Voices: Critical Race Theory

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, October 27th, 2021 at 1:14 PM
Voices: Critical Race Theory by Julia Carden
Sign protesting critical race theory posted on Main Street in Cambridge Springs. Photo taken by Nathaniel Thomas.

“On the map of racial progress, education is the name of almost every road.”

– Education Weekly l “What is Critical Race Theory, and Why is it under Attack?”                                                    

The teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in K-12 schools has suddenly become a hot topic of debate both nationally and locally. Some critics believe that CRT pushes a harmful anti-American idea, while others who support the theory believe its roots in racial progress are strong and should be embraced.   

So, what exactly is critical race theory? Stephen Sawchuk, an equity and diversity writer for Education Weekly, described the core idea simply by stating that “racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”  

While the debate surrounding CRT is new, the theory itself is not. It actually originated over 40 years ago. The American Bar Association credited the theory to civil rights and legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Cheryl Harris, Patricia Williams, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and Tara Yosso. Bell, former Harvard Law School professor, has been credited as the “godfather” of the theory.  

Sawchuck further characterized the theory as “intellectually rigorous.” CRT has ties in multiple academic fields including sociology, humanities, English literature and social sciences. CRT is a high-level academic theory that is not going to be tossed around to young children.  

In fact, the theory has not been taught in the majority of K-12 schools. The truth is that it’s mostly a method of examination used in college and law school. If critical race theory were to be taught in K-12 schools, it would be to upperclassmen who are already on a curriculum addressing racial inequality, with topics like Jim Crow laws and books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  

Multiple states, including Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona and South Carolina have passed legislation to outlaw the teaching of CRT in their classrooms. However, those bills (with the exception of Idaho’s) do not explicitly mention the words “critical race theory.” Generalizing CRT is a slippery slope because it creates the risk of tying in topics that are regularly taught in K-12 curriculums.  

Sociologist Victor Ray noted on Twitter that “making laws outlawing critical race theory confirms the point that racism is embedded in the law.”

According to the Guardian, a school board in Johnston County, North Carolina unanimously approved a new policy in early October banning critical race theory from its classrooms. Under the updated policy, educators can be disciplined and/or fired if they teach CRT. CRT has been described by parents in the county as “anti-American” and “anti-white.”

The narrative that paints critical race theory as anti-white and anti-American is a sweeping exaggeration. Nowhere does CRT directly label white people personally or generally as racist.

While the debate surrounding CRT is much more prominent in southern states, it can be found close to home as well. The school board for Penncrest School District in Crawford County has recently been debating adopting a new policy that would prohibit “divisive and anti-American theories.”

Some community members are voicing their opposition to CRT in Penncrest Schools with yard signs that state, “No CRT in our schools.” These little red signs have been popping up all around Crawford as well as Erie Counties since CRT sparked the school board’s attention this past summer. The signs are posted on poles lining the street leading to Cambridge Springs Jr./Sr. High School and in front of many local homes and businesses throughout the area.  

According to Jeff Brooks, School Director on the Penncrest School Board, one faculty member’s request to present at the Pennsylvania Conference of Teachers of English Language Arts was denied in a 5-4 vote after another school board member claimed that topics to be discussed at the conference were “CRT in disguise.” The teacher is now facing “repercussions professionally and being called out publicly.”  

Brooks took to Facebook explaining that “if we never define CRT, then CRT is a boogeyman that can be used to push an agenda. We are setting the tone and the tone is racism, fear, ignorance, and excuse making. Our school board is hurting the community, the economy, and our students.”

Bullying and/or threatening educators to stray away from teaching American history correctly affects the quality of education our students receive. Instituting policies to prohibit teaching CRT and the facts of American history is an incredible step in the wrong direction. If history is being taught accurately and attentively, the viewpoint behind critical race theory is already implied. Contrary to what some might believe, you can neither deny nor ignore history. And more importantly, you can’t prohibit critical thinking.

Julia Carden is the music editor and social media director for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com

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