A Note to Instructors on Using URC Lessons in 2021
Over the past year, lawmakers in states across the USA have introduced a series of so-called “Anti-CRT” bills. Their goal is to intimidate teachers and stymie discussion of racial and gender inequity, especially in schools. While the various pieces of legislation target a wide variety of beliefs and practices, many of the bills take aim at tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT), a complex and essential field of legal and educational scholarship. We acknowledge that ideas from CRT have been influential in the design of the Underrepresentation Curriculum (URC), and affirm the importance of CRT in the fight for racial justice in the USA. However, teaching the URC does not involve the teaching of CRT. Neither do the lesson plans of the URC require that instructors overstep new legal realities associated with Anti-CRT legislation as they seek to help students explore the origins of inequities in science and society.
We recognize that teachers might feel intimidated by these new laws and may feel reluctant to incorporate the URC in their classes. In this memo, we provide guidance to instructors who are considering using the Underrepresentation Curriculum and may be concerned about Anti-CRT laws in 2021 and coming years.
One suggestion is to focus the URC on helping students to investigate processes by which social injustice arises and to center lessons on productive discussion. As described in Lesson 0,
The leader’s job is to facilitate productive discussion, not to give answers… these lessons are designed to introduce students to perspectives they may not have considered.
Teachers should refrain from assigning grades to students for identifying “correct” answers. Instead, teachers should help students seek out reliable sources of data, construct methods for assessing the data’s validity, and form their own beliefs based on the data and discussion. The URC lessons encourage students to form and evolve their own beliefs about social injustices; it is not about indoctrination or assigning blame but, rather, learning together through exploration. We believe students are capable of having honest and nuanced conversations about uncomfortable topics without immediately adapting the views of those around them – and if they are not yet capable, we need to help them become so.
The next suggestion is for teachers to familiarize themselves with the new anti-CRT laws (if any) that are applicable to your school. Note that not all states have anti-CRT laws. Here are some examples:
- In North Carolina, Bill 324 requires that public schools may not officially endorse “the belief that the United States is a meritocracy is an inherently racist or sexist belief, or that the United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.”
- In Illinois, Bill 0376 mandates that a unit on Asian American history be included in a school’s curriculum.
- In Texas, Bill HB3979 states that schools may not “make part of a course the concept that… with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.”
Not all states are the same, and unfortunately, it falls on the teacher to check their own states’ laws and consult with their school administration to ensure they understand the current state of this rapidly-changing legal reality.
A final suggestion is to reach out to the parties that will be affected by the teaching of the URC. Teachers should check in with their administration to seek their support and to know if there are school-level requirements that need to be met. Another good idea is to let the students and families know in advance. As described above, the URC is designed to be inclusive and thought-provoking, and clarifying this while addressing students’ and families’ concerns ahead of time can help implementation to go smoothly.
As you prepare to teach the URC to your students, we hope you will remember thousands of other practitioners who are navigating similar issues as they work to help students learn about social inequities in their science classes. Join in the ongoing conversation in our Slack.
Finally, we encourage you to be brave. Much of the national conversation among the need for teachers to teach bravely has focused on the Humanities. In science, too, we need educators who are committed to looking critically at the world and telling the truth about it through our disciplinary lenses The world needs educators like you who are willing to help students ask thoughtful questions about who does science, why this matters and what we can do to build a more just and equitable world. We hope you’ll find that the URC offers an accessible and impactful way for you to do just that.