By Jelytza Padro
In the past year you may have heard the term “Critical Race Theory” in relation to K-12 education. Politicians and school boards have been throwing this buzzword word about in the past year under the farce that it will teach kids that they will hate America or themselves. State and district education committees have been working non-stop the past year to quickly change their curriculums to exclude any mention of race.
I spent four years studying Critical Race Theory and in 2015 I graduated with a degree in African Diaspora Studies. I have spent numerous hours debating and researching Critical Race Theory under some of the best academics and authors on race. Here’s the honest truth: K-12 educators have never taught children Critical Race Theory.
What Critical Race Theory is:
Critical Race Theory is a domain of study and ideology that race is a social construct that has created laws, societal norms, and institutions that still have everyday effects, from the way we treat each other in society, all the way up to laws and bills that are passed.
A person who studies Critical Race Theory may study the movement of people and the effects of that movement on culture, like I did when studying Diaspora Studies, (diaspora meaning the movement of a group of people). As a scholar studying the African Diaspora and its contribution to North American, Caribbean, and South American cultures I spent a year executing anthropological studies in the Bahamas, Virgin Islands, and the Gullah-Geechee Nation of South Carolina. My final undergraduate project consisted of scholarly reviewed arguments in favor of the increase of Black Studies in United States universities.
Critical Race Theorists may specifically study the laws and legal institutions that still favor one racial group over the other. Critical Race Theory is an in-depth look at history; in America specifically, we look at the treatment of the indigenous people of North America, slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and the contemporary public murder of Black and Brown men and women at the hands of police officers. The purpose of Critical Race Theory is to get down to the very core of how the social concept of race has affected people. One topic or one moment of time in history may take an academic years of research to completely decipher under a Critical Race lens.
What Critical Race Theory is not:
Critical Race Theory is not a school hosting a diversity training for teachers and staff. Nor is it a teacher educating their class on the enslavement of Africans that were brought to the United States as chattel. Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement also do not fall under CRT. A shallow acknowledgment that systemically racist institutions still exist in today’s society is not CRT. Teaching children that the Europeans came to the Americas and mistreated the Indigenous people who cultivated and lived on this land prior to colonization is also not CRT.
Each one of these subjects, while taught in public schools, do not even scratch the surface of the institutions and underlying causes of race’s impact and its importance as a field of study. At most, a student gets a week or two of education on the topic, and maybe in the higher grades a semester is dedicated to subjects of race. Some teachers still plan units dependent on Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, etc. but these lessons are also not part of Critical Race Theory and in some cases are inauthentic. Most importantly, Critical Race Theory is definitely not about making children feel bad about themselves due to their ancestors being oppressed or oppressors.
Teaching history from a non-Eurocentric point of view is not Critical Race Theory. Teaching your child about the successes of People of the Global Majority as well as seeing an honest depiction of colonization and slavery is not Critical Race Theory–it’s teachers doing their jobs. Stripping children of this history will not create a future copacetic world; if anything, erasing all conversations of race in the classroom will create future generations without the ability to acknowledge and empathize with differences among their peers.
The term Critical Race Theory does not encompass every conversation on race that happens in the classroom. Conversations about race will continue to take place in school, whether it’s two students sharing their experiences at the lunch table or whether it’s a teacher conducting a classroom discussion. Critical Race Theory as a topic of study in public school education is to be determined or “TBD” as the kids would say.