Clash over critical race theory consumes K-12

'Americans of all stripes should be concerned," about critical race theory restrictions, professor says
By: | June 22, 2021

A generic school board policy for banning critical race theory has been created by a conservative think tank called Citizens for Renewing America.

Six states have banned the teaching of critical race theory, with restrictions proposed in many more. Meanwhile, school boards are also moving to enact their own restrictions. “The purpose of this policy is to prohibit the teaching and promotion of critical race theory, divisive concepts and other forms of government-sanctioned or -facilitated racism in our school district and to uphold the foundational American principle that all people are created equal,” Citizens for Renewing America’s model policy says.

The policy’s “divisive concepts” include teaching that the United States is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist and that an individual—due to their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin—bears responsibility for actions committed in the past.

But Stefan Lallinger, an adjunct lecturer for the School of Education at American University, says efforts to ban CRT in schools are “fearmongering” and equate to a dangerous form of academic censorship.

Critical race theory tracker: Where it’s been banned in schools

“Americans of all stripes should be concerned,” Lallinger told District Administration. “All students benefit from honest, nuanced and critical examinations of our nation’s past. The people most qualified to expose students to such an education are skilled educators who have studied these topics and have experience teaching them.”

Stefan Lallinger

Stefan Lallinger

Attempts to ban critical race theory are nothing more than attempts by politicians to inflame the culture wars and “rile up a subset of the electorate that feels increasingly left behind in today’s society,” Lallinger says. He also disagrees that teaching CRT risks discrimination against white students.

“The good news for educators is that they still have the ability to engage in honest, critical and nuanced discussions about all aspects of our nation’s past—the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he says. “Even in places where educators can no longer utter the words “critical race theory,” they can empower their students with an accurate accounting of the complexity of the American story and its implications for how society is structured today.”

CRT tangles up districts

Utah is among the most recent states to restrict CRT. Earlier this month, the state’s board of education approved new standards for how schools can teach about ethnicity, inclusion, equity and culture, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The new rules prohibit teachers from endorsing a religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, but, The Salt Lake Tribune reported, the state board of education also rejected a push from some members to make the policies more stringent or right-leaning.

In an example of how tangled the issue has become, board members in one Virginia school district spoke out against critical race theory just one year after passing a resolution condemning racism, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

The Chesterfield County School Board last June “recognized Pride Month for the first time and shortened the school year by a day to observe Juneteenth,” according to the Times-Dispatch. 

But the board’s tone changed in June 2021. “Every student staff member should feel that they belong when they walk through our doors, regardless of their race or their cultural background,” Chairman Ryan Harter said, according to the Times-Dispatch. “Critical race theory is not supported by members of the board. In Chesterfield, our goal is unity, not division.”