Unpacking critical race theory and how new bill impacts the Mississippi education system

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill March 14th requiring educators not to teach students that one race is superior to another, otherwise known as the anti-critical race theory bill.

Mississippi is one of at least 35 states that have either passed or discussed legislation on how schools can talk about issues of race.

“My grandfather was born in Alligator, Mississippi on a plantation,” says Columbus School District Superintendent Dr. Cherie Labat. That’s not a theory. That’s a fact.”

Dr. Labat says both her father and grandfather were sharecroppers and says she is proud of her family’s history and the hard work that helped shape her as a person.

“I don’t think any part of my history was made to make anybody feel bad,” she says. “It just is what it is. The truth. And we cannot move forward as a country until we accept the good with the ills.”

Which is one of the reasons she is concerned after Governor Reeves signed the bill.

“Students are being force-fed an unhealthy dose of progressive fundamentalism that runs counter to the principles of America’s founding,” the governor said in a video published on his official Facebook page.

“I’ve never seen or heard of anybody, my colleagues, ever talk about indoctrination in a specific way, especially in Mississippi,” Dr. Labat says.

SB 2113 states that “no student will be forced to affirm that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.” Governor Reeves claims that critical race theory is “running amok” in too many schools nationwide.

But according to racial equity consultant Dr. Altheria Caldera of Howard University, that’s not true at all.

“It is a deliberate misrepresentation of what happens in schools,” Dr. Caldera says.

Dr. Caldera says that critical race theory is not taught as a subject in any K through 12 schools and is a theoretical approach to studying the way race manifests itself in society.

“The people who support this bill want to pretend that we are in a post-racial society,” she says. “That race no longer matters. When we know that it does.”

Dr. Caldera says this bill and others like it stand in the way of advancing racial equity for students of color.

“It’s the denying of accurate, thorough history that tells the truth about the ways that people of color experience racism,” she says.

Dr. Caldera calls the anti-critical race theory bills in Mississippi and other states, the most dangerous overreach she has seen throughout her 20 plus years in education.

“It is a serious overreach when the government tells teachers they cannot teach this and (instead) they must teach this,” she says. “Especially when those things are denying the truth of our history.”

Dr. Caldera says that these kinds of education restrictions could leave students blind to what is happening around them.

“When students are taught in the way that is intended under these anti-critical race theory bills, they leave with a lack of depth about the complexities of history,” she says. “Let us teach the truth. Let students learn the truth.”

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