(The Center Square) – As national debate rages about the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, the Pennsylvania Department of Education says schools won’t incorporate the subject into classrooms any time soon, though the department is encouraging "diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts" at all districts.

Kendall Alexander, a spokesperson for the department, told The Center Square that critical race theory – an academic concept that purports systemic racism is embedded into the nation’s legal system and public policies – is “not part of or taught through any state required curriculum in Pennsylvania’s K-12 schools.”

“While curriculum content is determined by each school district and charter school in Pennsylvania, the ability to honor the dignity of others remains a mainstay in education,” Alexander said. “We know that to do their best, students must feel safe at school – PDE wholly supports diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in all schools."

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association reiterated a similar sentiment in a memo sent to local officials, saying “it is neither required nor probable that Pennsylvania’s school districts would contemplate adopting a curriculum built specifically around Critical Race Theory.”

The association, which represents elected school board members in the state’s 501 districts, said the debate, however, has led to misunderstandings that confuse CRT with support for diversifying curriculums to include a wider variety of “cultural references, identities, voices, experiences and histories of all students and their families.”

“These efforts are necessary to ensure that every child receives what they require to obtain a high-quality education regardless of their race, ethnicity, economic circumstances, gender, disability, history of trauma or other factors,” the association said. “Debates about Critical Race Theory are not beneficial to a school board’s decision-making about a district’s equity needs and goals.”

State lawmakers across the nation have begun introducing legislation that bans critical race theory from public curriculum. In Pennsylvania, the effort is led by Reps. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, and Barbara Gleim, R-Carlisle, who introduced the Teaching Racial and Universal Equality (TRUE) Act in June.

“The manner in which important concepts such as racial and gender equality are taught in our schools could not be more important in defining the type of society we have,” Diamond said. “Teaching our children they are inferior or inherently bad based on immutable characteristics such as race and sex can be extremely damaging to their emotional and mental well-being.”

Gleim argued that focusing on race in public education detracted from time needed for other important subjects.

“It’s time to get back to concentrating on teaching the basic educational foundations of reading, writing, math, science and social studies, rather than attempting to indoctrinate our students with a theory or belief system that is divisive and not curriculum based,” she said.

Proponents of teaching critical race theory – typically reserved for college classrooms – to younger students say those who oppose the concept “want to whitewash history.”

“The real issue is that politicians and others don’t want white children to grapple with difficult and uncomfortable topics and history,” said Keziah Ridgeway, a Philadelphia school teacher, in an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “They want a return to the days where history around the country is taught from a singular, often whitewashed perspective at the expense of Black, brown, Indigenous, and queer children.”

The TRUE Act was referred to the House Education Committee on June 7, where it awaits consideration. It’s unlikely that Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, would sign the bill if it ever made it to his desk.

Lyndsay Kensinger, a Wolf spokesperson, said some "bad actors" are using CRT to spread "disinformation" and cause further division.

She went on to reiterate the importance of offering a learning environment "where students can be their authentic selves" and learn "free from discrimination, fear or harassment."

"The ability to honor the dignity of others remains a mainstay in the educational field," she said. "These proposals are harmful political props meant solely to stir up outrage. This administration will remain focused on the goal of breaking down barriers that make it harder for Pennsylvanians to succeed – including by fighting against discriminatory laws and policies that disproportionately harm Pennsylvanians of color."

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike. Jul 28, 2021

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.

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