Should Critical Race Theory be taught in K-12 education?
In August 2019, the New York Times Magazine launched an initiative to openly discuss the history of slavery in the U.S. and provided lesson plans for how to teach it in schools. This triggered backlash in American society in the form of a debate centered around whether Critical Race Theory should be taught in K-12 schools.
Rise of the Issue
Since the 1619 Project was launched, the United States has been embroiled in a controversy about Critical Race Theory (CRT), a theory that views racism to be ingrained in the very structure of the American system, its history and its institutions.
Originally only a theory taught in universities, popular and political discourse have since conflated this academic racial theory with the broader idea of raising awareness around racism.
So much so, that the idea emerged that CRT was actively being taught in K-12 schools and a raging debate ensued about whether this theory has its place in K-12 education.
The debate about whether CRT should be taught in schools revolves around a few micro-issues: what teaching CRT in school actually means, whether or not the legacy of slavery should be taught in schools, whether talking about racism unites or divides students, and whether or not racism should be fought in schools.
Derrick Bell Writes about Law and Race
Bell, considered one of the founders of CRT, greatly contributed to the study of racial reform in the United States during the 1970s.
The 1619 Project
A project by The New York Times Magazine initiated a conversation around the legacy of slavery and its consequences on racism and racial inequality in contemporary U.S. society with articles and a curriculum to be taught in K-12 schools.
The 1619 Project Is Used In Schools
The Pulitzer Center, an educational organization which partnered with the 1619 Project, releases a report that shows that the curriculum has since been used in different schools.
Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping
President Donald Trump issued an executive order that condemns any form of “offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.”
State Anti-CRT Bills
Idaho was the first State to pass an anti-CRT bill on April, 28, 2021, while other States have since passed similar bills.
The Contents of CRT Teachings
Those against CRT being taught in schools believe that what is being taught is a complex legal theory on racism that doesn’t have its place in K-12 education. Those in favor see it as an inclusive approach to the study of American history and society that uses race as one of the lenses through which these topics are taught.
The Legacy of Slavery
The proponents of teaching the history of slavery in schools think that the heritage of slavery is a part of American history and should therefore be a part of the history curriculum. Opponents however feel that teaching such material would tarnish the way the U.S. and its legacy are seen.
Those in favor of such an antiracist curriculum believe that discussing systemic racism helps bridge different people and perspectives together, while those against think CRT to be promoting divisiveness among children.
Those in favor of an antiracist curriculum believe education plays a central role in the fight against racism, while its detractors think the fight against racism has to be led at the individual level.
Schools have the power to perpetuate or eliminate racism.
This view assumes that it is because the system was built on racial inequality that racism is still rampant today in American society. Education being one part of that system, they think schools have an important role to play in combating racism.
Slavery is an important part of American history.
By not talking about the legacy of slavery, schools are contributing to the erasure of black people and their experience from the general history and identity of the American people.
Openly talking about racism encourages the nation’s healing.
It is only by addressing and discussing such complicated and loaded issues such as racism that the nation as a whole can heal from that complicated history and move forward in a more inclusive direction in the future.
Children are capable of seeing beyond divisive cultural norms.
Learning about racism in school is not too soon. Children and teens have a capacity to see beyond the values and cultural biases that they have grown up with.
It is not CRT but antiracism that is taught in schools.
CRT is only one theory that exists which explains racism among others. Just because CRT is not adapted for K-12 classrooms does not mean that building awareness around racism should not be done in school.
School is not the right place for the fight against racism.
In this view, racism is a problem that revolves around individuals who commit misconduct, not the product of a racially-biased system. It should therefore be fought by individuals, not by institutions like schools.
Slavery is a dark moment in U.S. history that should stay in the past.
While slavery is an important aspect of U.S. history, it is also a painful one, that it is best to leave in the past.
Openly talking about racism can spur difficult conversations.
Having students discuss racism at school inevitably puts them at risk of having difficult conversations and being faced with different representations of race and racism that might trigger more divisiveness than healing.
White students might experience backlash from antiracism.
Talking about such complicated issues might create conflicts between students and result in white children and teens being targeted for a past they have nothing to do with.
The teaching of CRT is inappropriate in a K-12 educational setting.
Critical Race Theory as the academic theory explaining systemic racism is far too complex to be taught in schools, and if not well-understood and explained could lead to misrepresentations about race and racism.