For the last few years, critical race theory has become a common term in US media. Technical as the concept might be, many people use it without understanding what it really means which often results in a dangerous semantic confusion and a conceptual misinformation that can sometimes (depending on one’s agenda) amount to disinformation.
I have already discussed the meaning of critical race theory in a previous post here in Educational Technology and Mobile learning and have argued for its importance in raising students awareness to the different types of injustices created by the intersection of race and power.
Critical race theory is an explanatory model that shows how race intersects with various areas including sexual orientation, disability, gender, and class to create various forms of inequities and injustices.
Popularization of Critical Race Theory
The concept of critical race theory has been popularized by a number of anti-racist best sellers including How to Be a Racist and Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi, and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. The books have particularly taken the concepts from its narrow academic confines into the popular discursive repertoire.
Conservative politicians and their media outlets have also contributed to the meteoric thrust of CTR into American household talk. Leading politicians such as Trump and DeSantis have made it among their political priorities to ‘de-CTRize’ American public schools and public work places, often citing a wide range of fallacies and false pretexts along the way.
This raging anti-CTR campaign have started to bear fruits with several states enacting bills and laws that ban textbooks and curriculum materials that include what is deemed as CTR-inspired ideas related to race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identity, among others.
Indeed, critical race theory has become a divisive topic in the United States. As Ladson-Billings stated, critical race theory has become ‘heavily politicized in school communities and by legislators”. She further added that it “has been literally sucked of its meaning and has now become ‘anything I don’t like'”.
The problem with critical race theory, ladson-Billings argues, is that it has been lumped and used to refer to many things including multiculturalism, diversity, anti-racism, equity, and so forth. Conservatives use it as a catchall to attack any idea that runs counter to their political leanings.
CTR in Schools
There is no subject taught at K12 schools called CTR nor any curricular module with that name. CTR, as Ladson-Billings states, is a theoretical concept that is taught in college and graduate levels. Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), also confirmed that “critical race theory is not even taught in elementary schools”.
For CTR critics, teaching students about American history while highlighting the history of enslavement and discrimination endured by people of colour during the foundation of America is stoking hate and division.
Why banning CTR in schools?
As I mentioned previously, critical race theory is under attack in several states in America. The State of Florida under the governorship of Ron Desantis (Republican) is leading the war on critical race theory in its public schools.
Implicating issues of race and gender in public schools, according to DeSantis, is part of ‘woke indoctrination’ and his administration has already banned a number of math textbooks for citing “prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies’. His administration is currently reviewing content of social studies curriculum to see whether it complies with its mandates regarding race and gender or not.
In Florida, the choice of textbooks to be taught in class is a decision made by the State Department of Education and not local school districts. While school districts still have some discretion as to which textbooks to choose for their schools, the State periodically reviews (police) textbooks and provides a list of approved choices.
All curricular materials within the State have to comply with the requirements of the W.O.K.E. Act which is a law signed last year by DeSantis which “prohibits instruction that would compel students to feel responsibility, guilt or anguish for what other members of their race did in the past, among other limits.”
In other words, critical race theory is banned in Florida public schools because it could, as Dana Goldstein, puts it, “prompt students to feel discomfort about a historical event because of their race, sex or national origin.” To this Gloria Ladson-Billings responded:
Well great, but what were you guys in the 1950s and sixties when I was in school. Because I had to sit there in a mostly white classroom in Philadelphia and read Huckleberry Finn, with Mark Twain with a very liberal use of the n-word. And most of my classmates just snickering. I’d take it. I’d read it. It didn’t make me feel good. I had to read Robinson Crusoe. I had to read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. I had to read Heart Of Darkness.
Adjusting textbooks content
Given that school textbook publishing is a lucrative $4.8 billion business, publishers do all they can to get state approval including adjusting textbook content to align with the political perspectives of the ruling administration.
For instance, Studies Weekly, a publisher whose social studies textbooks are used in Florida elementary schools, had to revise a first grade lesson numerous times to make sure any mention of racism or segregation is deleted before submitting the final text to the state’s social studies review board. Here are the versions the social studies lesson Studies Weekly had to adjust as featured in the Washington Post:
“Rosa Parks showed courage. One day, she rode the bus. She was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin. She did not. She did what she believed was right.”
“Rosa Parks showed courage. One day, she rode the bus. She was told to move to a different seat. She did not. She did what she believed was right.”
It is worth noting here that DeSantis administration (and conservatives for that matter) is/are not only after critical race theory but also other concepts deemed by DeSantis as “extraneous to core academics” including concepts related to gender identity, sexual orientation, and social emotional learning.