By: Erin Helsel
Erin playing volleyball on her school's team
I read The Giver when I was in elementary school. None of its contents made me think too deeply about my eight years of life. I saw the dystopian story’s government as the takers, the sworn enemy of the giver. In my adolescent mind, I couldn’t imagine somebody taking something from me so personal as a memory. Memories, generally in written form, are what makeup history. Yes, other things were taken: a toy, a snack treat I had one too many of, an afternoon once filled with play replaced with homework. People could take things, people, or time but never anything I couldn’t cry about and get over. That was until the Spring of 2023. When my favorite history teacher announced he would be teaching an AP African-American History course in the coming year, I was immediately enthralled. I am a high school junior, two years from my eighteenth birthday, and two years from legal adulthood. Given those three facts, I didn’t think that adults, years out of their educational careers, would try to censor my own. We are given cell division, the ABCs, and graphs stretching out infinitely. Nothing was taken, yet. I was at our final mock trial meeting of the season when I received an article forwarded to me by my mother. It read: “Florida Rejects AP African American Studies Class”.
A wave of ignorance and naivety is sweeping the nation. Up from Florida comes a tide that will pull standards long viewed as essential in teaching students American history into the storm. Legislation that seemed too far away to harm me was the platform of a recent candidate for Superintendent of Education in my home state. Voters elected this candidate into office in 2023. Critical race theory (CRT) emerged from the ivy-covered walls of Harvard Law fifty years ago, but legislatures and leaders have made it their mission to strike down the teaching of this phenomenon. Legislatures will erase African-American History from syllabi across the United States if we do not stand against them.
For those who do not know, CRT is “a set of ideas holding that racial bias is inherent in many parts of Western society, especially in its legal and social institutions, on the basis of their having been primarily designed for and implemented by white people” (Oxford Languages). Normally I would not quote a dictionary, but I feel it is essential to remain grounded when discussing this theory. The bounds of this definition are currently stretched to breaking point by statements degrading CRT. Politicians across the United States have issued concerning assertions. Known as the father of the conflict over CRT, Christopher Rufo became a whistleblower for perceived faults he saw in his Seattle, Washington adjacent community, saying, “‘Under the banner of ‘antiracism,’ Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights is now explicitly seconding principles of segregationism, group-based guilt, and race essentialism” (Wallace-Wells). Most recently, CRT has made its way into Florida legislation under the watchful eye of Florida Governor Ron Desantis.
Before Desantis’ announcement, I hadn’t witnessed any concrete action taken against teaching CRT. Sure, newscasts covered parents rallying against or petitioning school boards, but I didn’t think anything of it. That was until Desantis signed the “STOP Woke” Act in April of 2022, essentially banning content addressing CRT in Florida schools. His actions would also erase AP African American History from Florida high school curricula. As of 2021, forty-four U.S. states have “introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism” (Schwartz). My home state is included.
I am terrified for the future of American education, but my anger overrules my fear. These legislators and parents should have enough years under their belts to recognize that we don’t live in a utopia. Racism is the foundation of the civil and criminal justice system, politics, and socio-economic disparity. Simply ignoring that America has grown out of racist policies is irresponsible. CRT is not attacking white people. It is not attacking your children. Take it from me as a child who you think you are protecting with your legislation. I want to learn. I will take AP African American History this year. However, I am still afraid my government might take my education away from me. Doing so would go against the cornerstones of democracy. I won’t stop fighting until I am no longer afraid for my future, until eight-year-old I can believe again that education is meant to be given, not taken. Give me back my education.
Written by intern Erin Helsel