Critical Race Theory in Classrooms: Cultural revolution versus cultural revival
Today, Critical Race Theory began trending on twitter, indicating a firestorm over the role of CRT in the classroom.
The argument was sparked by a new rule approved by the Florida Board of Education that bans the use of critical race theory (CRT) in Florida public schools. This reinvigorated the debate about what CRT is, and whether or not it has a place in education.
To the left, CRT is at least a useful framework for understanding society and the racist structures that persist within it. Teaching CRT in schools will help students understand and address the systemic issues facing society. At most, integrating CRT in classroom instruction is necessary for changing the racist power dynamics in our country. The push by the right to ban CRT in schools is an outrageous attempt to indoctrinate children with white supremicist views.
Promoting critical race theory in education over the status quo of “patriotic” education is a tool for cultural revolution.
To the right, CRT is at least ideological content that is actually reinforcing racial stereotypes. At most, teaching CRT is indoctrinating young children to believe that all white people are evil. Our society’s progress towards equality is being dismissed as inconsequential, and the great history of our country is being erased and replaced with a narrative of hatred and racism.
Promoting patriotic education over critical race theory is a tool for cultural revival.
The purpose of education
The discussion about CRT boils down to disagreements over the purpose of education. Is education a tool for moving society forward, or a tool to preserve values and norms over time?
In other words: To some, education is a beacon in the library of history, bringing forth the knowledge and lessons of the past. To others, education is more like a vehicle of positive change, meant to learn from the sins of the past and bring forth a new generation of better people who are prepared to fix what needs fixing.
But both sides purport that their vision for education means students will be taught how to think, not what to think. But if education has a purpose beyond the repetition of cold, material facts, can either side’s perspective on education escape the accusation of indoctrination?
Indoctrination in education
Whether we believe schools are indoctrinating children often depends on whether we agree with what’s being taught. If you feel we should continue teaching through a patriotic lens, you’re not going to see that lens as indoctrination, but as truth. Likewise, if you feel we should teach through the lens of CRT, you’re not going to see that as indoctrination, but as truth.
It’s often said on both sides that the purpose of education is to teach children how to think for themselves. But there is no one universally acceptable account of society and history — reality is messy and complicated.
Similarly, people are not neutral interpreters. So even if you could present a completely neutral account of what happened in U.S. history, people would disagree about what that history means. And when teachers present information in classrooms, they must provide context to those events in order for students to make sense of it, inevitably framing the account in one way or another.
There is no pure history; a worldview implies a perspective, after all. And in the end, indoctrination is often just a loaded word to label a frame that does not align with our own.
Today there is a broad debate about where we are and where we ought to go. At one extreme, we’re in an archaic, oppressive society that necessitates a true cultural revolution. At the other extreme, we’re in the midst of losing our civilization, which necessitates a patriotic cultural revival.
This is up for debate. But at the very least, we can all hope to get somewhere better, together.
What do you think? Give us feedback by emailing email@example.com.
There are a lot of conflicting interpretations of CRT on both sides, which makes having any coherent conversation about it difficult, if not impossible.
Here is our attempt to define CRT in a non-partisan way:
CRT is an analytical paradigm (or lens) which applies race-conscious analysis to understand social power dynamics and inequalities. The central idea of CRT is that laws and systems are not inherently race-neutral, and for this reason, a color-blind approach to understanding social systems will not move society towards racial equality.
Here’s what others are saying:
Florida bans use of critical race theory, “1619 Project” in teaching history, Jeffrey Solochek in the Miami Herald
What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?, Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week
Banning Critical Race Theory, Daniel Henninger in The Wall Street Journal
What’s Critical Race Theory, anyway?, Host Jane Coaston and guest Ian Haney Lopez on The Weeds podcast by Vox
Targeting 'Critical Race Theory,' Republicans Rattle American Schools, Trip Gabriel and Dana Goldstein in The New York Times
And here is the Florida Board of Education’s stated purpose of the new rule: