If you have an IEP or 504, then you are probably accustomed to Classical’s resource room. Previously located in the library, it now temporarily resides in the basement, next to the gender neutral bathroom. Inside, Ms. Kay and Ms. Montgomery provide accommodations for students with learning plans. However, in 2021, a new teacher joined the resource room. In the corner, one could previously find Ms. Ramona Bessinger who now teaches various English classes in the former choir room. Bessinger used to work at Esek Hopkins Middle School until she was transferred to Classical in October of 2021. A quick google search or a scroll through her timeline gives some important context to the reason for her transfer.
Starting in the summer of 2021, Bessinger has appeared on multiple different media platforms such as Sky News, Fox News3, and Breitbart. All significant conservative and far right media websites; Brietbart notably had a black crime tab featured on their website. She was also the primary source of a Wall Street Journal opinion series4 as well as other articles released on lesser known right-wing websites. Additionally, she was featured on Fox News’ Tucker Carlon’s segment8, Tucker Carlson tonight. For those not in the know, Tucker Carlson is a white supremacist who has peddled anti-vaccine, racist, and pedophilia apologetics while pushing a devisive narrative of minorities9.
So what made Bessinger go viral? CRT, also known as Critical Race Theory, just one of the many hot button issues that are paraded through the right-wing media sphere for quick and easy outrage clicks. In her media appearances Bessinger laments about “racialized curriculum- based on Marxist cultural ideology 2,1.” She complains about the reframing of American history that centers oppressed people, contributing to “a lack of diversity of perspective.1 ‘’ Bessinger believes that any narratives in history that besmirch America’s image as “the greatest nation in the world.3 ” are dangerous, dogmatic, and poisoning the minds of American children to become “political weapons.3 ” Bessinger’s recent rise to fame is indicative of a larger conservative movement to camouflage the white supremacy that is ingrained in United States history, a product of the centuries of violent, race-based slavery that built the wealth of this ¨great country.¨ This movement is marked by the beliefs in a simultaneously underground and blatant movement to ruin American society through the accurate retelling of history. Another core belief is in the conspiracy that Critical Race Theory is a tool of indoctrination, with the end goal of converting kids into Marxists.
An important distinction that needs to be made here is what Critical Race Theory is, and what it isn’t. Critical Race Theory is an academic concept that is over 40 years old. It is a practice involving the observation of race as a social construct, and the interrogation of racism’s interaction with the legal system6. Originating in law schools during the 1960s, CRT is taught at the graduate school level. Contrary to the beliefs of some antagonists to the practice, it is not the expansion of historical perspectives in curricula, nor is it the cognizance of white privilege. Most importantly, Critical Race Theory is not the CRT that Bessinger so vehemently opposes. CRT happens to stand for Culturally Responsive Teaching, a framework of education focused on building a curriculum that is responsive to the perspectives of different cultural identities and lived experiences. It is a framework that Providence Public Schools has begun implementing7 relatively recently alongside nationwide efforts to introduce a culturally responsive curriculum. Bessinger has intentionally reframed culturally responsive teaching into critical race theory in order to sensationalize her story, giving her “whistleblower” status among conservatives pushing this narrative of CRT destabilizing public institutions of education.
Bessinger is also vocal on social media about her opinions regarding the discussion of queer identities in schools. She has criticized pronoun use -no doubt forgetting that everyone and everything uses pronouns- and believes students should use the bathrooms corresponding to their assigned sex at birth: regardless of any discontinuity between that and their gender identity. Bessinger’s belief regarding queer people in schools is reflective of the long-running stereotype of queer people as inherently sexual, dangerous, and pedophillic. She regards the discussion of gender identity to be “gender theory,” and thinks that any discussion of sexual identiy; being gay, bi, pan, etc, is an intentional effort to sexualize children. She equates these two things to grooming, a word which conservatives are attempting to redefine to mean “the deliberate act of bringing a child into a political, sexual, or racial ideology, practice, cult, or lifestyle without the knowledge or consent of their parents.” (Retweeted on Bessinger’s twitter page). This definition is intentionally vague, and effectively labels with broad strokes any teacher who attempts to have nuanced conversations about contemporary issues in schools; systematic racism, as well as gender and seuxality. From an educational standpoint, the definition is also unquestionably false, as grooming is a technical term used to describe explicit pedophillic sex crimes.
Students are opposed to Bessinger’s presence in the building on account of how outspoken she is on social media regarding her views on race and “gender theory”5. It calls into question Classical’s commitment to racial justice and and the safety of queer students and students of color. “There’s no place for public speech like that In a [school] that’s trying to build and… strengthen support for the LGBTQ+ community.” responds Maddy, a then Junior
“If I found Ms. Gee’s room a safe environment before, I don’t know.”
Another Senior explains how Bessinger’s online presence made them “very uncomfortable,- the resource room where she stays all day is kind of a safe place for me, it’s the only place where I’m actually allowed to be autistic and be myself, and it stopped being that when I realized there was a person there who was not safe to be around.”
Students are especially concerned because the resource room is a space used by a lot of queer, trans, gender-non conforming students who don’t feel comfortable sharing the space with someone who publicly spreads harmful transphobic and homophobic sentiments. And now that Bessinger has transitioned to teaching classes, she will most likely have more direct contact with students, which is cause for increased worry. There is also the issue of teachers not being held accountable for their blatant racism in the classroom and online, their presence at Classical threatening the wellbeing of our racially diverse student body.
An important idea to discuss when it comes to the issue of students having to share a building with teachers that hold beliefs antithetical to their own well-being, right to happiness, and self-expression, is responsibility. Specifically, the responsibility that teachers have to the students they teach. It is to be expected that not every teacher will have an open mind on all issues but it is important to remember that they are responsible for their behavior and the ideas they hold as mentors of the vulnerable, young teens who have been placed in their care. There are many wonderful teachers who make the effort to empathize with their students’ views and identities and recognize their obligation to their students to approach them with compassion. Bessinger, as an educator, has left much to be desired in living up to this responsibility.
A quick scroll through Bessinger’s twitter feed leaves one with the impression that she views herself and her fellow conservatives as underdogs. Freedom fighters reminiscent of the biblical David taking on the Goliath of the leftist-inflitrated public school system which has the goal of indoctrinating kids into a queer lifestyle. Without such a reframing of the conflict, one finds themself with little ground to stand on when confronted with the fact that perhaps the reason for the uptick in kids identifying as queer is the changing social climate that we have found ourselves in. Not a globalist conspiracy to turn little Sam or Sally into a radical commmunsit homosexuals. Conservative reactionary ideas and their peddlers are on the rise perhaps because bereft of any actual legislative opponent, conservative thought has had to turn to culture war issues to maintain its relevance in the mainstream. When one’s politics are based around having an ever-present boogieman to oppose, eventually, said boogieman has to be invented to be the target of outrage. There will always be some vague threat to organize against. A dangerous threat to the nation to rally around to fund super PACs and campaigns.
Of course, Bessinger is not the be-all-end-all of the issue but merely a microcosm. The issue at large is that schools and school departments at large hold a responsibility to vet who they are hiring to watch over the children that have been placed in their care. Though many claim to be accepting of their minority and queer students, hiring those who esposue views that are harmful to those students is antithetical to what they claim to promote: equity and acceptance of all.
1) Bessinger, R. (2021, July 19). I’m a middle school teacher and see how critical race curriculum is creating racial hostility in schoolramo. Legal Insurrection. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://legalinsurrection.com/2021/07/im-a-middle-school-teacher-and-see-how-critical-race-curriculum-is-creating-racial-hostility-in-school/
2) Berry, D. S. (2021, July 14). Middle School teacher: ‘radicalized curriculum’ is ‘creating racial hostility’. Breitbart. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2021/07/14/middle-school-teacher-radicalized-curriculum-is-creating-racial-hostility/
3) Betz, B., & Murray, A. (2021, July 16). Rhode Island teacher goes public with critical race theory curriculum: ‘I’m refusing to propagate lies’. Fox News. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://www.foxnews.com/us/rhode-island-teacher-critical-race-theory-curriculum-refusing-propagate-lies
4) Freeman, J. (2021, July 14). Opinion: the lessons lost when critical race theory arrives in class. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-lessons-lost-when-critical-race-theory-arrives-in-class-11626294690
5) Bessinger, R. (n.d.). Twitter. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://twitter.com/RamonaBessinger
6) George, J. (2021, January 11). A Lesson on Critical Race Theory . Americanbar.org. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/civil-rights-reimagining-policing/a-lesson-on-critical-race-theory/
7) Providence Public Schools. (n.d.). Equity & Belonging / Culturally Responsive Teaching. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://www.providenceschools.org/Page/4743
9) Davies, Dave. (2022, May 12)“Has Tucker Carlson Created the Most Racist Show in the History of Cable News?” NPR.org, from, www.npr.org/2022/05/12/1098488908/has-tucker-carlson-created-the-most-racist-show-in-the-history-of-cable-news.