The time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of many things. Nah, forget that. In this case, the time has come to speak of one thing: Critical Race Theory (CRT). The first question that must be asked is: “What the hell is critical race theory, and why is it so bad to teach the hate of racism and the need for diversity to our students?”
Virginia’s new governor, who turned even “Trumpier than thou” with an executive order banning Critical Race Theory, creating a Gestapo-like “tip-line” to name teachers who try and give students a complete education and, as expected, never said what was wrong with the concept.
We doubt he knows the real concept. He started using right-wing one-liners about the theory a month out from the election because he was trailing and needed something to scare the voters into casting a ballot for him after opponent Terry McAuliffe stupidly said in a final debate that teachers know better than parents what students need to learn. What McAuliffe said was true, but still stupid.
A lot of people say they are against CRT, but most of those same people really don’t have the slightest idea of what it is or is not. The rabid right-wing is steadfast in its opposition, but they don’t really know what they are opposing. It began in the 1970s as a discussion of legal scholars on how racism exists in our laws and our society — a theory in colleges and universities.
No one, to this day, can substantiate the existence of teaching of Critical Race Theory in our public elementary or secondary schools. Scott Hancock, professor of History and African studies at Gettysburg College, offers these thoughts
What is kind of fascinating, and in some ways scary, is that it’s never really been a part of K-12 education. I think it formally got its name as CRT in about 1989. But the people who were writing and contributing to this body of thought really began in the mid-1970s. It’s been around for a long time and gets its origins from a legal field because critical race theorists are looking at the civil rights movement, and things like anti-discrimination laws that come out of the civil rights era.
They’re looking at how some of those laws are not addressing the problems or are incomplete, and they’re looking at critical legal studies, as well as liberal politicians, and they’re arguing that they’re missing some really important things in the legislation. The primary aim of critical race theory was really thinking about how law and policy and the ways in which they’re not addressing discrimination, inequity, unequal processes, economic systems, and government policy. It was not about K-12 education, and that’s still the case. I teach students in “Introduction to American Studies” what critical race theory is, and the goal isn’t to tell them they need to be critical race theorists, but if you’re going to know anything about the field of Afro-American Studies or African studies, you should know what CRT is because there’s a lot of critical race theory scholars in the field. Not everybody in the field is, but if you’re going to come in, you’d want to know some of the important bodies of thought.
Hancock’s thoughts focus on the problem that CRT has become in today’s political propaganda world, where thought or understanding are inoperative concepts or capabilities. As often happens in political discussions, the hyperbole from Fox News (often referred to by professional journalists as “Faux News,” turns into a propaganda rant that replaces facts with one-liners and turns any attempt at open discussion into a lost cause.
Rogers Smith, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, chimes in:
The truth is that there isn’t any real evidence that anyone in K-12 education is using any of the writings of critical race scholars directly in the curriculum. The claim by the sponsors of this bill and similar bills and other states is that nonetheless, the concepts put forth by the legal scholars who originated CRT have been picked up by elementary and secondary school educators. They claim it has entered the curriculum that way, but no one is actually teaching the main documents of CRT … I do teach courses on race and ethnicity and American constitutional politics, and I have used some readings from scholars associated with CRT as well as scholars representing very different points of view. But even I have to be careful about the readings involving too much legal terminology because I know that they’re not going to work for my undergraduates.
Adds, Sharif E-Mekki, CEO at the Center for Black Educator Development:
Critical race theory is a legal framework. It’s a lens for people to be able to apply to law and see how racial injustice and how racism has been baked in many laws in the history of America.
I think one thing is that people don’t read. When you question many [critics of CRT] about their experiences or if they’ve read their work – if they’ve read “Faces at the Bottom of the Well,” or Kimberlé Crenshaw or Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings who hails from Philadelphia – they, by and large, say no, they haven’t. They tried to attribute everything that they don’t feel comfortable talking about, mainly race, to CRT. So, when I talk about it, there are two CRTs. There’s the capital CRT, critical race theory, and lowercase CRT, culturally responsive teaching. That’s what they’ve been against from the beginning, so this is not new. While they show that they are uncomfortable talking about race, they also are uncomfortable talking about the true history. I think teachers should be teaching about CRT where they can age appropriately. You can’t talk about the history of America without talking about race, if you’re being honest and if you’re trying to be a good educator. But what we have now are people who are legislators who don’t read, who obviously received poor schooling themselves, and who lack the understanding of history and how we have to understand it to improve things today.
In a response to a column I wrote on Friday for both Blue Ridge Muse and Capitol Hill Blue, a woman who did not use her full name posted a long rant of claims about what she said was proof of teaching of CRT in both elementary and high schools in Fairfax County, where she said her children attend school.
But the only actual case she presented was about a high school use of a “Privilege Bingo” board game in a high school class to help teach the differences between ethnic groups and backgrounds of students and residents.
The board game, used by a teacher in a high school class in Fairfax, marked squares like “white,” “Christian,” “heterosexual,” “cisgender,” “male,” “mentally healthy,” — and “military kid.”
On a forum talking about the use of the tool, one poster said: “No, this is not okay. It draws attention to racism. And for children, that’s not something they should have to think about yet.”
Really, these were high school kids. Shouldn’t they be discussing and learning about racism by that age? I was an elementary school student in Prince Edward County, Virginia, when the county’s racist supervisors and school board shut down the public schools rather than integrate and replace them with an all-white private school in the 1950s. We all learned a valuable lesson about racism and hate at an early age. I hid on my hands and knees in a forest near a clearing to photograph a meeting of the Klan in Prince Edward County. It became my first sale of a new photo to a newspaper and I decided, on that night, that all I ever wanted was to spend my life as a newspaperman and photojournalist.
Noted a poster who answered the claim by another that children should not have to think about racism: “
Did anybody even read the article? I don’t think so, because if you did, you would know that this exercise isn’t even about assigning “privilege.”
It’s asking about if these different thing do have privilege, and what do THE STUDENTS think those privileges are. Now, if the teacher is directing the conversation and telling them who is and isn’t privileged, then I can understand why people would get angry. But I am all for allowing students to have the conversation among themselves.
Of course, most of the ranters didn’t read the article or anything objective about critical race theory or the true educational needs of our students. Their actions make that obvious.
Fairfax County Public Schools said last week they have revised the teaching tool and added:
We apologize for any offense it may have unintentionally caused. FCPS remains committed to equipping students with the skills to recognize multiple perspectives, analyze bias, and examine privilege as 21st-century learners.
The school system didn’t back down to the hype and hyperbole of the out-of-control parents who think they know more than the teachers who spend long hours with low pay to try and get their students ready to face a complex, partisan world.
The uproar over the theory is just another series of rage rants by White Supremacists, racists, and bigots who still feel they are, somehow, a superior race over those of color, different beliefs, or ethnic backgrounds.
Too many of the parents who turn school board meetings into shouting matches obviously want to destroy any chance of quality education for their children, so they can become adults just as uninformed and intolerant as the ones who spawned them.
1 thought on “What exactly is Critical Race Theory?”
Thank you for your viewpoint. I found it enlightening and informative.
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