Following in the footsteps of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed Executive Order 23-05 on Jan. 10, banning critical race theory from public schools. Students have expressed mixed reactions about the ban, and many feel strongly about it.
CRT is an academic theory that originated in the mid-1970s examining how race and racism are connected to various aspects of society. Some of the key ideas associated with CRT include that race is a social construct, rather than a biological fact. Racism takes the form of individual prejudices, but it is also embedded in social and political institutions, and it is important to understand and confront the ways in which racial power dynamics operate in society.
“Schools must educate, not indoctrinate students, and their education policies must protect children and prepare them to enter the workforce,” Sanders said in the order.
CRT has been the subject of much debate and controversy in recent years, particularly in the United States. Critics argue that it promotes divisive and antithetical ideas values of neutrality, which America has fought so hard to reject. Supporters argue that it is a valuable tool for understanding and addressing systemic racism.
Lillian Nunley, a freshman political science major, said she thinks the executive order does a disservice to the community and hides a part of history.
“I believe it's a bad idea because hiding our history is only going to make us repeat it,” Nunley said. “We need to share the knowledge in order to avoid repeating history once again.”
Najja Baptist, UA assistant professor of political science and two-time National Science Foundation award winner, explores how race overlaps with society in his field of work and said CRT has been around long before recent controversies.
“This is not something that just happened because the governor or anybody else says it’s happening now,” Baptist said. “Critical race theory has always existed.”
With regard to the executive order, access to information is important to a student’s upbringing, Baptist said.
“I think it'd be a disservice not to teach it,” Baptist said. “I think by not teaching it, you are erasing history. I think you are being intellectually dishonest, and you're going to cripple the American public by not letting them see and understand the roots of some of the problems of America.”
As laws across the nation banning CRT begin piling up, opponents are assuming that this curriculum is being taught nationwide. Although some of the ideals are, the content itself is not directly listed in Arkansas’ state curriculum requirements for African-American history.
CRT has become a catch-all political buzzword for any teaching in school about race and American history, and a rallying cry for some conservatives who take issue with how schools have addressed diversity and inclusion, according to the Associated Press Stylebook. The theory itself is not a fixture of K-12 education.
This is not the first time an Arkansas governor has impacted how racism is taught in public education. In July 2021, former Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Act 259 into law, requiring public schools to emphasize the historic work of American and Arkansas civil rights history. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and John W. Walker are referenced in the bill as important leaders, and their work is now a priority to teach in history.
For those who have experienced racism in Arkansas public schools, it has had a direct effect on their viewing of public education. Yasmean Dehagani, a junior from White Hall, said attending a public school as a person of color directly impacted her family.
“Growing up we were one of two brown families in White Hall,” Dehagani said.
“In my grade specifically, I was one of maybe like five or six people of color. I was looked at differently and was not treated the best. I was definitely called a terrorist multiple times. There are subjects that should be taught that I remember were not touched on at all, and it's a shame because now banning it entirely prevents people from learning.”
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