Are schools teaching critical race theory? No, says one expert.
Critical race theory does not teach that all white people are oppressors, says a law school professor who helped define the concept several decades ago.
Georgetown Law Professor Gary Peller also says that K-12 schools are likely not teaching CRT even as elected officials in a growing number of states ban it from classrooms over concerns that it discriminates against white students.
“It’s being used as a broad term for anything to do with teaching about the racial dimensions of American history and with diversity, equity and inclusion training,” Peller says, a co-editor of Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement. “If it were being taught in K-12 schools, it would be cause for wild celebration.”
Critical race theory is a form of critical analysis taught largely in law schools and graduate schools of education and sociology as a way to understand racial justice. It emerged to expose deeply hidden forms of systemic racism after more formalized methods of segregation ended during the Civil Rights movement, Peller says.
Critical race theory, where it is taught, focuses on race as one of the many ways social power is constructed and exercised in everyday American life. CRT posts that this power and prestige, moreover, are distributed politically and contestability rather than naturally, Peller adds. “We struggle to explain these ideas to law students,” Peller says. “I’m confident it’s not being taught in K-12.”
Even where anti-CRT laws have been passed, educators may get some protection from the First Amendment and the idea that schools are places of open inquiry. Still, the curriculum remains inherently political and will be a battleground for years to come, Peller says.
Critical race theory tracker: Where it’s been banned
“What’s important is for teachers and administrators to understand these dynamics and ensure they take time to patiently build a constituency for a long-overdue reform of the American curriculum, particularly in American history.”
‘Diversity without division’
While administrators and educators may have less ability to influence the actions of governors and legislators, they can turn down the temperature of CRT controversies in their districts, says Irshad Manji, founder of PD provider Moral Courage ED.
That starts with ensuring that parents are heard when they express concerns about what is being taught to their children, says Manji, who has been a professor of leadership at New York University.
“Education leaders heading into the fall have the huge challenge of making meaningful progress on the legitimate issue of diversity, equity and inclusion, while at the same time unifying parents, students and fellows educators who sometimes have starkly different points of view,” Manji says.
Moral Courage ED aims to help educators achieve “diversity without division” based on three principles:
- Reject labeling or shaming of people, no matter what group they were born into.
- Define diversity to include a diversity of viewpoints because understanding another person is crucial to being understood.
- Encourage educators to think more clearly, rather than dictating what they’re allowed to think.
In K-12 debates or controversies, including those over CRT, approaches that immediately make the other side defensive will ruin any hopes of eventual cooperation, Manji says.
“Diversity of viewpoint is part and parcel of teaching social justice and it builds trust,” Manji says. “If we’re willing to find common ground before we dive into differences, then we’ve created a foundation of trust that allows us to discuss our differences much more respectfully.”