Our Voices

Howard professor Dr. Helen Bond talks education, cultural diversity, CRT at Speak Truth to Power event

Quality education—one of the key components of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—is a driver of development. So said Helen Bond Ph.D., Howard University Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and co-chair of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN USA) at a live virtual event titled ‘Speak Truth to Power: The Magic of Mission 4.7’ organized by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights on Oct. 27, 2022. “You can’t achieve any of the other SDGs without having SDG 4,” Dr. Bond said during the discussion moderated by Meredith Joo, a student of King School in Stamford, Connecticut.

SDG 4 aims at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. Target 4.7 of the goal aims to provide learners with the knowledge and skills to realize the SDGs.

Dr. Bond stated that while sustainable development is at the core of SDG 4, human rights education, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, and the appreciation of cultural diversity are central to achieving this goal. However, the role of cultural diversity, she noted, is often understated. “You cannot really achieve these goals in the absence of peace and a lack of respect for cultural diversity,” she said.

Reflecting on the implementation of SDG 4 in the U.S., Dr. Bond, who is an executive council member for Howard University’s Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership, identified a push against critical race theory as a barrier to the goal’s actualization, stating that education is under attack. “The passage of anti-critical race theory laws and bills are really a direct threat against 4.7,” she said. “They’re specifically targeting diversity training, anything around gender, sexuality, education, and culturally responsive practices.”

Fifty-four anti-critical race theory bills were introduced in the first nine months of 2021 and 137 bills have been introduced in 2022 with increasingly harsh language, threats of fines and other punitive measures, Dr. Bond said. And books have not been spared. In 2021, the American Library Association (ALA), she said, tracked 729 attempts to restrict or ban books—the highest number that they have ever tracked.

Dr. Bond said the rising threat to education has further complicated the work of teachers, but they cannot remain silent. “As teachers, we are leaders, and we must lead and raise our voices in this fight,” she said.

A former Research Fellow at the Georg Eckert Institute (GEI) for International Textbook Research in Braunschweig, Germany where she researched on how textbooks in the U.S. and around the world portray the struggle for Black freedom, Dr. Bond underscored the importance of textbooks and how in the U.S. context, they represent ideas that individual states consider important. She cited the case of Texas that has recently considered the replacement of “slavery” with “involuntary relocation” in textbooks.

Contrary to arguments that frame critical race theory as divisive and inappropriate for children, Dr. Bond believes that children can handle the truth. “Young kids can grasp the concept of slavery,” she said. She urged students who have been denied the ability to read some of their favorite books to speak out. “They can write letters, they can make phone calls, they can make their voices heard.”