Half of Americans don’t think schools should teach the impact of racism today

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The public is divided on whether schools have a responsibility to ensure that all students are informed about the continuing effects of slavery and racism, according to a new national survey.

And as debates over how children learn about sensitive topics simmer across the country, Americans are also divided on whether parents or teachers should have “big” influence on what is taught. in schools, according to the survey. Republicans tend to defer to parents of school children, while Democrats tend to think teachers should decide how to teach on certain issues.

“These results suggest that not only are we divided on which curriculum is best, but we are also divided on who should understand this and who decides,” said Eric Plutzer, professor of political science and sociology at the State of Pennsylvania. University that co-authored the report. “It makes it difficult to solve a problem if we can’t even agree on the process, and it suggests that these kinds of problems are going to continue to arise at the local level, and we will not be able to solve by consensus. .”

The nationally representative survey of 1,200 American adults, conducted in early December, was designed by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State and analyzed by the American Public Media Research Lab. The goal was to understand how Americans think three controversial topics should be taught in school: slavery and race, evolution, and sex education.

While most Americans think schools have a responsibility to teach about slavery, only about half think schools should teach about the ongoing effects of racism. However, responses differed when separated by race: 79% of Black Americans think students should learn about the ongoing impacts of slavery and racism, while 48% of White Americans think schools should teach historical slavery but not contemporary race relations.

The survey also found that 10% of Americans don’t think schools have a responsibility to ensure that all students learn about the history of slavery and racism in the United States.

“It’s hard to know exactly what’s on people’s minds. [those people]but it seems to be consistent with the idea that a growing number of Americans want to remove from our curriculum anything that in any way misrepresents the United States as a country or its state, and that it is unpleasant to think of slavery and its legacy, and they prefer not to teach it at all,” Plutzer said.

Plutzer said he sees similarities between these findings and some of the recent controversies over how schools teach about the Holocaust. A school district in Tennessee, for example, removed the graphic novel Maus of its 8th grade curriculum due to the school board’s objections to the book’s profanity and nudity.

There is a desire among some Americans to gloss over the violence and horrors that occurred in both slavery and the Holocaust, Plutzer said – to teach “light slavery or light Holocaust “.

There is a political divide over who should influence the program

When asked how much influence different stakeholders should have in deciding how to teach about slavery and race, 41% of Americans said parents should have “a lot of influence” and a third said says the same about social science teachers. Americans were much less likely to say that the state legislature and governor should have much influence.

“These data show that most people would like this to be taken up locally and especially by those closest to the action – teachers and parents of school children,” Plutzer said.

Even so, many of these decisions are made at the state level. Fourteen states have imposed bans on teaching what they see as “critical race theory” and restrictions on how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, either through legislation or other means . And an Education Week analysis found that Republicans have dramatically expanded their legislative efforts this year to censor what is taught in the classroom.with new bills aimed at restricting the teaching that the United States is a racist country, that certain economic or political systems are racist, or that multiple gender identities exist.

The survey found that 59% of Republicans think parents of school children should have ‘a lot of influence’ over teaching about slavery and race in schools, while just 16% say the same teachers. Those results are reversed among Democrats: Nearly half say social science teachers should have “a lot of influence” on the curriculum, while 24% say the same about parents.

More than a third of Democrats — and 13% of Republicans — think state education departments should wield just as much influence.

“It reflects a political divide in terms of the deference we show to experts,” Plutzer said. “There’s a greater distrust of expertise these days among Republicans, and I think that’s reflected here in the somewhat weaker support for teachers and the much weaker support for teachers. educators and education experts from the Department of Education who spend their lives trying to figure out the most effective ways to achieve education goals.

Meanwhile, half of educators say parents should be ‘somewhat involved’ in curriculum and materials selection, according to a nationally representative EdWeek Research Center survey of educators conducted in December. Yet, in reality, more than two-thirds of educators said parents were “very” or “somewhat” uninvolved, according to this survey.

Americans also divided on evolution, sex education

The survey also found that 90% of Americans think schools should teach scientific evolution, but 44% think schools should also teach biblical perspectives on creation alongside evolution.

Experts say giving equal time to creationism and evolution sends mixed messages to students and could confuse them. A 2019 study– also by Plutzer – found that about two-thirds of public high school biology teachers emphasize the broad scientific consensus on evolution without giving credit to creationism, but about one-fifth present creationism as a scientifically valid alternative to evolution.

Three-quarters of Americans think sex education should go beyond teaching the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and advocating abstinence to “also teach teenage girls how to avoid pregnancy by explaining how control works.” births and contraceptives”. Republicans are three times more likely than Democrats to say sex-ed classes should recommend abstinence before marriage — 37% versus 12%.

This survey sheds light on the number of opinions on education issues that can be influenced by politics, said Craig Helmstetter, managing partner of APM Research Lab and co-author of the report.

“There are clear political divisions on all of these issues that we might consider local issues or academic issues,” he said. “We’re just trying to educate the kids, but this is another case where it seems like politics is creeping in and dividing us.”

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