Coming off a three-month break, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver wasted no breath in his ninth season opener and devoted almost a half-hour to one of the most controversial topics swirling around schools today: the teaching of critical race theory.
For the uninitiated, critical race theory (CRT) refers to a body of legal scholarship that attempts to understand why racism and inequality have persisted after the Civil Rights movement. The core tenet is that racism is not the product of individual bias or prejudice, but rather structurally embedded in our justice, education, labor, housing and healthcare systems.
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Opponents of CRT have claimed the framework unfairly admonishes white students and teaches kids to be ashamed of their born skin color.
Though opponents of the theory aren’t entirely correct, even Oliver admits the theory is intricate and that broaching the topic in an elementary school setting would be difficult.
“To be clear, CRT is graduate-level legal theory. Unless your five-year-old is currently pursuing a law degree, they’re not reading Kimberlé Crenshaw,” Oliver said.
Oliver claims schools aren’t teaching CRT and says conservatives have been labeling any lessons regarding race under this banner to galvanize political action to implement school choice, a controversial policy in which students are given the choice to attend a school other than their district’s public school. Critics of school choice say the program siphons dollars away from the already-depleted budgets of public schools.
Though the legal theory isn’t being dissected in classrooms nationwide, some schools have gone ahead and attempted to educate kids on race and privilege, sometimes in cringe-inducing manner. Oliver cited several examples of how schools fumbled these lessons. One school used a bingo card to educate students about privilege and another, in an attempt to teach racism in a metaphorical sense, divided students by eye color with brown eyes being the lowest tier.
Replete with his well-known exasperation, Oliver loathed the fact we are in yet again another cycle of rewriting history.
“We have talked before on this show about the multiple problems with teaching kids a sanitized version of US history and how, as far back as a century ago, groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy were reshaping textbooks to downplay its horrors,” Oliver said.
“And it seems, here we go again.”
“Here’s the thing: you can ban all the books you want. You can try to legislate it away. But, as any black woman on the Bachelor can tell you, talking about race is unavoidable. Not just unavoidable, it’s essential.”