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Rodrigo Fernandez-Esquivias: Banning critical race theory doesn’t help students

It’s another move that doesn’t help students but helps politicians.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Burgess Owens addresses delegates attending the Utah Republican Party’s 2021 Organizing Convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, May 1, 2021, as they return to an in-person format after the pandemic forced the nominating convention to go online last year.

There has been a recent move to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) across the country. In Utah, state Rep. Steve Christiansen introduced one such bill, and U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens is an avid supporter of the idea. Based on the comments these policy-makers are making to the press, their arguments to justify such a ban are simplistic and poorly elaborated. I wonder if it is just a lack of eloquence or simply poor research on the topic.

Critical Race Theory is about realizing that racism isn’t a dispute between two people, but rather an analysis of the racism that is engraved in our laws and society. Both Christiansen and Owens deny the existence of racism in our laws, and they are going as far as wanting to ban its teaching. Rep. Owens has even called for the firing of teachers that teach CRT. The question is, does this decision really benefit the students (i.e. those who the bill affects), or is it another example of a law benefiting those who pass it?

Representative Christiansen has said that CRT “harms students’ learning,” similarly, Rep. Owens’ stated, “Critical race theory teaches students that America is irredeemably racist.” On the contrary, research shows that discussions on race benefit students. Banning controversial topics from the classrooms is not going to help solve the problem. Studies show that healthy and open discussions about bullying, sexual harassment, different political opinions, etc. are proven to be beneficial for students and society at large.

According to a Chalkbeat article published in July 2021, “a handful of recent studies have found that students are more engaged in school after taking classes that frankly discuss racism and bigotry.” The class they are referring to talked about social justice and discrimination, which helped students explore their family history. As an added benefit, the GPA of these 1,500 students rose by 1.4 points.

The arguments both Republican representatives are making are based on the thought that CRT is about assigning blame. Such claims create a false narrative, one that doesn’t benefit the students, but rather the lawmakers. If Christiansen and Owens’ arguments were more researched, they would see that Critical Race Theory is about fixing the systemic racism that’s engraved in our laws. It’s about healthy discussions on race. It is not about assigning blame or teaching students that America is irredeemably racist. This stance that’s been taken on by so many Republicans around the country is simply wrong, and they’re shifting the narrative to favor their own political agendas.

If students benefit from talking about race, and their grades, productivity, and overall knowledge of society are elevated by it, why do Steve Christiansen, Burgess Owens, and so many more conservatives oppose it? Because Republicans use CRT as a distraction, one that is meant to outrage the conservative base and thereby cement their power.

As a high school student, it is surprising to me how some Utah policy makers’ arguments seem to show a lack of research and the absence of willingness to explore other solutions to what is undoubtedly one of the more serious and persistent problems in the United States: racism. Their comments show that this decision to ban CRT may not benefit students, but rather, it would benefit the politicians. So the question must be asked if Republicans start banning healthy discussions of race, what’s next?

Rodrigo Fernandez

Rodrigo Fernandez-Esquivias is a high school student in Salt Lake City. He was born in Spain but has lived in Utah his whole life.

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