By Ken White / Herald Froum
No one is teaching critical race theory in K-12 schools.
But they should.
Critical race theory or CRT has become one of the most vehement cultural war issues for Republicans across the nation, front and center on Fox News and in GOP fundraising schemes. Echoing tactics of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare of the 1950s, Republican extremists vilify CRT as communist ideology “creeping into every aspect of American life.”
Radical nonsense aside, CRT is an academic discipline of the civil rights movement, limited to higher education, and a descriptive analysis of the role race plays in American history and law.
The aim of CRT is not to judge the American people or the United States as inherently racist but to understand how racism is a product of political and economic decisions. It sees “racist” as describing individuals, but “racism” as representing a collective system that persists despite the beliefs of individuals.
In other words, advocates of CRT do not attack white people; but study the convergence of past racial institutions with present societal systems. They document links between institutions like slavery that were counter-productive to democracy with contemporary discriminatory policies that prolong contradictions with democratic ideals like equal treatment under the law.
For example, according to Brookings Institution research, homes in Black-majority neighborhoods are underpriced by $156 billion across the nation. The figure comes from controlling for common reasons about lower house values in Black communities, such as lower quality schools and higher crime rates.
A CRT scholar uses such research to suggest connections between historical racial bias and present processes like home appraisals, lending practices, zoning and real estate agent behaviors that put a drag on Black home values. As a filter or one-way of making sense of American systems, the CRT lens reveals what other perspectives conceal.
Fundamentally, CRT “thinking” simply adds another tool to the intellectual toolbox. It represents the understanding that perception and meaning-making are — to a much greater extent than previously imagined — functions of cultural beliefs. Humans view the world through ethnic, racial and societal “glasses” or metaphors that help them create a meaningful picture.
Consequently, CRT thinking should be taught in K-12 education because its perspective offers students a colorful mosaic of the nation and the world. It enables learners to move beyond black-and-white thinking and see American history from varied perspectives; showing the value of changing or “mutating” metaphors in order to think from different angles.
Of course, there are people who argue that we should stick to one perspective or metaphor in public schools, whether it be some form of “Euro-centrism,” “anti-communism,” “White Man’s Burden,” or Manifest Destiny.” Unfortunately, they often confuse a privileged metaphor with truth, and ignore disturbing facts and contradictions.
CRT thinking deserves a place at the multicultural learning table in K-12 education. As a teacher for more than 40 years, I know Euro-centrism and American exceptionalism have long held comfortable seating in public education. But do they tell a comprehensive story of a pluralistic America? Do they help make sense of diverse historical and political experiences?
If America wants its K-12 students, teachers and all citizens to be better prepared to think through the challenges of democracy, critical race theory should be part — not the whole — of the public school system, and help recognize the plurality at the heart of American democracy.
Ken W. White lives in Marysville.