The real grassroots movement reshaping public school curriculums

The GOP got what they wanted. Red state after red state and school district after school district are outlawing “critical race theory” in public school classrooms.

Fox News is awash in stories fearmongering about Black Lives Matter and “wokeness.” The base is being whipped into a frenzy.

Of course, it’s not actually about critical race theory. It’s about power, which the right wing wants to use to destroy public education.

As James Ford, former North Carolina Teacher of the Year, told journalist Jeff Bryant, it’s about “provoking white resentment against public schools because schools are now more populated with Black and Brown children who may express doubts about a prevailing narrative about the country that may not include people who look like them.”

Jennifer C. Berkshire and Jack Schneider call it the “calculated use of controversy to bring the culture war into public education.”

That’s why they’re spending big on amplifying online propaganda and funding astroturf campaigns from New York City to the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth.

Yes, those of us who believe in public education should be exposing all of this for what it really is. But we should also be loud and clear about the value of a truly public education.

We should be telling stories of teachers teaching the honest, unvarnished truth of our country’s history—and how it helps kids socially and academically.

And we should be lifting up true grassroots movements of students, parents, and communities fighting for a say in what happens at their public schools.

That’s why what’s happening in Los Angeles is so important.

In June, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board voted to spend $63 million on community schools. This will add ten more community schools to the 30 already existing in the district.

Community schools are public schools that bring together community partners to offer a range of support and opportunities to students, families, and nearby residents. They are designed to support the entirety of a student’s well-being to ensure they are healthy, well-fed, safe and in a better position to learn.

They also infuse a healthy dose of democracy into a school’s day-to-day operations. For example, Los Angeles’s Marina Del Rey Middle School, a community school, expanded its electives during the pandemic based on interviews with dozens of school parents.

LAUSD’s new community school money will fund ethnic studies lessons that uplift the stories of diverse communities. This happened because—counter to the right-wing narrative—students, parents, and the community demanded it.

Countless studies show that students who participate in ethnic studies perform better academically and graduate at higher rates. A 2016 study of an ethnic studies pilot in San Francisco high schools showed an increase in ninth-grade student attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23.

Los Angeles isn’t alone. New Mexico recently committed $6.6 million to community schools, after sustained pressure from below. Vermont just launched a community school grant program.

All of this counters the narrative being spun by right-wing dark money.

It exposes that what the GOP hates the most is people coming together to better their community, no matter what they look like or what’s in their wallets. In other words, they hate democracy.

Photo via Reclaim Our Schools LA.