Critical Race Theory Should Be Taught in Schools: Yay or Nay?

Carolyn Light

Critical Race Theory and its place in the educational system is just one of the topics dividing Americans right now
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Americans are currently divided among a plethora of issues.

From rights to an abortion, to the January 6th Committee; from transgender access to healthcare, to inflation -- Americans are polarized, and increasingly so.

The American education system has always been an issue of debate, from how taxes should be divided, to which schools should receive federal vouchers. Some believe that prayer should be allowed in public schools, and others believe that all public institutions should be entirely secular.

Throughout the past few months, "Critical race theory" (CRT) is a topic that has increased in fervor -- particularly in how it should be approached in our schools. Some believe it shouldn't be approached at all; that it has no place in our curriculum. Others believe that it is central to our children's understanding of their country and that it should be a front-and-center focus.

What is critical race theory?

CRT dates back to the 1970s and has been fairly obscure to public knowledge until recently. Most frequently taught in law schools, CRT is the study of American laws and American society, and how these have been shaped by race and racism.

Despite the fact that the United States has outlawed the most blatant of its segregationist policies, racism persists throughout the country and we grapple with why this is and how to fix it.

Enter CRT. The theory doesn't target individuals, but rather challenges the system itself. Certainly, individuals can be racist, but the premise of CRT is that racial bias is inherent in our laws and institutions and that the system itself was designed to favor white people over people of color.

What are some examples of CRT?

Scholars of CRT frequently point to America's War on Drugs when illustrating their point. Gabriella Borter, in an article for Reuters explains this by saying the following:

The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act established harsher penalties for possession of crack cocaine than those for powder cocaine; Black Americans are more likely to be convicted of the former and whites the latter. Within four years, average federal drug sentences for Black offenders were 49% higher than those handed out to white offenders, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Another cited example is the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). In the 1950s public policies designed to support business and the prestige of the city's universities, resulted in the relocation of public housing to the city's south and west sides -- predominantly Black areas, which led to near-total segregation of the city. Further, the Dan Ryan Expressway provided a literal barrier between these parts of the city and the predominantly white parts of the city, making it difficult to cross from one side of the city to the other.

So, what does this have to do with our schools?

As public awareness has increased about racially contentious issues -- such as criminal justice policy and enslavement's lasting trauma to Black Americans, the government has struggled in determining its own role in moving forward and righting these historical wrongs -- which leads us to our public education system.

CRT scholars have shown a spotlight on the theory, pointing at it to explain why these wrongs were committed in the first place. Further, they explain, that if the system is inherently racist -- and public education is part of the system -- we should be examining policies and practices in our educational system that may contribute to racial inequalities and disparities.

What is the argument for teaching CRT in schools?

For proponents of CRT, the argument is less about teaching the theory itself, and more about how students should be taught about historical (and current) inequalities. Teachers seek to make their classrooms safe spaces for all of their students; this often includes studying other cultures and affirming their students' own racial identities and cultures. This teaching lends itself to students identifying and naming the inequalities they've faced in their own lives -- which of course, in turn, highlights the fact that white people have had more privilege in this country than people of color.

Educators who engage in culturally relevant teaching argue that they can't accurately teach American history -- or create safe and affirming spaces for their students of color -- if they're unable to point out the ways in which inequalities and racial discrepancies have presented throughout our timeline.

In response to a law banning CRT in schools, Mike Stein, an English teacher from Tennessee stated:

“History teachers can not adequately teach about the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. English teachers will have to avoid teaching almost any text by an African American author because many of them mention racism to various extents.”

What is the argument against teaching CRT in schools?

Critics of CRT believe that teaching the theory in school is an attempt at indoctrinating America's children and teaching them to hate their own country.

Further, opponents believe that the theory paints all white people as violent oppressors, and people of color as helpless victims of society. Some believe that white children will be taught to hate themselves and feel guilty simply for being white.

Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida is a known critic of CRT, saying:

In Florida, we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory. We won't allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other."

Where do you stand?

Have you been following the CRT debate, and if so, what do you think? Should CRT be taught in schools, or should classrooms focus on a colorblind teaching approach?

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