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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the crowd before publicly signing the so-called 'Stop Woke' bill during a news conference Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on April 22, 2022.Daniel A. Varela/The Associated Press

At his sentencing hearing on Wednesday, the teenager who murdered 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket last year acknowledged that he had killed them because they were Black. He believed in the Great Replacement Theory – a racist conspiracy theory that falsely argues that the white race is threatened, and that liberal elites (Jews, in particular) are bringing in immigrants to replace white Americans.

“Looking back now, I can’t believe I actually did it,” he said. “I believed what I read online and acted out of hate.”

It’s impossible to know if this specific person was salvageable – but imagine what role a real education in Black history might play in the life of vulnerable young Americans like him. There are many – a frightening many – other potential bigoted autodidacts reading the stuff he was reading online.

How might their reception of this garbage be influenced by a proper education about the Black experience and the role racism has played and continues to play in society?

And yet, in some states, schools influenced (or forced) by right-wing groups and opportunistic politicians are having to shirk their responsibilities to properly educate their students about race. Some say this is out of a (wrongheaded) fear that white children might feel personal shame and responsibility. Or maybe it’s just plain ignorance; perhaps they actually believe that there is no longer racism operating in society.

But of course systemic racism is at play in the United States. Just ask the descendants of generations of slaves upon whose tortured backs many rich, white Americans built their wealth. Just ask the architects and victims of policies that segregated schools, buses, water fountains and lunch counters, or the laws that denied Black people the vote.

Just ask the family of George Floyd. Or the family of Tyre Nichols, a victim of Black police officers invested in what has been described as a systemically racist institution.

Why shouldn’t American students learn about the racism that has infected their country? It is, after all, the truth.

In the wake of the racial reckoning emerging from the 2020 police killing of Mr. Floyd, the once-obscure concept of critical race theory has become a flashpoint. CRT, which emerged out of the Civil Rights movement, argues that racism is embedded in the U.S. legal system, policies and power structures. But it became a favourite target for far-right blabbermouths and then-president Donald Trump. Its meaning has been twisted and obscured in hysterical campaigns in several states, including Florida. There, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the Individual Freedom Act, more commonly known as the Stop W.O.K.E. (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act, to combat CRT’s “state-sanctioned racism.” (George Orwell must be rolling his eyes in his grave.) Speaking to the state’s board of education last year, Mr. DeSantis said: “the woke class wants to teach kids to hate each other, rather than teaching them how to read.” He called CRT “nonsense ideology.”

This rhetoric is itself nonsense. The kids are still learning to read, of course – even if their options are being limited by other scary developments in Florida schools, such as book bans.

Last November, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of some of the provisions of the law. “The First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark,” Judge Mark Walker wrote in his conclusion.

Then in January, Mr. DeSantis banned a new Advanced Placement course on African-American studies from Florida high schools. The multidisciplinary course, currently in a two-year national pilot program, teaches literature, the arts, politics and history – including the origins of the African diaspora, enslavement and resistance.

Thank goodness there are still some grown-ups in charge. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that his state will expand AP African-American studies. “Black history is American history,” Mr. Murphy said Wednesday.

In Canada, Black History Month gives schools the opportunity to teach Black history and contemporary contributions – lessons that should be happening all year. Schools are also now – finally – teaching about this country’s Indigenous history, embracing the fact that to achieve reconciliation, there must be truth: an understanding of the racist policies that targeted Indigenous people and continue to reverberate.

This is not shaming. It’s explaining.

Teaching about race is not indoctrination; it is education. And if the schools won’t do it, there are all sorts of nefarious websites and sketchy media platforms that are happy to fill in the gap with their brand of brainwashing.

Misinformation has never been so accessible – and so dangerous. Knowledge is power, and public educators have an obligation to their students: to teach them to be critical thinkers, to teach them the honest history of their land, and to have faith that the kids will understand what to do with this information – contribute to a better society, for all.

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