Changing Culture with the Other CRT

by Carol J. Bova

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) document, “Navigating EdEquityVa — Virginia’s Road Map to Equity” lays out a back-door strategy for changing traditional American values and culture.

“The mission of the Virginia Department of Education,” says the Road Map, “is to advance equitable and innovative learning.” The document acknowledges senior staff, four departments and ten “organizations and thought leaders” for their research and scholarship contributions to EdEquityVA for Culturally Relevant/Responsive Teaching (CRT) — not to be confused with Critical Race Theory (also referred to as CRT).

While educators deny they teach Critical Race Theory in schools, they are up front about their commitment to Culturally Relevant/Responsive Teaching. What they seem unwilling to admit is that culturally relevant teaching is an outgrowth of Critical Race Theory.

Culturally Responsive Teaching builds on the common-sense idea that teachers should take into account students’ cultural background and experiences when interacting with them. Thus, the Road Map quotes Gloria Ladson-Billings as making the benign observation that CRT “recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning.”

But the Road Map doesn’t stop there. A VDOE-selected quote from Christina Torres and Teaching Tolerance (a teaching Southern Poverty Law Center teaching initiative) from “All Students Need Anti-racism Education,” July 30, 2020,” puts CRT within the framework of all-pervasive racism.

Anti-Racism: Acknowledges that racist beliefs and structures are pervasive in all aspects of our lives and requires action to dismantle those beliefs and structures. This requires that school leaders hold educators and students accountable when they say and do things that make school unsafe, and that they dismantle systems perpetuating inequitable access to opportunity and outcomes for students historically marginalized by race.

On June 18, 2021, we read about Teaching Tolerance in the Elizabeth Schultz  post on Bacon’s Rebellion, “Yes, Virginia, There is Critical Race Theory in Our Schools.” Schultz describes the 2018 origins of “a statewide endeavor to create an ‘anti-racist and culturally-responsive’ curriculum.”

At that time [2018], Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) social studies coordinator, Colleen Eddy, identified that the work was intended to address the “overrepresentation of white and Eurocentric history” and the lack of “diverse perspectives in education.” The overhaul of the curriculum was done in collaboration with the framework created by Teaching Tolerance, an extension of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has since been re-monikered to “Learning for Justice.” The objective was to “examine materials, events, and institutions critically attending to power, position, and bias…”

Learning for Justice explains the name change on its website: “The fact is, tolerance is not justice. It isn’t a sufficient description of the work we do or of the world we want.”

Zarreta Hammond is another thought contributor to EdEquityVA. She has spent 25 years as a consultant who offers presentations and classes and sells a $399 Facilitator’s Resource kit for her 2014 book, “Culturally Responsive Teaching & THE BRAIN.” She claims that “culturally responsive teaching builds students’ brain power by improving information processing skills using cultural learning tools.” She emphasizes organizing “instructional activities around collectivist cultural principles — group harmony and interdependence,” and refers to the 1920’s “socio-cultural learning” concept of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934).

A 1997 University of Washington paper about Vygotsky said, “…for his era, literacy was the cutting issue to help assure the advance of the peasantry away from backward notions and toward more socially aware (hence Marxist) understandings of their place in history. These ties to the Marxist vision of a more just, classless society still ring with significance for many Russian educators today…”

And apparently, for proponents of Culturally Relevant Teaching in American K-12 schools as well. On her website, Hammond talks about the need for teachers “to recognize the cultural orientation we call collectivism.”

A key organizing principle of culturally responsive teaching is collectivism, Hammond says  – “a focus on group interdependence, harmony, and collaborative work.”

In the United States, the dominant culture is individualistic. We celebrate people who “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” We have a strong focus on competition and becoming the “top dog.” On the other hand, collectivism can be summed up in the African proverb, ‘I am because we are.’ … The culture of many African American, Latino, Pacific Islander, and Native American, and Asian communities leans more toward collectivism, also called communalism.”

Hammond studied at Berkeley, completing a degree at New York University with a major in English Literature and a Masters in Secondary Education with a Concentration in Writing Instruction at the University of Colorado. Although she claims she “draws on cutting-edge neuroscience research to offer an innovative approach for designing and implementing brain-compatible culturally responsive instruction,” she has no scientific background and offers no supporting references on her website other than Vygotsky.

Another contributor, Bettina Love, is the Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Education, Department of Educational Theory and Practice at the University of Georgia College of Education. She holds a Ph.D in Educational Policy Studies. Her webpage gives her CV and a research summary where the original CRT –Critical Race Theory – shows up.

My research, teaching, and service are focused on understanding, contextualizing, and deconstructing the formal and informal educational experiences of marginalized youth, be they queer, urban, African-American, female, male, or a unification of these identities. My work is informed by critical pedagogy, critical race theory, and Black feminism with an aim to create innovative pedagogical practices through the use of non-traditional educational curricula (e.g., Hip Hop-based education, critical media literacy, Hip Hop feminism, and popular culture).

In an article on Education Week, Love wrote:

White teachers need a particular type of therapy. They must learn how to deal with what Cheryl E. Matias calls “White emotionalities” and what Robin DiAngelo has termed “White fragility.” Emotions of guilt, shame, anger, denial, sadness, dissonance, and discomfort boil up when issues of race and racism challenge their sense of self.

Thus, we need therapists who specialize in the healing of teachers and the undoing of Whiteness in education. We need school therapists and counselors who are trained to help White educators and students process their emotions and their fragility. With healing, teachers will better manage their stress, improve their interactions with students, and be able to continue fighting for justice. Teachers should be offered this type of therapy free of charge.

New America, another EdEquityVa contributor, says on its Mission page:

We tell stories about what is happening and what is possible, to give Americans a window into what we are capable of achieving together and a vision of what a renewed America could and should be. New America is pioneering a new kind of think and action tank: a civic platform that connects a research institute, technology lab, solutions network, media hub and public forum. We generate big, bold ideas as templates for change….

African American, Latino, Pacific Islander, and Native American, Asian – in EdEquityVA, all talk of cultural responsiveness in one way. White teachers, students, and parents in all their cultural diversity have no place in EdEquityVA other than to confess their racism with anti-racist reflection. How then does Culturally Responsive Teaching interact with them?

How can teachers incorporate the multiplicity of “students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning”? Or will some be more equitable than others? Will patriotism be banned as an unsafe word? What about the Pledge of Allegiance?

How does Virginia – and the United States – survive the diversity/equity divisions highlighted in EdEquityVA?