Conservatism Impacts Education in Puerto Rico and the United States

Analysis by Dr. David Vazquez, Professor and Educational Consultant.

Puerto Rico (PR) is facing an educational challenge with the term “perspectiva de género” or gender equality, which has divided the nation due to extreme political and religious ideologies. The Department of Education of PR (DE) must implement a curriculum that addresses moral education in order to impact all students on the island. I remember back in 1990, when NYC Chancellor Joseph Fernández, introduced the Children of the Rainbow Curriculum, which created a huge division among the citizens in NYC. After 30 years, we now see PR facing the same controversial issues with the possible implementation of curriculum that addresses gender equality.

Ironically, the US is facing a challenge with the term “Critical Race Theory” (CRT).  CRT was developed by Harvard Law School Professor Derrick Bell in the mid-1970s as Critical Legal Studies and refined by other legal scholars such as Kimberlé Crenshaw (who coined the term CRT). CRT was used as a framework in legal courses at the university level to help law students think “critically” about the impact of historical and present-day racism in the legal system. CRT builds on the tenants of critical legal studies and feminism.  CRT falls within the “critical” tradition, which rejects Marxist’s essentialism. It is evident that every modern social theory loosely touches on Marxist sociological tradition, since sociology itself, is the legacy of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.

CRT is being used by some groups to include topics such as: educational equity, social emotional learning, cultural awareness, and racism.  Equity and ethnic studies are not synonymous when we are talking about CRT.  Ethnic studies predate CRT and start in the 1960s as an attempt to correct the lack of access, false representation of minorities, whose stories were typically overlooked in the curriculum.

CRT starts from a well-established fact that academic proficiency is not related to the color of one’s skin and pushes policymakers to look beyond the individual student and instead look at the system around them.  CRT aims to change the language used in education from “achievement gap” to “opportunity gap” to improve children’s lives and education.

In a just society, educational equity ensures that all students have access to high-quality curriculum, instruction, and funding. But we don’t live in a just society, so racial and gender inequalities manifest in several ways in US educational system. For example: (1) the predominant curriculum centers the white male narrative and tends to exclude the histories and experiences of minorities; (2) instruction often takes a deficits-based approach, characterizing minorities as needing remediation rather than appreciating their culturally and linguistically backgrounds; (3) school discipline policies disproportionately impact minority students; and (4) school funding inequities between white and minority students. Many US citizens associate CRT with socialism, and it is used as a scare tactic.  Sadly, religious and political extremist groups, believe that this curriculum will end their white privilege status and destroy patriotism.

Finally, I believe that school districts that value diversity need to implement a multi-cultural curriculum.  This curriculum will use culturally and linguistically research-based instructional strategies that will enhance student learning and global awareness.  History of the US must be told from different lenses in an effort to unite the country and create critical well-rounded citizens that understand and respect diversity. PR and the US must think about the true benefits of providing an education that can reduce violence, discrimination, and inequalities among the most vulnerable population.

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