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Critical Race Theory a Critical Pedagogical and Political Issue

Education Policy Brief #63 | By: Stephen Thomas | January 14, 2022

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Policy Summary

Years ago, segregationists relied on the states to pass laws to exclude black students from their children’s schools. Today, their objective is to exclude blacks from the social studies curriculum. Either way, it is a movement centered on the debate about a crucial campaign issue that arose in the Virginia governor’s race and will rise again in the congressional mid-term elections and in state-level elections in 2022—the battle against teaching grade-school students about the treatment of African Americans by law and by operation of the broader society.

The debate is about critical race theory, a product of legal scholarship first propagated by a Harvard law professor, the late Derrick Bell. The fundamental pillar of critical race theory is that racism is the norm, not the exception to the natural order. Racism is thus entrenched in the society, not even close to being an aberration. There are overtly racist people who have done unspeakable things to black people, but racism, according to critical race theory, is not confined to a relative handful of avowed white supremacists. Under this theory, racism is cultural and is omnipresent in just about every aspect of the society—the economy, education, policing, you name it.

CRT proponents would say President Barack Obama’s election does not expiate what happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and too many others to mention here. In other words, race still matters and always will.

Critical race theorists have asserted that whiteness is like a property right that comes with the rights to possess, use and dispose of many things. By “possess,” proponents of critical race theory mean the right to keep blacks out—in this instance, out of the history curriculum.

Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race this year, in part, because he used critical race theory to stoke fear in the hearts of white voters; a good many of them surely do not consider themselves racists. Republicans on the ballot in 2022 will follow Youngkin’s strategy. Democrats better be prepared in the 2022 elections to address critical race theory, starting by pointing out that although educators may be schooled in its tenets, students generally are not.

Policy Analysis

So, what does critical race theory mean to the average student? It means, for example, that students should not be presented a lesson on the Civil War without a mention of slavery. Similarly, lessons on the Constitution in high school should not ignore the Brown v. Board of Education ruling and many other landmark rulings in which race was an issue. There is a federal holiday marking the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so why not teach students who he was and what he, and generations of others up to present day, have been fighting for?

Critical race theory, per se, the way legal and education scholars discuss its tenets, is not a part of the lesson plan for children, and it should not be, but grade schools should not pretend, in the teaching of social studies, that black people simply do not exist. In the meantime, conservatives continue to do what they always have done. They turn to their states to pass laws to exclude blacks from the grade-school curriculum the way the states used to exclude blacks from the classroom.

 reaction of Briggs vs. Elliot verdict – photo taken from: Stories of Struggle

(click or tap to enlargen)

In Briggs v. Elliott, in the segregated year of 1951, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of South Carolina held that “if conditions have changed so that segregation is no longer wise, this is a matter for the legislatures and not for the courts.” The court punted to the state. Many states at the time had no interest in equal rights. 

The U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed the soft-on-segregation approach three years later in Brown. The exclusion of black students from the classroom was wrong then, and the exclusion of blacks from the social studies curriculum is wrong now. Shame on state legislatures that have done both.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

Common Justice

https://www.commonjustice.org/

A proponent of critical race theory on its blog site and an advocate for social justice and for alternatives to incarceration.

Fair Fight Initiative

https://www.fairfightinitiative.org/

The organization advocates against mistreatment by law enforcement and against mass incarceration. The organization has a page on its website dedicated to explaining what critical race theory is.

Goldwater Institute

https://goldwaterinstitute.org/

Self-proclaimed protector of people’s rights. Opposes critical race theory.

Learn More Resources

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