Critical Race Theory (CRT) has gained national attention as a means to educate students on how to address and combat racism. CRT does not inherently involve anti-White and anti-American pseudo-history as some critics on the right claim. However, those in support of CRT should recognize possible political and racial biases that educators may impose into their history and civic curriculums. To combat possible biases, educators should aim to depolarize instances of racism and frame it as a plight that all Americans must work together to eradicate. The decision to implement Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools should be a collaborative one made by local and state governments, educators, historians, schools, parents, and students while ensuring the subject matter is properly taught.
During the 1970s, CRT was developed as a legal theory to analyze the ways in which racism is embedded within institutions, laws, and government. According to the American Bar Association, CRT is “a practice” examining the function of race in society. Specifically, it describes race as a social construct that resulted in a hierarchy where people of color were placed on the bottom tiers. Notably, CRT understands racism as an ongoing evil that continues to plague communities of color, “[permeating] the social fabric of this nation.”
CRT includes various underlying principles, with the most controversial ones dismissing meritocracy and “colorblindness”. It proposes instead that entire systems, laws, and institutions codify racism and do not permit equal opportunities for racial minorities. Moreover, CRT proposes that racism accounts for most disparities between white people and people of color in the United States.
For many, this may seem like an extreme position that will further erode race relations. Dissenters of CRT, such as Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, claim it divides people into oppressors and the oppressed “based solely on skin color.” Those on the left and center of the political spectrum have also criticized CRT for a lack of evidence that it will effectively equip its students to combat racism. Indeed, there have been recent studies suggesting that when black Americans read material promoting CRT, their belief in individual autonomy decreases. Moreover, evidence points to the ineffectiveness of diversity training programs similar to CRT, showing that in many cases it normalizes bias and results in its participants being less likely to report instances of wrongdoing in their place of work.
Grievances against CRT and similar educational practices should be carefully considered when attempting to implement a race-based curriculum. Recently, historians have criticized the well-intentioned but historically misleading 1619 Project created by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. The 1619 Project, like CRT, frames American history through a racialized lens claiming that racial conflict is rooted in the founding and governing institutions of the nation. Historians and professors fact-checked the inaccuracies of the 1619 Project, berating it for its falsification of history and politically motivated narrative. While not every criticism should be equally weighed, all should be considered for CRT to avoid similar backlash brought against the 1619 Project. If not, CRT may drastically backfire against those who believe the education system should adopt it, discrediting beneficial or historically accurate programs aimed to relieve racial conflicts.
Educators, parents, and students must conduct an open, non-judgemental discussion about why schools should and would benefit from CRT. The approach through which CRT is being introduced in some schools, such as through closed doors or violent school board meetings, has resulted in unnecessary tensions between parents and school systems. It would be more productive to host an educational meeting that examines the pros and cons of CRT, and why some favor or oppose its implementation. Then additional, subsequent meetings would consider if CRT is the best way for a specific school or district to discuss racism in the United States. By doing so, these proposals will begin the necessary step of depolarizing race and any issues associated with racial disparities.
The only way forward for the United States education system is through constructive collaboration. If CRT is to be taught, it is paramount that race, racism, and the United States’ history be depolarized. Due to the current political climate, it would be too risky to host politically and racially charged conversations in schools and classrooms. Instead, public forums carefully moderated by professionals would be the ideal first step toward implementing CRT in public schools.