Curricula in K-12 schools increasingly approach questions of race by asserting there is a binary dynamic in society in which one subset is made up of oppressed victims and the other of privileged oppressors. Although this framing is part of an effort to sensitize people to instances of racism, what are the consequences of teaching young people that society is divided into these two factions? Children taught to think this way risk growing into adults who split, or think in binary, all-or-nothing terms.

Andrew Hartz describes splitting as “a defense mechanism by which people unconsciously frame ideas, individuals or groups of people in all-or-nothing terms — for example, all good or all bad.” People split because ambiguities cause distress — it’s uncomfortable to think of the oppressor as having virtues and the oppressed as having flaws. However, splitting leads to an incomplete view of the world, and teaching kids to think in all-or-nothing, oppressor versus oppressed, terms fails to prepare them for normal development or participation in a nuanced and pluralistic society. But thinking in binary terms is the likely outcome of curricula that draw from critical race theory, a now common perspective used in schools. Applying this theory encourages children to split, and to fail to develop a mature and realistic view of others and the world. …


Samantha Hedges

Scholar of the politics of education and publisher of EduThirdSpace, a newsletter and podcast.

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