Our schools are not your political battlegrounds


Iris Libson

The Minnesota State Legislature adjourned on May 23, 2022, concluding one of the most progressive sessions in memory. But next year’s session must continue to address important social issues, especially potential book bans.

Celeste Eckstein, co-managing editor

The Minnesota legislature just finished a historic progressive session thanks to a Democratic trifecta with the House, Senate, and governor. Many of the party’s priorities were achieved, including preserving abortion rights, access to gender-affirming care, and paid family and medical leave. However, one crucial item was missing from the list: ending book bans. 

In 2022, efforts to ban books nearly doubled, with 1,269 attempts according to the American Library Association. This egregious form of censorship is an insult to teachers,

schools, and students. Learning accurate history, with its highs and lows, is instrumental in teaching students to be good citizens, good people, and good critical thinkers.

Over the past year, students’ rights to learn about the United States’ flawed history and current problems, especially in relation to race, have been challenged. As a 17 year old high school student, I firmly believe we deserve to learn the facts, however difficult they may be. Anything less than that is a disservice.

 In 2020, after George Floyd’s brutal murder, Minneapolis became ground-zero for a long-overdue reckoning as many considered the injustices faced by people of color in the U.S. Many Edina High School students, including myself were forced to look outside our privileged, suburban bubble. I tried to educate myself on the African American experience, and, after reading dozens of articles, having long discussions in and outside of class, expanding my worldview, and becoming cognizant of the privilege I hold as a white, middle-class person, I can confidently say that the things I have learned about race, society, and history have made me a better student, citizen, and person. 

Denying the role race plays in U.S. society and limiting what students learn may seem unfathomable. However, Education Week found that 42 states introduced and 17 states passed legislation to restrict teaching of critical race theory (CRT) or discussions on racism and sexism since January 2021. Republican officials and candidates elevated CRT to a hot-button issue to win over majority-white suburban swing voters, and the success of politicians like governors Glenn Youngkin in Virginia and Ron DeSantis in Florida has only fueled the popularity of the issue within the party. 

Despite stoking fear about race and history, many CRT opponents don’t even have a firm definition of it. Rather, they position the term as a catch-all phrase for “anti-white” teachings designed to shame students. In reality, CRT is an approach to academic study that posits systemic racism is incorporated into U.S. society through law, policy, and institutions. Additionally, CRT is not typically taught in K-12 schools and mostly appears at the graduate study level. Nevertheless, any politician’s priority, regardless of party, should be preserving the sanctity of schools as places to explore new ideas and form one’s own opinions.

Recognizing the flaws of the United States’ past is essential to understanding the experience of marginalized peoples in the U.S. today and being a good citizen. Considering the nation’s problems is necessary to fix them, thus encouraging critical thought in the classroom is essential. 

In my AP U.S. Government and Politics class, a partner and I made a short documentary on police body cameras where we looked at the role they play in police accountability. The project forced me to critically examine policing systems and how they disproportionately impact people of color. Encouraging honest discussion and research about race and society in class provided white students with resources instead of placing the burden of education upon my classmates of color. 

Much of this growth would have been impossible if Minnesota had restrictions on teaching about race. If having those discussions means using CRT in the classroom, then I believe every school in the U.S. should be using CRT.

Discussing race and acknowledging my own privilege can be uncomfortable. EHS is 70% white. Recognizing that my classmates of color encounter obstacles that I never will can be challenging. My parents never sat me down and gave me a long talk on how to behave around law enforcement, yet this is a reality for many people of color—a reality that I did not distinctly know or consider for years.

Discomfort, however, is essential to growth. To always be comfortable is to always remain in one’s comfort zone. Trapping students in a bubble isn’t what we need, in fact, we need the opposite: experience understanding the complexities and layers of our society, both positive and negative, in order to gain empathy, thoughtfulness, and understanding. Difficult conversations are essential.

This fall, as students begin another year and the 2024 election race looms large on our minds, people must keep the interests of students in mind. Illinois is poised to become the first state to end book bans: what’s stopping Minnesota from becoming the second? Electing politicians who promise to protect us from discomfort and guilt won’t help anyone; we don’t need their protection. Choosing to elect officials who promise to protect our right to learn is the first step towards building a stronger future based off of, rather than in spite of, the complexities of the past.