Critical Race Theory

Gayle Catinella
Download: Audio icon 0052.mp3

One of the most important lessons a child can learn is not how to succeed, but how to fail. I know that sounds counterintuitive. We want children to have plenty of examples and opportunities to learn how to live a good and happy life. That is important. We also want our children to admire us, and think we are wise.  And we are human, so we make mistakes, we make bad choices, we all inevitably fail. 


The example of how to do that well, how to deal with the inevitable pitfalls in life in a way that shows character, is a lesson that needs to be learned. Our children need to learn humility, how to make amends, how to genuinely express remorse, and to do better next time. They need to learn how to earn the forgiveness of others and become better for it. None of this is fun. But we all know people who have not learned these lessons. And we probably don’t like them. 

Such hard work, but critical to becoming human. People who model this are the people that I want as friends, people who ask for forgiveness, and people who are gracious enough to realize that we all make mistakes and to forgive me when I deserve it. These are the people we also want as our leaders.


It makes sense that we need to learn these things not only as individuals in our relationships and work but also as a society and a country. We look to history to show us, leaders, who have done well, who inspire us, who have lead with strength of character. We also see people who we do not admire, who have to lead us where we should not have gone. I know that opinions will differ but we can agree that history teaches us valuable lessons about people and policies and that mistakes have been made.


So when it comes to teaching history, we have to be honest with our children. They have the right to know about racism, about the Holocaust, about the struggles for justice among minorities and women. How will they be able to even form an opinion if they don’t know the truth as we currently understand it? Our children need to be prepared to be citizens as well as leaders, and they deserve to be respected as the intelligent and inquisitive people they are. Our children will not be ready to function in our complicated world if they are not grounded in reality. Mistakes have been made. We don’t have to make them again.


We may be concerned about interpretation. I had a professor in college who was highly charismatic, an excellent teacher, and had definite political and religious opinions. He asked me to dinner one time to try to understand my faith. He wasn’t trying to talk me out of it, he just didn’t understand it. We had a wonderful discussion that helped me come to clarity about some of my beliefs. It didn’t threaten me or God that I talked about it. In fact, I left the discussion proud of the way I had held my own, and I know the professor admired me for that as well.


We are not threatened when our children learn about systemic racism. In fact, it might help us gain some clarity about the history of institutional racism in our country. Maybe when our grandchildren talk about what they are learning, we can see ways to be an ally we had not considered. There is history and current reality that we would all benefit from knowing more about. Maybe we will stop making the same mistakes.


We don’t have to be afraid of letting teachers do the wonderful job of teaching that they do. We don’t have to legislate what they say. We don’t need to prove anyone’s loyalty or right belief. We do have to trust one another, listen, be willing to learn ourselves. We have to commit to making our world better, not continuing the oppression.