What is Critical Race Theory and a Case for Teaching About It In Schools: CRT Explained
With 21 states (and counting) currently banning Critical Race Theory (CRT), the idea about teaching about systemic racism has blown up recently. I am deeply concerned about what this may mean for teachers across the nation but also curious about where the issue with teaching this really lies. Being that my home state is Florida I am even more upset with how CRT is being lumped in with teaching Holocaust Denial.
The new legislation in Florida says the following:
“Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with State Board approved standards include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons. Instruction may not utilize material from the 1619 Project...)” You can read the full bill here for yourself.
Obviously, the Holocaust happened. Anyone who states differently can go ahead and stop reading now because I don't have enough words for this level of ignorance. But putting teaching CRT into the same category is cause for an uproar. It is almost as if our lived experience (systemic racism) is being denied at the same time as telling us we shouldn't deny the Holocaust. How is that for irony?!
I decided to be a public school teacher because I wanted to change lives. I didn’t realize that the path to teaching would lead me to teach in a Title I school (code for low-income students more code for a high population of black and brown students). Luckily our administration was supportive of us teaching an inclusive history. The first year that Black History month rolled around I was shocked at how little black history was actually taught. Teachers were only required to teach about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. My fellow teachers agreed that we definitely had to change this so we embarked on adding a ton more background to the content. This is partly where Black History from a Decolonized Perspective was born, but it also made sure we started to embed even more inclusive history from multiple perspectives all throughout the year. This inevitably lead us to learn about systemic racism and all of the remaining consequences of the enslavement of Africans in America.
What is the 1619 Project?
This is a collection of essays that aim to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
There really isn’t anything in these articles that by themselves would not be allowed to be taught in schools, and yet as a collection all of sudden it is being banned.
I can’t see how they will even enforce this but I can only imagine the anxiety some educators face from this. Will teachers be fired over it? Can they lose their certification if they read an article from the 1619 project? Will administrators dole out consequences if they find out a teacher taught that race is embedded in our systems? These are questions I am hearing from my fellow educators in states that are banning CRT and it makes me incredibly sad that they have to choose between teaching the reality our black and brown students have to face each day or their livelihoods.
Let’s talk about what critical race theory actually is. Maybe that would dispel some fears of it and hence make it easier to talk about. Some of the major ideas about Critical Race Theory state that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.
Let’s break this down a bit.
Is racism a social construct?
Yes, of course. Race was created as a way to divide and categorize people therefore it is a social construct.
Is racism embedded in America’s systems and policies?
Well, let’s think about this for a minute and discuss some of the key issues facing black and brown populations
One aspect of poverty among Black Americans can be attributed to redlining which prevented black people from owning homes in certain (white only) areas. Homeownership in certain areas lead to an explosion of generational wealth that continues to be passed down today.
Historically, Black people were considered 3/5ths of a person for congressional representation purposes. This allowed "slave states" to actually have more power in government without giving the privilege of actual voting to Black Americans.
Black people were enslaved because of their skin color. I am sure I don’t need a link for that as we all should at least know this was the foundation of enslavement. This led to a ton of misconceptions and lies being spread about black people to justify this heinous act against us.
Segregation of schools prevented black and brown students from having the same quality of education including funding for supplies and staffing or even being able to attend certain programs in colleges.
Black students are reprimanded and suspended more than their white counterparts in schools.
These are just a few examples of how racism is embedded in our legal and educational systems so I would say this is true as well.
Here are all of the tenets of CRT for your knowledge.
1) Race is socially constructed, not biologically natural.
(2) Racism in the United States is an ordinary experience for most people of color.
(3) Legal advances (or setbacks) for people of color tend to serve the interests of dominant white groups. This means it will take a lot of work in the legal world to improve the status of black and brown people in America.
(4) Minorities deal with a large number of stereotypes.
(5) No individual can be identified only in one way. A Black person, for example, can also identify as a woman, a lesbian, a feminist, a Christian, and so on. Finally,
(6) People of color are uniquely qualified to speak on behalf of other members of their group (or groups) regarding the effects of racism.
(adapted from https://www.britannica.com/topic/critical-race-theory)
So how is CRT an issue? Are people worried that we will create unpatriotic citizens by teaching about our lived experiences? In all my years of teaching the truth about history and current events like systemic racism I have not found any student that hates our country; on the contrary, what I have found most is that they want to improve our country.
This is the same for teaching about taking care of our earth. When we discuss the issues with global warming and fossil fuels; students don’t say they hate humans; instead we look for ways to solve the problem. We teach about riding bikes instead of driving; recycling instead of wasting, and turning off the water instead of letting it run while brushing our teeth. This is the same thing when it comes to racism. The more our students learn about the history and the lived experiences of BIPOC people today the more we will seek to change and improve our country. So the next time you hear someone say they don’t want CRT taught in schools; take a second to think of why.
Grab the free download below for an easy reference to what CRT is.
Ms. Iman Alleyne is a best-selling author, educator, and speaker. She has worked with children most of her life as well as consulted for schools. After teaching Special Education she founded a progressive Microschool called Kind Academy that works for all learners. She earned her Master's in School Counseling and is certified in Elementary Education, Special Education, and Guidance Counseling. She is a huge proponent of teaching social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion as a means to improve outcomes for learners of all ages.