UPDATE 6/25/2021: For an excellent breakdown of Critical Race Theory, see this document by Sylvia Duckworth.
When news about the teaching of Critical Race Theory becoming a “hot-button” topic started trickling into my social media feeds, I knew I needed to do some research. I had never heard of CRT, and I suspect the issue may even be new to many history teachers. That’s why I thought I would include a few links on the topic in this week’s anti-racist post. I did my best to look for different perspectives on CRT because I think it’s important to understand why people support it as well as why people would like to ban it. The first thing I noticed was, well, there are a lot of words in any article I look for a definition. So, as often happens, I think that people are trying to simplify something that is quite complicated.
The first thing those of us new to the term need to know is that, “CRT is not itself a substantive course or workshop; it is a practice. It is an approach or lens through which an educator can help students examine the role of race and racism in American society,” as Janel George writes in this article for EdWeek. George goes on to explain, “In the K-12 classroom, CRT can be an approach to help students understand how racism has endured past the civil rights era through systems, laws, and policies—and how those same systems, laws, and policies can be transformed.”
What, then, is the threat of Critical Race Theory, according to its opponents? Some people believe that it vilifies White people, and some Black adversaries believe that it actually promotes racism. “I don’t know about you, but telling my child or any child that they are in a permanent oppressed status in America because they are Black is racist – and saying that White people are automatically above me, my children, or any child is racist as well,” stated Keisha King to the Florida Board of Education, according to this article by Sam Dorman of Fox News.
Polarizing attitudes like these generate anger on all sides. I even felt enraged before I knew anything about Critical Race Theory. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for teachers to find themselves in the middle of these battles, and then put into the precarious position of dealing with controversial issues in the classroom. In this NPR interview with Scott Simon, Julian Haynter, a professor at the University of Richmond, advises, “That racial reconciliation is not a zero-sum game, that we can tell a more complete story of American history without making people feel guilty or being made to feel guilty.”
In the Twitter thread below, you can read some other valid points, made by author and historian Justin Hart (@foredoma74):
One of my graduate students is interviewing for a history job at a public institution in Texas and asked me how to respond to a potential question about whether they teach “critical race theory.” Here is what I said, in case it might be useful to others.— Justin Hart (@foredoma74) June 11, 2021
It seems that many people are forgetting that teachers are practiced in giving information while we remain neutral. I’ve had students discuss and question me about: abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, gun control, and hunting many times over the years, and have never revealed my very strong feelings about any of these issues. We give them the facts and tools to make their own decisions. Though there may be some unprofessional educators out there who “indoctrinate” students, the vast majority of us recognize the value of diverse perspectives and values. More importantly, we want all of our students to feel safe and treasured, so the better educated we are, the better we can help them.
As someone who was never taught about the Tulsa Massacre, Jim Crow laws, or Japanese Internment camps during my K-12 years, I am an advocate for giving our students a complete picture of our past so we can learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and do better in the future. Learning for Justice has curriculum materials for “Teaching Hard History: American Slavery,” here. And Edutopia has a very helpful article by Hedreich Nichols for “Productive Classroom Debates on Sensitive Topics.”
Skipping over the difficult parts of our history, where we were anything but heroic and benevolent, will continue to weaken us as a nation, and contribute to destroying us from within.
This post will be added to my collection of Anti-Racism resources here.