3 keys to teaching critical race theory inclusively

'If you're white, don’t make this about you—it’s not about you,' professor of education says
By: | May 21, 2021
Critical race theory encourages teachers to use students' lived experiences to frame more inclusive curriculum and pedagogy.Critical race theory encourages teachers to use students' lived experiences to frame more inclusive curriculum and pedagogy.
Cleveland Hayes

Cleveland Hayes

If teachers are culturally responsive and inclusive, your district is already teaching components of critical race theory, says professor Cleveland Hayes.

Though a small number of states moved quickly to ban the teaching of critical race theory, also known as “CRT,” administrators in many districts have bolstered anti-racism curricula in the wake of COVID’s disproportionate impacts and last summer’s racial justice protests.

“There are six guiding principles in the critical race theory framework and the one people are upset about is the one that says racism is endemic to the U.S., which is not up for debate,” says Hayes, the associate dean for academic affairs and a professor in Urban Teacher Education at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.

“But CRT is not an exclusive framework, it’s inclusive,” Hayes says.

Here are ways educators can embed critical race theory and anti-racism in instruction.

1. Invest in a child’s experiences: “Children are not empty slates,” Hayes says. He, therefore, instructs his teaching students to use children’s lived experiences to frame curriculum and pedagogy that aligns with state standards.

And that means covering black history in the U.S. must beyond slavery. “The black experience in the U.S. begins earlier than slavery,” he says.

Teachers can also recognize the brilliance and abilities children bring to school. “They’re not these broken children who need to be fixed—that’s not our job,” Hayes says. “It’s part of recognizing their humanity and capitalizing on the brilliance kids bring to school.”

2. Take an interdisciplinary approach: Teachers in all subjects—from social studies to math to P.E.—can put children’s life experiences at the center of instruction, Hayes says.

When it comes to teaching about racism, the goal of critical race theory is not to “cancel” white culture, Hayes says. However, this intersectionality helps to open white student’s eyes to the discrimination faced by classmates of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

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“We will never get to racial healing until people recognize that these are real experiences,” Hayes says. “I tell my students, ‘I am a professor, I am middle class, but there are things I have to think about that someone who presents as a white male never has to think about.”

3. Educators showing courage: In states and districts banning critical race theory, educators may have to take a stand on critical race theory and anti-racism.

This is where administrators can bring their privilege to bear, Hayes says.

“If you’re doing the right by the teachers in your district, they will rally around you when people at the school board start pushing back on you,” he says. “It all boils down to courage and not being intimidated or afraid to have conversations with people in the community.”

He also urges white educators to look outside themselves to the bigger picture.

“If you’re white, don’t make this about you—it’s not about you,” he says.”It’s really about creating a space where all children can grow and we can learn more about each other.”