Members of WAESN pose with a sign reading "Ethnic Studies Now"

OPINION: Organizing for Ethnic Studies in the U.S. — the Time Is Now

by the National Liberated Ethnic Studies Coalition


CRT and Ethnic Studies: What’s Really Being Banned?

In a panicked reaction to the inclusion of ethnic studies, Black Lives Matter, and other anti-racist curricula in our schools, 28 states are actively opposing social justice content. A recent tweet sent out by conservative “think tank” Texas Public Policy Foundation claimed that terms such as “diversity,” “inclusion,” “restorative justice,” and “identity” were all Trojan horse terms for critical race theory (CRT). 

Popular education news organization Chalkbeat has been tracking this trend. According to its reporting, 28 states have enacted efforts to “restrict education on racism, bias, [and] the contribution of specific racial or ethnic groups to U.S. history or related topics.” The language in anti-CRT rhetoric has many people asking, “What are they really banning?” — and rightly so. The fact that people are getting so whipped up by terms like “identity,” “justice,” and “current events” should be a huge red flag. The “C” in CRT stands for “critical.” It seems like race has little to do with the outrage of opponents of CRT and everything to do with critical thinking.

Today’s attempts to silence teachers fit into a history of movements that always come at the expense of racially minoritized people. Backlash followed school desegregation orders, with Black students facing physical attacks. The details change, but the story remains the same. Those who hold power fear losing it. In a desperate effort to tighten their grip, they manufacture attacks on problems that don’t exist. They argue that they are protecting children, when in fact they are upholding and perpetuating violence against marginalized groups while protecting their interests.

These most recent attacks are an attempt to turn the tide on incremental progress toward racial justice and to erase the achievements gained in the wake of the George Floyd murder. The anti-CRT movement has explicitly stated its goals to mislead Americans and play to their fears. And it’s working. Teachers and principals have been fired in Texas, Florida, and North Carolina for teaching about racial injustice. Books with themes of race and identity are being banned for no reason other than fear and anti-intellectualism.

Call to join the National Liberated Ethnic Studies Coalition (image courtesy of NLESC)

Why CRT and Ethnic Studies? 

Ethnic studies courses bring the varied viewpoints that, when you dig into the text, “anti-CRT” bills target. Ethnic studies courses are locally developed education projects which center the stories and perspectives of Black, Indigenous, Arab American, Latinx, and Asian American peoples. Ethnic studies students see themselves in their curriculum and make connections between their own lives and the world around them. 

Ethnic studies courses are beneficial to all students, regardless of race. Education scholars have conducted extensive qualitative and quantitative research that demonstrates reduced prejudice, improved attendance, higher GPAs, and more accumulated course credit for students who take ethnic studies courses. What’s more, students report being more engaged in school and more excited about learning once they experience an ethnic studies course. In district after district, public hearing after public hearing, students and educators sing the praises of ethnic studies and advocate for its expansion. However, the positive impacts of ethnic studies only remain true with a liberated ethnic studies approach that is informed by CRT.

Who We Are

The National Liberated Ethnic Studies Coalition is a collective of organizations from across the United States fighting for liberated ethnic studies curricula (LESC) and CRT. Our goals are to support grassroots movements; cross-movement building; and anti-racist, decolonial, and LESC in K–12. LESC cultivates empathy, community actualization, cultural perpetuity, self-worth, self-determination, and the holistic well-being of all participants while centering Native peoples, Black peoples, and other People of Color.

CRT comes from legal scholarship as a critique of legislation enacted during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. CRT asks us to critically engage with legislation that claims to be neutral or “colorblind.” The fight for ethnic studies was also born during this time from Black, Native American, Chicanx, and Asian students and activists demanding an honest account of U.S. history. In the 1990s, education scholars applied CRT to K–12 education to shed light on the lack of representation of People of Color and the miseducation of K–12 students about systemic racial oppression. As such, LESC cannot exist without the research and scholarship produced by CRT.

Call to Action

Get involved. Investigate what is happening in your community and how you can help. Provide public testimony at your local school board or run for a seat on the board. Participate in your local school site council or school advisory council. Attend PTA meetings, or launch a collective of parents and youth who are interested in organizing in support of LESC and CRT. This work is hard, and no one can do it all. Washington Ethnic Studies Now is the regional organization connected to our national effort. Sign up for our newsletter to learn more, and follow us on social media: @WAEthnicStudies.

In solidarity, 

Education for Liberation Network 
Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Coalition
Xicanx Institute for Teaching and Organizing
Arab Resource and Organizing Center
Jewish Voice for Peace
Teach Palestine Project/Middle East Children’s Alliance
Minnesota Ethnic Studies Coalition
Washington Ethnic Studies Now
NAACP Youth Council
ESNTX Advocacy Committee
Black Lives Matter at School 


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📸 Featured Image: WAESN is member driven. (Photo by Chloe Collyer courtesy of Tracy Castro-Gill)

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