Public Learning for a Multiracial Democracy: A Project to Construct a New Narrative

The purpose of this grant is to build a new narrative and ultimately contribute to a social movement that counterbalances the current wave of hostility to antiracist education.

The political backlash against instruction related to race and racism in public schools has had a chilling effect on educators’ efforts to implement antiracist curriculum and culturally responsive teaching strategies. The backlash, a response to the 2020 racial reckoning following the brutal police murder of George Floyd, has organized around Critical Race Theory (CRT)—a graduate school theory about systemic racism—even though little CRT is taught in K-12 schools. Still, this backlash has led to legislation in more than 20 states to ban or severely limit instruction related to race. In response, advocates of free speech, academic freedom, and multicultural educational strategies are trying to defend educators and students who protest these bans. Meanwhile, there is mounting research evidence to support these advocates, including findings on the centrality of race and culture to students’ learning and social development, as well as the societal and democratic benefits of teaching young people about multiple perspectives. This research evidence is siloed in different disciplines where its full import cannot be appreciated or utilized to reshape conceptual understandings. With this grant, Wells and Scott will pursue a strategic initiative to leverage this research into the public discourse in collaboration with policy and practice partners. The team’s theory of action is to center the evidence within this broader network to co-construct a powerful counternarrative in support of a multiracial democracy. In the first phase of the project, the team will engage researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and journalists to synthesize existing research on what practices and policies are needed to prepare students to participate in a multiracial democracy. In the second phase, the team develop communication tools and campaigns in support of antiracist education. In all, this project aims to leverage evidence from research about the value of teaching about race and racism to ignite a social movement that connects educators, researchers, advocates, and media specialists, and supports coalition-building and policy initiatives at the local level.

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