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This summer, I began to research antiracist teaching practices and strategies for my junior capstone project. While working on my literature review and browsing through social media, I stumbled across articles and posts addressing "Critical Race Theory," or CRT.
Since my research centers on current teaching practices that address race and racism, I was intrigued by this practice. Does it apply to early childhood education? Is it a newly founded strategy? And, most of all, why is it getting so much backlash?
The pushback against CRT and other antiracist practices in schools starts an important conversation. Why are families, school districts, and politicians (who are unsurprisingly majority white) uncomfortable with teachers actively choosing curriculum that addresses the truths about racism?
Let's talk about it.
What is critical race theory (CRT)?
The core idea behind Critical Race Theory is that "race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies" (Edweek).
The theory, created by Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and other legal scholars in the 1970s and 1980s, was founded as a framework for legal practice. Since then, the practice has been applied in the fields of humanities, social sciences, and education.
To prevent any confusion, I created the lists below. I reference information from Impact, and NPR.
Critical Race Theory IS:
So, Critical Race Theory is not a new practice, and it has been applied in a variety of practices, including law, policy, and education. So, why the pushback, and why in the field of education?
Who is pushing back against CRT and why?
Pushback against CRT and antiracist practices seem to be the new trend in legislation. There exists a link between the argument against CRT and the denial of systemic racism in the United States.
But why the pushback in education?
Some legislators and school boards argue that CRT teaches children the wrong values and passes on a false interpretation of history. History holds a powerful place in education. It teaches children about progress, values, and peoples. The interpretations of history are even more powerful.
In an NPR interview, Professor Julian Hayter asserts that "history helps define many of the incidents that gave rise to the current racial reckoning." And those events -- which are often swept under the rug or been neglected -- change how history is being taught in schools.
Today's children are our future policymakers, legislators, historians, teachers, and change-makers. If we teach children the truth and equip them with strategies to recognize racism, we are not teaching them to be racist. We are not dividing or categorizing them. We are teaching them how to be antiracist.
Arguments against Critical Race Theory (CRT)
What these arguments express
It is easier to blame an individual or group than it is to recognize a systemic issue. However, racism is systemic; it is integrated into federal policy, education, geographical housing planning, income distribution, and access to health care and education. Racism is woven into every fabric of society. The United States was founded on racist policies.
Examples of persistent systemic racism lay in
How can we support CRT and antiracist education?
We need to fight against racism, not Critical Race Theory.
Perhaps some legislators and school boards are desperate to deny systemic racism, so they target criticism on antiracist policies and frameworks. Children and their education should not be the targets of legislative criticism; instead, we must focus on racial reconciliation.
Instead, we can take the following steps to fight racism in schools and society:
1. Recognize systemic racism!
As Professor Julian Hayter states in an NPR interview, "Restoration can be restorative." Before formulating solutions, we must first recognize the problem.
The problem with racism is not that there isn't always an individual to blame. The bigger problem lies in racism's institutionalization in public policy. If we continue to teach children to be color blind or continue to teach white-washed history, racism will continue to persist.
You must learn how to recognize racism, whether implicit or explicit, to understand how to fight it.
2. To understand how to improve, we must learn from history.
Not the romanticized, white-washed "history" preached in most 21st century American schools but the history that teaches the history of the land with antiracist interpretations.
It is important to note that United States history can't be properly taught without addressing race. However, take steps to prevent the teaching of categorization of white people as "inherently privileged."
Integrate contributions of the BIPOC community throughout history. And teach about the success and progress made by Black people, Indigenous peoples, and people of color.
2. Support our future change-makers -- children!
You may have observed a social movement titled, "Teach the children the truth." One of the messages behind this movement is that children are ready to talk about race.
Expand on children's natural curiosity about the world. Their young minds are so open to learning and exploring. They call out injustice and celebrate fairness while observing others' behavior.
As teachers and caregivers, we do everything with a purpose, including classroom setup, materials, resources, lesson planning, and conversations with our children or students. Antiracism work is purposeful. To quote professor Julian Hayter (he has so many wonderful quotes in this interview), "things done purposefully can only be undone on purpose."
So, how can we be purposeful while implementing the CRT framework? Mainly by being purposeful in how we present and discuss history, race, peoples --and how those three elements are interconnected-- to children.
Racial progress relies on the future generations' understanding of the United States' racist history, systems, and institutions.
3. We must work together to fight systemic racism
Many of the arguments against CRT and other antiracist frameworks push for the division of people into different groups or categories. However, we must work together to fight racism. Racism divides us; antiracism recognizes and respects differences while pursuing racial equity.
Allies and BIPOC activists must take collective action against this legislative criticism. Advocate for CRT and similar frameworks in your classrooms, fields, and communities. Share petitions, save and share posts, and do your research. The most important work is done away from the crowd.
I will end this post with a phrase used by Ahmed Ali, Blair Imani, and many other educators:
"If Black children are old enough to experience racism, other children are old enough to learn about racism and how to be an antiracist."
. . .
I linked several additional resources at the bottom of this post. These sources provide a starting point, but you are welcome to go beyond them. Here is a prompt to spark your research journey: "How is CRT being treated, used, and/or addressed in your state, school, or community?"
Resources in this post
Click on the links below to explore the sources mentioned in this post!
CNN: "A school district tries to address racism, a group of parents fight back"
Impact: "Banning Critical Race Theory From Schools is a Step Backwards from Racial Progress" (Instagram)
NPR: "Understanding The Pushback Against Critical Race Theory in Schools"
EdWeek: "What is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?"
Academic Article: "Critical Race Theory: An Examination of its Past, Present, and Future Implications"
Blair Imani: "Get Smarter About Critical Race Theory" (Instagram)
Journal of a Future Teacher: "Let's Talk About Race in Minnesota"
LEave me a comment!
What are your thoughts on Critical Race Theory? How do you feel about the legislative pushback against it? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Take action. start the conversation. be the change.
Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.