Critical Race TheoryJune 16, 2021
There are currently three proposed bills that would bar the teaching of Critical Race Theory and other "concepts," and the Senate version of the budget contains a list of prohibited topics around race and gender. The House version of the budget (finalized yesterday) does not include this, so they will now hammer out the differences between the two budgets in the coming weeks.
Before I dive into an explanation of CRT itself, I want to clarify that public schools do not teach CRT. As explained more below, CRT is less of an actual topic than a way to assess laws and policies, so it doesn't lend itself easily to a traditional public school class. Indeed, that's in part why so few people have any actual knowledge about CRT.
Critical Race Theory - what is it?
CRT has been around for 40 years. In its most simplified form, it is a method of examining current policies, laws, and systems in the context of the racial discrimination from which these laws, systems, and policies grew. It is a lens through which to assess results — in the last 50 or so years during which racial discrimination was made illegal — that isn't detached from history — the 350 years before during which racial discrimination was legal. As Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun said, "In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way." In other words, CRT doesn't leave what's in the past in the past. Rather, it examines how history impacts current laws and policies.
To be sure, CRT has its detractors, and it always has. From its inception, some disagreed with its principles. Fine, let's have those debates. Indeed, those debates would require a deeper understanding of CRT than some of our elected officials seem to possess.
Also, let me acknowledge that I am no expert on CRT. There are plenty of brilliant folks who are. Feel free to read this article that does a good job of explaining what CRT is. Or, heck, read this primer about CRT. Or watch this video.
The Current Attack on CRT
As I mentioned above, several proposed bills and the Senate budget would prohibit the teaching of CRT or certain "concepts" regarding race and gender. Click here for an example.
Some concepts are not controversial -- like the one that prohibits a teacher from instructing their students that one race or sex is superior to another race. Of course, this has nothing to do with Critical Race Theory, and also no teacher is doing this. If they were, they would be fired without the need for this language in the budget. So, it begs the obvious question, "why legislate around something that isn't happening?" I don't know. But I think it is dangerous and disrespectful to teachers to legislate based on an inaccurate assumption divorced from reality.
But then there is a "prohibited concept" that prevents a teacher from instructing that "fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex." Here's the problem -- Women's Suffrage must be taught in US History, and there is simply no way to authentically teach that topic without students coming to the conclusion that "fault or blame" rested with men for the long-delay of granting women's suffrage in the United States. That doesn't mean that men today are responsible for what was done in the 1800s and early 1900s, but there is simply no way to explain the delay in women gaining suffrage without noting that men controlled the political levers that could have extended suffrage to women. So, we will need to alter the current state standards for history to comply with this language should it pass.
Other prohibitions will make it harder for teachers to do their jobs without worrying about the wording of legislation like this. To me, these examples demonstrate why legislators are on dangerous ground when they begin to dictate specific curricula.
Finally, Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman weighed in last week with this denunciation of CRT. To say I was profoundly disappointed would be an understatement. Superintendent Spearman's statement, in my opinion, raised more questions than answers. I tend to think that the incredibly smart folks who have studied Critical Race Theory deserve more respect than the divisive and dismissive tone of her statement. More importantly, I believe we all deserve a more thoughtful analysis of concepts we condemn in this way. If we really want, as Superintendent Spearman said, to make the "tough decisions … that model the type of citizens we want [our students] to become," we can start by elevating the discussion and leading, not cultivating ignorance with more ignorance.
I will keep you posted on the budget process, and I am sure we'll be talking about this again in the next legislative session.