Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a difficult political topic, leaving many educators wondering how to approach the subject with parents, teachers, and students. Knowing the history behind CRT and why people support or oppose it can help you address concerns, support teachers, and demonstrate your commitment to student well-being.
What is Critical Race Theory?
In simple terms, critical race theory is the premise that racism is embedded in legal systems and policies, which negatively impacts racial minorities. Scholars, activists, and lawyers developed this framework in the 1970s because they believed that the progress made during the Civil Rights Movement had come to a halt, according to Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, authors of Critical Race Theory: An Introduction in 2001.
While this legal framework is taught at the university level, “critical race theory” has become the term for teaching students about systemic racism at any grade level.
The 6 principles of Critical Race Theory
In Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Delgado and Stefancic named six beliefs upon which they thought most critical race theorists would agree. They are:
- Racism in the United States is the common, ordinary experience of most people of color.
- Legal advances (or setbacks) for people of color tend to serve the dominant group’s interests.
- Race is not biological but socially constructed to benefit dominant groups.
- Dominant groups stereotype minority groups to favor their needs and interests.
- No one has a single identity, i.e., Black people can also identify themselves by their gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
- The experiences of members of minority groups qualify them to speak out against racism.
Why Is Critical Race Theory in Education Controversial?
Educators, parents, and policymakers disagree on how teachers should discuss racism and oppression in K-12 education.
According to EdWeek author Stephen Sawchuk, those who oppose CRT worry it exposes impressionable students to “damaging or self-demoralizing ideas.”
In June 2021, speakers at a rally in Leesburg, Virginia claimed CRT categorizes people as oppressed and makes children feel like victims, reported Nathaniel Cline from the Loudoun Times Mirror. One of the rally speakers, Ian Prior, executive director of Fight for Schools, also claimed students were learning parts of history that were inappropriate for their age group.
“Now look, I get bad things that happened 700 years ago, when used in today’s [way] … but there’s a time and a place and second grade is not that time and place,” Prior said.
Robin Steenman, who runs a local chapter of Moms for Liberty in Tennessee, believes teaching students about systemic racism will cause strife and hurt racial progress.
“It seeks to divide along racial lines,” Steenman told reporter Chelsea Sheasley from The Christian Science Monitor. “When you start bringing up critical race theory and bringing up skin color, you … go back to neo-racism and neo-segregation and it’s a tragedy.”
These concerns have spurred eight states to pass bills that restrict how teachers discuss racism and oppression.
Others believe CRT principles spark conversations that can promote social justice and improve racial equality. In Milwaukee, Bob Peterson and Sequanna Taylor hosted a rally as part of a nationwide Day of Action to “Teach the Truth,” on June 12, 2021, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. They opposed Republican legislation in Wisconsin, which they claimed limited instruction on racism in public schools.
“The fact that there are so many state legislatures considering legislation that will suppress the teaching of racism and sexism and even prohibit professional training in those areas was, in my mind, outrageous, and had to be publicly denounced,” Peterson said.
Dr. Jenya Minott, an anti-racism training consultant in Houston, spoke out against Texas lawmakers’ opposition to CRT, The Christian Science Mirror reported.
“One of the things this legislation and others around the country is causing is keeping the silence [about racism] … and that’s harmful for all of us but most particularly students of color,” she said.
How Does Studies Weekly Approach CRT?
Studies Weekly does not take a stance regarding what should or should not be included in your curriculum. We leave those decisions up to your Department of Education, as is appropriate. If your state’s Department of Education adds components of Critical Race Theory into its standards, then Studies Weekly will update your curriculum in the next edition. Our goal is to continue providing accurate and engaging science, social studies, and well-being curriculum that is fully aligned to your state’s standards.
What Can You Do?
Open and honest communication helps earn parent trust. Let them know which curriculum you use and how you teach students about racism. Also, encourage them to read your state’s social studies standards and stay up to date on state legislation.
Ultimately, parents want to know their child will be in a safe and caring environment. Share how your school ensures each student feels welcomed and appreciated for who they are.
This tension over what to teach in schools has hurt many well-meaning educators who just want the best for their students. An Orange County Florida teacher told WESH 2 News that she found parents’ negative accusations “deeply offensive and demoralizing.” These negative feelings can prevent teachers from performing at their best and ultimately lead to good teachers quitting their jobs because they can’t handle the stress.
To prevent this controversy from overwhelming teachers, offer them emotional and mental health support. Also, work with faculty and staff to create an environment where everyone feels respected and valued, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum.
Show You Care
There is no telling how long this debate will go on, but you can turn it into an opportunity to show parents how much you care. As you communicate your school’s efforts to promote quality learning in an atmosphere of professionalism and respect, you’ll earn parents’ trust and be able to focus on helping students thrive.
See how our Social Studies curriculum meets your state’s standards by visiting our samples page and selecting your state.