Diane Ravitch's blog

Poll: Half of Americans Don’t Want Students to Learn About the Effects of Racism Today

Education Week reported the results of a poll that showed that half of Americans don’t want children to learn about racism today. How will they understand the events of the day? What will they make of the national protests after the murder of George Floyd? How do they sense of hate crimes? How do they make sense of persistent segregation and inequality?

Madeline Will writes:

The public is divided on whether schools have a responsibility to ensure that all students learn about the ongoing effects of slavery and racism, a new national survey shows.

And as debates over how children learn about sensitive subjects bubble up across the country, Americans are also split on whether parents or teachers should have “a great deal of” influence over what is taught in schools, the survey shows. Republicans tend to defer to parents of schoolchildren, while Democrats tend to think teachers should get to decide how to teach about certain issues.

“These results suggest that not only are we divided about what’s the best curriculum, but we’re also divided about who gets to figure that out and who gets to decide,” said Eric Plutzer, a professor of political science and sociology at Pennsylvania State University who co-authored the report. “That makes it hard to solve a problem if we can’t even agree on the process, and it suggests that these kinds of issues are going to continue to come up at the local level, and we won’t be able to solve by consensus.”

The nationally representative survey of 1,200 U.S. 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 subjects should be taught in school: slavery and race, evolution, and sexual 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 percent of Black Americans think that students should learn about the ongoing impacts of slavery and racism, while 48 percent of white Americans think schools should teach about historical slavery but not contemporary race relations.

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

As Orwell wrote, “ignorance is strength,” and in this day and age, it’s growing by leaps and bounds.