Critical race theory has been debated at great length this year, specifically in regards to teaching it K-12 schools. According to Education Week, there are currently 26 states where lawmakers are attempting to ban and limit the teaching of critical race theory.
According to Britannica, CRT is defined as an intellectual movement and framework for legal analysis based on the premise that race as a biological feature is also a socially constructed category that oppresses and exploits people of color.
CRT originally emerged as a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s. Critical race theorists believe the law and legal systems in the United States are inherently racist and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between the different races.
“In my opinion, critical race theory is an opportunity ... for a curriculum to be able to be shared with students that [takes] take a deep look into not just the current curriculum that they present, as far as what history is, but how racism was created and how it impacts our system on a policy,” said President and Co-Founder of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement Mokah-Jasmine Johnson.
The controversy surrounding CRT emerged following calls for diversity in school curriculums. Scholars who study CRT in education noticed how policies in K-12 education contribute to racial inequalities. Some of the topics they have studied are: racially segregated schools, disproportionate disciplining, curricula that reinforced racist ideas and more.
Critical race theory, however, is not the same as teaching culturally relevant material, which came about in the 1990s. Culturally relevant material seeks to affirm students’ racial and ethnic identities and identify and critique social inequities through classroom curricula. Many educators support culturally relevant teaching, but they do not identify these teachings as being related to CRT.
In recent months, members of the Georgia Board of Education voted 11-2 to pass a resolution looking to ban the teaching of race. This occurred after Gov. Brian Kemp wrote a letter encouraging the board to keep CRT out of Georgia’s curriculum.
“I applaud the members of the State Board of Education for making it clear this dangerous, anti-American ideology has no place in Georgia classrooms,” Kemp said. “With their vote today, state school board members have ensured education in the Peach State will reflect the freedom, equality and God-given potential of each individual.”
Georgia, including Athens-Clarke County, has a long history of racism. Some say this vote against the teaching of race is perpetuating the long history of using government and the law to codify racism.
According to the Athens-Clarke County School District Program of Studies for the 2019-2020 school year, the standard for American Government/Civics is, “The government course provides students with a background in the philosophy, functions, and structure of the United States government. Students examine the philosophical foundations of the United States government and how that philosophy developed. Students also examine the structure and function of the United States government and its relationship to states and citizens.”
According to the Georgia Standards of Excellence in K-12 schools, in Kindergarten, students begin to understand the foundation of the social studies strands: history, geography, government and economics.
For students in high school taking US History, they should be provided with a survey of major events and themes in US history. This course begins with English settlements and concludes with developments from the early 21st century.
According to local Clarke County School District parent Paula Frances Price, the argument of critical race theory being taught in schools is becoming political.
“We are politicizing schools so that people can win elections. The reality is that our school teachers, our educators, are teaching age-appropriate history,” Price said. “What they’re trying to do is address the fact that our world is getting more diverse.”
Many argue that what is being taught in schools is not actually critical race theory but simply broadening curricula to include more diverse perspectives. Many also say that critical race theory should be taught and it is greatly beneficial.
“People need to study their history on a grand scale. That is our greatest call, and this is what critical race theory will do,” Johnson said. “If [critical race theory] is able to be presented in the classroom, it will bring some balance around what has happened in American historically around racism.”
Conservatives across the country present critical race theory differently, saying it accuses people, not institutions, of inherent racism, and lawmakers are continuing to make moves against teaching it in schools.
However, more than 5,000 teachers have signed a pledge in protest at the Zinn Education Project, vowing to teach their students the concepts of critical race theory, even where it is banned.
“Critical race theory is being used to stop the teaching of history that could honor and empower people of color,” Price said. “... history is complex and beautiful and diverse, and it empowers us and we know it. So the fact that we’ve got this ladder that could hurt people of color in an ever growing and diverse world, I think is going to mostly hurt white students.”