A Rhode Island white middle school teacher described how her school district’s “radicalized curriculum,” steeped in Critical Race Theory, has “created racial tensions among students and staff where none existed before.”
Veteran teacher Ramona Bessinger, who teaches mostly nonwhite students, wrote at Legal Insurrection Tuesday of the drastic change that has come over her Providence school district since the implementation of “Critical Race Theory.”
Bessinger described the new program, based on the Marxist cultural ideology, as “the most racially divisive, hateful, and in large part, historically inaccurate curriculums I have ever seen in my teaching career.”
Yes, I am speaking about the controversial critical race theory that has infiltrated our public schools here in Rhode Island under the umbrella of Culturally Responsive learning and teaching, which includes a focus on identities. You won’t see the words “critical race theory” on the materials, but those are the concepts taught. The new, racialized curriculum and materials focuses almost exclusively on an oppressor-oppressed narrative, and have created racial tensions among students and staff where none existed before.
Bessinger noted that while she always taught her students about slavery and racism, especially through the writings of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other African American authors, her American History lessons are now focused “exclusively from the perspective of oppressed peoples during the Revolutionary period through to the Civil War.”
“Although the 1619 Project itself has not yet been introduced, the historical perspective now has shifted to making slavery and racism the defining events of the founding and growth of America,” she noted, adding that many “previously vetted” books have been eliminated from the curriculum, including House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, and the works of Walt Whitman.
Missing from our curriculum during the 2020/ 21 school year was the diversity, perspective, truth, and rigor that previously were taught. Previously vetted books were removed from our classroom and sent to recycling. Gone was the diverse collection of American and World Literature: House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, James Baldwin Go Tell It On The Mountain, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, essays by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., poetry by Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Anne Frank, Night, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, Macbeth, Walt Whitman, The Salem Witch Trials, The Crucible , Holocaust studies, world genocide, world art, universal themes, universal characters and any book or short story from the literary cannon.
In the new curriculum, Bessinger said she is no longer permitted to teach about the Holocaust, including through books such as The Diary of Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas:
When I asked the school reading coach where all the Holocaust books were, she said “we do not teach the Holocaust because kids can’t relate to the story.” What? Kids can’t relate to genocide, hate, discrimination, and prejudice? Yes children can relate to these universal themes, we all can. Children would never learn about the evils of hatred during the Second World War? Why? What was it about the truth and perspective that seemed to escape us during the 2020/21 school year? Exactly why was all this great literature removed from our curriculum?
In January 2021, Bessinger said the Critical Race Theory materials arrived, “all poorly written, historically biased, inaccurate, and pushing a racial narrative.”
“White Europeans were and are evil and African Americans were and are victimized by white oppressors,” she described the new program. “Woven into this new curriculum was a school-wide social push to focus on Black Lives Matter support groups and other social justice identity groups.”
“Teachers were encouraged to participate in ‘white educator affinity groups’ where we would be given essays on how not to be a white supremacist in the classroom,” Bessinger said, posting photos in her article from her school’s “Culture and Equity” newsletter, which showed scheduled “affinity groups” were segregated according to the race of the teachers.
Bessinger reported the usual custom of saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school changed dramatically.
“[F]or some students, standing for the Pledge of Allegiance was no longer something they did,” she wrote. “We are not allowed to question why, and the truth is, I knew why. Already these young people were beginning to hate America. I was the only person standing and the only person that could be heard saying “liberty and justice for all.”
Bessinger said some students began calling her “America” because she is white, and several of her colleagues accused her of having “white privilege.”
“I was quickly made to feel as though I was becoming the enemy,” she wrote. “My black colleagues added more similar comments in passing, for example: ‘You have white privilege, Bessinger, your gestures are a rich person’s gestures.’”
Bessinger wrote that, when she has spoken out about her concerns, she has been “subjected to attempted intimidation and harassment.”
The veteran teacher warned history and culture are essentially being “wiped out by political ideology.”
“We cannot allow our children to be taught they are inferior,” she added. “We cannot teach young people that white people are the enemy because our students, brown, black, indigenous, and white deserve to be children and not political pawns or political weapons.”
“Any curriculum that shames our children or divides our children by the color of their skin should be banned,” Bessinger concluded.