sam and Nathan before you respond to this remember everyone out there that we'd love to hear your thoughts to you can join the conversation on Reddit and Twitter head to learning machine podcast.com to find out more.

Okay Sam what is your take on this.


[1:32] You know I mean I understand the argument that the legislation might be symbolic because I do think that it comes from a symbolic place from the kind of Rage machine on the political right that wants to

make a point more than actually write legislation that's going to affect important change but the bottom line is that this kind of legislation is going to have,

an impact on the ground we are going to see effects from this even if it is just a simple chilling effect.

Causing teachers on the ground to feel like I don't feel comfortable discussing issues of race with my students,

bringing up these questions I'm not sure what I can discuss safely in my school district to the degree that that even as a piece of symbolic legislation would have that kind of an effect.

I think it's hugely problematic I don't know Nathan what do you think.


[2:22] That's the problem right is that the chilling effect that's going to happen at local schools is that

programs that are focused on diversity equity and inclusion are not going to get the funding not get this support not get the nod of approval from local school boards write the legislation itself I don't think he's going to

you know we're not going to go to the point of making it illegal to teach about racing schools.

Least I hope not but many kind of anti security legislation does have this profoundly symbolic impact in the the sense that.

All the implementation details are at the local level but there is this guiding you know now overarching.

Mandate that makes it much harder to continue doing work that was already difficult enough.


[3:12] Hmm yeah I mean you're both giving me a lot to think about.

Um and so did Jasmine and Elena in the interview that I had with them let's take a listen to Just a section of it to hear their perspectives on anti CRT legislation.



[3:35] I think Elena you should start because you're the one with the PHD we've been doing this for a long time,

well I'm not going to argue that I have been doing it for longer than you since we're from different Generations that's fair so I'm the old one in the group

I'll take that I'll take that hint but you have been you have been writing about talking about this more recently than I Jasmine so I will pass it off to you pretty quickly,

I will start by saying that.

I studied Multicultural education for some time when I was doing my graduate work and even prior to that was involved in a lot of efforts,

if here in Washington DC and then in California that,

were primarily at the time called Multicultural education we were trying to ensure that students had access to materials and to,

teaching and pedagogy that really was relevant to their lives I mean that was the bottom line we wanted them to feel like they belonged in the classroom to Jasmine's point you know the classroom and school is being safe,

and also like wonderfully amazing places where they could learn to grow and understand themselves and their worlds that's the idea that's a vision and so for a lot of students that

it wasn't happening and so it's you see curriculum you see instruction and you see school spaces that are really not set up to make feel.

[4:56] To make students feel engaged and to make students feel like they're recognized and that they're represented and Multicultural education was

a big push to write to write that,

it was also to specifically right some wrongs which is that there were a lot of just inaccuracies and what was being taught in schools which is still true today.

[5:17] So critical race theory was in at least an education wasn't part born out of that the it as a framework as a legal framework didn't start in education it was

you know a framework that was designed to help us understand as a society

the role that race plays the role it has played in shaping this country the role it continues to play in shaping this country and

understanding that and the connection so you're in this case you're connecting critical race Theory This legal framework with

these efforts in schools this is me reflecting like 20,

20 some years ago this effort to bring Multicultural education in schools like how do you connect those two things there was a there were a lot of.

[6:05] A lot of ways in which Multicultural education seemed it was I think you know Heroes and holidays there's a lot of talk about about that how it was it was to make people feel better and it was a sort of bring diversity in the classroom and that was very true,

but there was also as I mentioned like a.

[6:22] A real critical lens to it that we were trying to bring in so it wasn't just that it was really like okay but let's understand our world and that meant that you had students asking really tough questions and that's where I see this intersection between critical race Theory,

and Multicultural at what was called at the time Multicultural education now we refer to it as culturally responsive education and and other terms as well.

On the critical race Theory peace

it was then and it is now and I'll let then Jasmine you can take it from here a really important framework that was clearly spelled out in a way to help people see

what in schools were was at the time called a hidden curriculum but in our world really in our society was a real hidden layer of.

What's of how decisions and how policies and how laws are made and how

deeply race has played a role in that throughout the history of this country and and still does and it's very easy for people

that are not well schooled in race that don't talk about it that didn't grow up around it and there are not part of these conversations to miss that

to just not see it and to not understand it and that's why it's important that I think it's a really being elevated into everyone's consciousness.

[7:42] Thousand really great summary I think the only thing that I'll add is like in the kind of.

I want to call it debate because it's not really a debate it really seems like it's just the right.

Yelling and being angry about critical race Theory right but was being uplifted as critical race Theory what their grievances are,

with critical race Theory have absolutely nothing to do with the actual critical race Theory framework.

Right with the for it's like four main assumptions or pillars of critical race Theory what they're actually.

What's the word that I'm looking for campaigning against is.

A push toward Equity right and as Elena was talking about with like Multicultural education that pushed toward making sure that students feel seen and reflected.

In their schools and their curriculums in their classroom.

[8:47] Why do you think that CRT has become such a hot button issue right now as of the past few months.

[8:59] I think it's it's easy to message it like it's easy to call it.

Bad right like critical race Theory just sounds.

You know overcomplicated and unnecessary and Kate small spaces right just off the the name of it right.

But I think that you know the right has always been better at messaging and naming.

Then the left hands and I think that's you know not something that we're going to solve for obviously that's something that we can figure out in this conversation but like really does lend itself to.

How this this has unfolded I guess in the public eye and the media and in school boards it's.

It's inflamed people is in reached people and it's easy to do so because it's complicated and hard to explain you know.

And that's we have a messaging problem I think on the left side.

[10:10] I would add that I agree we definitely there's a lot of messaging on both sides and that's a big part of this.

I think at the core I would add that there's it's hard to know

like critical race theory is it's hard to Grapple with it's not so hard to understand like you could lay it out and got Jazz when you could lay out you know the four tenets of critical race Theory because you've written about them we've talked about them you know but,

but one of them is that policies and laws have been structured and passed in this country to maintain a status quo which has been one of white privilege there's race all over it.

To sort of say that is simple right now in terms for me but for people to understand that and grapple with what that means,

which is that it's baked into everything,

that's hard to know and it's hard to to understand that and feel and not feel fear or sadness or grief or anger toward that because it's a pretty horrible reality,

and I think there are plenty of people who don't want who don't see it that way they don't think it's a reality they don't experience it that way it's not part of their world and they don't want it to be they really want a post-racial world they want the United States to get past it.

They don't understand why we can't and last year a tear I should say 2020 2019 2020.

[11:35] The deaths of George Floyd like murders of Brianna Taylor and other people,

you know brought a lot of things to the Forefront where they there before sure should that people have been talking about them all along absolutely but it was a big shift in 2020 that I think where we all are are sensitive to.

Well that meant that there was a lot of space for organizations and institutions and,

people to start talking and very Frank ways and start raising critical race Theory again it was a moment it was like okay people why is this happening well here's why because it's baked it's

baked into our system and it's everywhere you look.

And so it was a big I guess wave and I think that the other side if you can talk about it in terms of sides

is just as it was reactionary I mean it's sort of like no not having it I we're not going to talk about this it's too much we need to get past it

get over it and makes me uncomfortable and to be quite honest I think it makes people scared.

[12:34] And so so to the messaging point the Jasmine was saying feeding into that fear which is I think what we saw in the last Administration to not just about race but about a lot of things you feed into that fear and you feed that fear

and it grows and it becomes more and more powerful and I think we are seeing that and that's why there's so many you know tax on critical race Theory and you know misunderstandings for that matter because as Jasmine mentioned

much of if not most of what's being said is critical race theory is in fact not I think the only thing that I will add to that is that.

The timing of all of this.

[13:14] Could not have been more like I was like aligning the stars for this kind of back and forth to be happening this is like.

[13:24] Little saying George Floyd Brianna Taylor about our Bri.

Were all that all happened within the same year that the 1619 projects are the year after the 1619 project came out and.

The Trump Administration really just glommed onto 16:19 and and

rails against it because of what that represented in terms of Shifting the status quo and access to accurate information about our country's founding in our history right and,

you know the idea that that would be taught in classrooms was just too much.


[14:05] Both of you have been looking a lot at State legislation these bills and everything anti CRT legislation and can you just describe for the audience.

What you've seen where you've seen this which states you've seen this legislation pop-up what you've seen in the language.


[14:27] Okay so in Texas.

The legislation says the teacher administrator or other employee of the state agency School District or open enrollment Charter may not,

choir or make a part of course inculcation in the concept that one race is sexually in,

One race or sex excuse me is inherently Superior to another race or sex that an individual by virtue of that individuals race or sex is inherently racist or sexist

for oppressive whether consciously or unconsciously a little further down it says that meritocracy or traits such as hard work ethic,

are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular East press members of another race.

With respect to their relationship to American values slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from portrayals of or failures to live up to

the authentic founding principles of United States which include Liberty and equality.

Like on its face these are not things that I think a lot of people would disagree with but like legislating them.

And and.

So kind of use them to restrict what teachers are allowed to teach and how teachers can talk about race in the classroom is I think where we have.



[16:04] To hear the full interview with Jasmine and Elena please consider supporting our work on patreon our subscribers get access to full interviews stickers handwritten thank you note.

And of course our undying gratitude for helping us offset some of the cost of continuing to create.



[16:28] Now it's time to hit the data town our newest segment where we look at what the data says.

[16:41] A recent article from the 74 states that since standardized tests were largely canceled in 2020 and since many parents opted out of testing for their students in 2021.

States now let the year-to-year results they typically rely on to make decisions.

According to the New Hampshire base Center for assessment State data from last spring while incomplete still show large declines for students in reading and.

Many have advocated for resuming standardized testing as a data collection tool to see which students and schools need assistance.

And to give parents and Educators insight into where School.

However in the past we know standardized tests have been burdensome in biased and using scores as accountability measures for schools and teachers have proven to be harmful especially during the No Child Left Behind area.

How do you feel about this Nathan.


[17:38] It's just so ridiculous to me that.

Were arguing for the reason you know the resuming of standardized tests because States now lack the year to your results they typically rely on to make decisions.

Like what decisions are they making based on a set of standardized multiple-choice questions there

deciding which schools to give additional funding to write like this is the bureaucracy operating from a position of a very limited view.

Of a school.

It doesn't give you any kind of nuance doesn't give you any kind of insight into what those teachers are doing what those students are actually going through the lived experiences of the people in that school and they're making decisions for that school in that District about the funding that they'll get the textbooks that they're going to get you know how many Smart TVs are going to get installed in that building

when this pandemic is actually an opportunity for us to develop new ways of,

going into schools talking to the people who are in those schools and understanding what's really going on there.


[18:44] Yeah no I completely agree and I think it just speaks to the fact that the you know the politicians that bureaucrats the district's they need.

They need some form they think they need some form of hard data in order to make these decisions and that the system that they have to get that hard data

we know is biased and problematic

I feel conflicted because on the one hand I do think you know when it says you know many have advocated for resuming standardized testing as a data collection tool,

right to see which schools need assistance.

Right to give parents and Educators Insight will definitely I mean I am a proponent of collecting data particularly around you know

math literacy you know

that reading and and and language literacy those skills are important to track and know about the problem has been the historic tie of standardized test scores to school funding in a punitive way if you're not,

hitting certain targets were going to keep funding from you instead of saying if you're not hitting certain targets we're going to give you more funding this is what they should do.


[19:50] Sam if there's one thing I know about the future it's that it's going to be like the past,

unless we do something to change it and standardized testing while we can say that it's for collecting data and figuring out which schools need more support it has historically been used,

to punish and to mandate and the problem is that you know this.

Podcast we've been talking about CR t-- and anti CRT rhetoric and education and standardized test scores at this time are just going to add fuel,

to the argument that schools should not be teaching about things like systemic racism and oppression because no it's more important that they be studying.

The esoteric SAT words or you know spending more time on rote memorization of math.


[20:40] Right because the you know system is reinforcing itself right as I mean again there is a world where you could craft,

standardized tests and I believe that we could make sanitized tests that were less biased where we could get information that weren't as invasive maybe even the saying standardized test maybe that's not the right way to put it there are ways to collect

data are ways to learn things about students and learn things about schools and and use that information to give them help,

you're exactly right when you say the standardized tests that we have are a product of the system that we have in the system that we have is historically in systemically,

racist and so we're going to have those problems embedded in any kind of a tool produced by that system.


[21:22] I think I also would have to see I mean I don't have like.

One definitive view of this but I would also have to see what ends up happening with institutions of higher education and how they then start treating the SAT and the act and I've seen.



[21:42] Some schools already get rid of the way that they.

Count Gres and application packages and everything else and so I realize that I've done nothing for this conversation but make it more complicated but that brings us to the end of today's episode.


[21:59] Maybe some of our listeners can weigh in and help us solve this conundrum or at least shed some more light on it please don't forget to join the conversation on Reddit or Twitter and share your opinion on this week's debate.


[22:12] And to learn more about this week's guests and to find out how to support the podcast visit learning machine podcast.com.


[22:20] Thank you to all those who teach listen and learn.