The debate around using "critical race theory" (CRT) in K-12 classrooms is an increasingly polarizing issue amongst those on both sides of the political spectrum. Perhaps that's the real issue. The fact that it has become a political issue when it is actually a social, economic and human rights issue at its core. One that has affected institutions significantly and is now being politicized for the benefit of specific groups, however not the group it's intended to aid, school aged children.
One side believes, understanding how racism has infiltrated American policy, society and institutions is valuable, whereas the other side asserts, it is a divisive discourse that pits people of colour against white people. This has led to passionate disagreement and passionate advocacy for both sides.
Despite this divide, the past decade has provided ample evidence to support the need for all of us to understand how deeply rooted issues such as housing segregation, criminal justice policies from the 1990s, violent and discriminatory policing, and the legacy of enslavement of African Americans have played into public life and social dynamics.
However, these conversations become incredibly complex when considering how CRT education should be handled within a K–12 educational setting. That's due to differences in opinion over what role government should play in correcting these past wrongs.
Understanding why and where CRT is under attack, allows us to honestly review the merits of critical race theory when reforming education systems, and gives us the tools to build more inclusive communities and possibly eliminate white supremacy.
What is CRT?
Critical race theory (CRT) is an academic idea that has been around for over forty years. It suggests that racism is a part of legal systems, which can keep unfairness and bias alive. The theory is based on facts, not feelings, and can be valuable to people of any political denomination committed to creating a more equitable society.
People like Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado help explain CRT using the ideas of sociologists and people who study how language, power, and social structures shape our experiences.
No matter your political views, you can still use CRT to make educational reforms or even build fairer communities. For instance, it can help us identify policies like single-family zoning that prevent people from building affordable housing in certain places — usually where white people live!
Also, CRT encourages alternative ways to discipline, which gives marginalized communities more chances to be involved in their communities in a meaningful way.
At its core, CRT helps us understand the idea of white supremacy and how it affects things like education and law. It not only encourages us to think profoundly but also looks at the whole system to see how racism works and then comes up with ways to level the playing field. One can understand the fear of being labelled racist, or belonging to a group that benefits from supremacist ideology. But until those in that position are willing to confront their ignorance of the past and complacency of the present, they are allowing injustices to persist.
What is the purpose of critical theory in education?
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is important in schools because there is a history of K–12 curriculum that is one sided, Eurocentric and in-factual in both the US and Canada. Examining systemic racism and inequalities in educational material helps children of all races and cultures understand the realities of history so that they better understand the reality of present day. It is a responsible approach to equipping new generations with more empathy and healing old familial wounds so that they do not continue to commit or suffer from the atrocities of previous generations.
CRT is distinct from culturally relevant teaching, which seeks to affirm students' ethnic and racial backgrounds and provide a safe and supportive environment. Educators who learn to teach with CRT in mind, work to reform educational policies, practices and content that contribute to racial disparities. Their objective should ultimately be helping students 1. become global citizens who are prepared for the global workforce, 2. know how to build relationships with anyone including folks who are different from them, and 3. equip them with the tools to identify and challenge inequality in their own lives.
In the end, CRT should be a crucial part of one's basic education and will be instrumental in building communities that are built on love, respect and acceptance of all cultures, races and ethnicities. This is one way we can actively change the negative effects of white supremacy.
Why are conservatives so afraid of critical race theory?
The argument that it is 'divisive' or 'radical' comes from those who misunderstand its aims, benefit from white supremacy or inherently harbour ill will to people that are not white. Some Conservatives across the United States are launching a campaign to control the teaching of race in schools. They focus on the 1619 Project and critical race theory, which stress the role of structural racism in the history of the United States.
One bill, HB 3979, proposed to elevate the teaching of "founding documents" in Texas schools, prevent teachers from supplementing approved books with other texts, and ban the teaching of the 1619 Project. This bill has since become a model for similar legislation in other states.
Conservatives have noticed that concepts used in critical race theory, such as "structural racism" and "internalized white supremacy," have entered the mainstream and, in some cases, have become part of corporate training or public school education. This seems to breed fear that those in power (and those that benefit) are losing control of their exclusively white male dominated institutions.
For instance, criticism of CRT in education has been disguised as a concern that it will lead to a lower standard of education for Black students but rather there's an immense discomfort in the idea that students may be taught that white people are 'inherently privileged.' There are more than enough studies and statistics to to prove the point that clearly privilege exists. The fears surrounding critical race theory are based in white fragility as admitting to bias and working through feelings of guilt is hard work.
Why critical race theory matters?
Critical Race Theory lets us look at how racism has always been a part of our laws, policies, and culture and shows us how it still is. Most claims against CRT are unfounded as it provides the history and effects of white supremacy that serve as a tool for us to:
It provides an opportunity to identify and address issues of systemic racism in public education policies and curriculum.
It seeks to uncover the unconscious bias within current educational systems and the administrators who are responsible for educating millions of kids across the country, recognizes its damaging effects on students of colour, and create equitable policies for all students.
CRT fosters critical conversations about how privilege affects access to quality education and how racism manifests in our classrooms.
It encourages teachers to interact with students from different backgrounds without judgment or stereotypes, creating a safe learning space for everyone.
Feeling empowered to admit to your own faults, recognize your own bias, and confront the atrocities of your own forefathers is a sign of immense progress and personal responsibility. Frankly, that is what it will take for this society to advance. CRT actually helps us recognize our own human weakness, the negative influence of a capitalist structure devoid of a moral compass, and our human potential to unite and empower each other. It should be taught in schools so that students can understand the history of racism and how to combat it.
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