Monday, June 21, 2021

Critical Race Theory

Time for a discussion. 

I had decided to research CRT (in this case, Critical Race Theory, but there is also Culturally Relevant Teaching) because of the tsunami of arguing, bill writing, etc. in the news. 

I am hoping to do this as a series of posts because there is a lot to cover. This first post - for those who would like to learn more - is made up of links to provide information, both pro and con. I do want to note that back in 2013-2014, SPS  had an issue with a teacher at The Center School, Jon Greenberg, who had been teaching about race and equity for a long time before one family objected. The SEA stood with Greenberg. 

What it seems to have come down to then, as in now, is teaching versus preaching. 

One of the best - and calmest - discussion is the wonderful historian, Heather Cox Richardson, and her podcast partner, Joanne Freeman, with their podcast, Now and Then. I think it worthy to give this a listen because both women come at the topic from a historian’s POV.

Here are two good articles on what critical race theory is:

- From Education Week

- From the American Bar Association, one of the best overviews. It’s important reading because CRT actually came from CLS, Critical Legal Study. 

CRT grew from Critical Legal Studies (CLS), which argued that the law was not objective or apolitical. CLS was a significant departure from earlier conceptions of the law (and other fields of scholarship) as objective, neutral, principled, and dissociated from social or political considerations.

 Their definition of CRT is a good one:

CRT is not a diversity and inclusion “training” but a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship. Crenshaw—who coined the term “CRT”—notes that CRT is not a noun, but a verb. It cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice. 
It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers. CRT also recognizes that race intersects with other identities, including sexuality, gender identity, and others. CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.

In the interest of fairness, here’s some links against CRT. I note that many states are rushing to pass bills to forbid its use (but it’s not a curriculum) and, in Missouri, one legislator said you can’t really define it because it means different things to different people. But he was fine with passing a law over a term he cannot define. 

- Prager U. Their main guy, James Lindsay, is actually a calm person which is refreshing from the red-in-the-face, “you can’t make my child learn this” types. He does call woke culture a “cult.”

- The Federalist. A lot of hyperventilating here. As well, the use of key conservative terms like “indoctrination” as well as this idea that school should not teach kids what to think but how to think. Well, if you serve them pablum as history, I’m thinking they don’t need to even think that much. 

- An advocacy group, No Left Turn in Education.

Unfortunately, all too often words such as diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, anti-racism, systemic racism, human rights education and health education concealed an aggressive, radical totalitarian ideology.

Most teachers have a hard enough time getting through all they must teach in a day to have time to plan the overthrow of the nation. I could be wrong.

Among their goals:

  • Restore parental function in public education and elevate the family as a core teaching unit of society.

I’d love to know what they mean by “parental function.”

  • Promote fact-based teaching.
Raise your hand if you are against this. 
  • Demand federal funds be withheld from educational institutions that engage in politicizing public schools and radical indoctrination.

I would say good luck with that. 

  • Restore American patriotism in the classroom, including presenting our nations as consistently forward-thinking in its elevation of individual liberty and democratizing traditional Liberalism.
  • Promote classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.
That’s a nice word salad there. I would like them to define “classical education,” “principles of moral character” and “civic virtue.” 

We can start from here but I will be posting another essay that gathers up more specifics. 


eub said...

A deep dive (six long articles) into CRT from a Christian perspective starts here:
I found this series quite educational on the context: how CRT connects historically to the 1960s and how it developed from there.

Also, both racism and anti-racism in the U.S. have had strong Christian ties, so that perspective is illuminating to this me as a non-believer.

Speak Freely said...

Americans are talking past each other and, depending on which group you are a member of or identify with, your view of CRT (or really anything) is very different from the views of the members of the other group.

The fractions within the Liberals is particularly interesting. Younger liberals are much more progressive than older liberals. The Clinton-Obama-Biden wing has its hands on the levers of power, but for how much longer?

The Boomers, I suspect, are not going to enjoy the far push to the left by the millennial/gen z progressives.

CRT is a battleground where the factions will fight. There will be no “winner.”

We are entering very interesting times. Will there be leaders that come forward and identify common threads through our fractious groups? That will be able to define America and Americans?

In many places it is not acceptable to hold CRT up to scrutiny. Nor do other groups allow criticism or critique of the American dream or the primacy of the right of individuals to pursue happiness.

I hope your blog can continue to be a place where light can shine.

I look forward to more discussion of CRT.

Discussions Needed said...

Individuals really need to take a deep dive into Critical Race Theory.
Critical Race Theory is very rigid. Individuals are cast into groups dependent upon their skin color. Individuals are considered either Oppressors or Oppressed; the concept of neutrality is challenged. There seems to be little to no regard for goodwill, individuals that have worked to promote racial justice, scholarship opporunities etc. One might consider the words proletariat and bourgeoise that were extensively used for a period of time.

Critical Race Theory claims systemic racism is entrenched in every system. Consideration of societal issues do not appear to fit into the equation.

Critical Theory should be studied in high school and done in a critical way. No one should blindly accept any theory as absolute truth.

Anonymous said...

@Discussions Needed

Agree, it’s a theory, a lens to apply. It is helpful for understanding power and historical wrongs, although there is often not an actionable item to move forward. It is sometimes self defeating, given the constraints of the system we are in. Example: Director Hampson thinks online school “fixed racism,” bc she can see migroaggressions happening on camera. Yeah, closing schools and putting everyone on cameras is obviously not the best outcome for anyone.

But banning ideas we deem dangerous is perhaps the greater evil here, how can we be champions of learning and critical thinking if there are no-fly zones? Not a fan of anti-CRT laws, although I do wonder if progressives will remember this ideal the next time a sexy conservative idea comes along that we want to outlaw.

Both Ways

Seattle Parent said...

It used to be that a person was either a “racist” or a “non-racist”. My understanding of Critical Race Theory is that you are either “racist” or “anti-racist”. In other words, if a person doesn’t act against racism, they are by definition racist.

These are not just hypothetical definitions. To a district staff member that believes in Critical Race Theory, a district staff member that simply wants to be “non-racist” now becomes “racist”, because non-racist is not an option. The record shows that at least one senior staff member bullied or otherwise harassed other district staff for not being anti-racist.

Anybody that wants to understand where this can potentially lead should search for “Evergreen State College Protests” where a “liberal” white professor objected to being “asked” to leave campus for a day as part of “anti-racism” protest. By refusing to take this anti-racism action, he was labeled as “racist” and eventually forced to resign. Ironically, four years since the protests, Evergreen’s attendance has dropped by half, even thought 97% of all applicants are admitted. So now there is an “anti-racist” college that virtually anyone can attend, but few want to attend.

How about we define something called “Critical Homelessness Theory” where a person or institution is either against homelessness and takes action such as hosting the homeless on their property (or institution’s property), or they by definition are for homelessness because they haven’t taken specific action. Or “Critical Environmentalist Theory”, where a person either rides a bike everywhere or is deemed an environment hater.

I believe racism is a serious issue that must be addressed, but my number one agenda item is raising my kids in the context of a world with many pressing agendas. I am in no way against the district taking action against racism, but I am very much against Critical Race Theory. Perhaps some SPS district staff also simply want to focus on teaching students in a non-racist way, not an anti-racist way, and perhaps I'm not the only parent that appreciates teachers that focus on teaching math, science, history, English, and the arts.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Speak Freely, good thoughts. We all need to listen instead of being entrenched.

Discussions Needed said...

One should note that Critical Race Theorists think that teachers should begin engaging in triggering conversations. There may be some activist teachers that they think they have the right to do so. Suffice it to say that teachers are teachers; they are not trained psychologists that have the ability to deal with triggering conversations etc.

Similarily, I have not seen pediatricians or child psychologists peer review CRT and the manner in which tenants should be taught to elementary school students.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Discussions Needed, I’ll go into what may happen in classrooms because that’s the point for many parents: what will my child hear in class?

Anonymous said...

I don't have concerns with Critical Theory. It was woven through some of my most interesting classes. It is a useful theoretical lens, there is no one perspective or history of "facts". It raises important questions in discussing power relations such as "who decides" and "why"? It can also help us understand why people behaved as they did in the past, before certain ideas emerged and became "thinkable" or concepts evolved. As one example the concept of a person's "culture". Culture as a concept did not exist in the past. Or childhood. Children worked because they were seen as miniature adults, they were held to the same standards. To be clear I have not studied "critical race theory". It sounds like it is along the same lines. If it incorporates intersectionality of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, history etc. the theory as such would not lump people into binary groups of oppressors and oppressed. It would teach people have a variety of individual advantages & disadvantages some visible, while others much less visible and understood. These advantages or disadvantages may even be invisible to the people themselves. It would not assume 2021 understandings of race is a static category either. Understanding history and people's diverse ancestral histories in relation would be illuminating. How this theory may be understood or taught in the classroom may be very different.


Anonymous said...

Great resources Melissa. The Education Week article & the podcast with historians. I listened to half of it and plan to continue listening. Some of my university classes ( a long time ago) as a social science major, were informed by Critical Theory & a Postmodernist lens. They were interdisciplinary informed by historians, philosophers etc. Critical Theory has been around a very long time. Critical Race Theory has ties to the lens of Critical Theory (used throughout the humanities & social sciences), as the Education Week article & historians in the podcast mentioned. But as you mentioned most closely comes out of a framework used within legal analysis. CRT is concerned with systems, not individuals. From the Education Week article" The theory says that racism is part of everyday life, so people—white or nonwhite—who don’t intend to be racist can nevertheless make choices that fuel racism." I read recently work by an African American scholar who made this point and why it's not simply a matter of replacing white officers with more black officers. Why majority African American police departments, such as Baltimore, have been plagued by the same inherent racial and also class biases by black and other non-white officers, as white, in policing. Regarding the larger debate, it seems there is a raging debate of what CRT is exactly. The scholars in the article & podcast feel it is being blamed for alot more then it should be. Historians in the podcast are frustrated in relation to the recent legislation meant to limit what teachers teach and debates currently raging surrounding how history should be taught. For a very long time since the 1940's history has not been defined as facts to be memorized. A long time ago history was recorded in the US as moral lessons. Later on history over time has become more concerned with objectivity. It is commonly accepted throughout the social sciences, humanities etc. we are all affected by our relative positionality and various biases. Not just racial, but gender, class, where we live, when we live etc. I could go on as biases are many. This includes for example being alive in the US in 2021 as opposed to 1921. Bottom line is it's a theory and another lens. Legislation limiting and defining what teachers can teach is concerning. Especially where there seems to be a lack of understanding. In academia, within the traditional value system, academic debates have been encouraged. This includes debating and critiquing CRT.