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Critical Race Theory (CRT): What it is - and what it is not

In recent years, CRT has become a point of contention for school board meetings despite the fact that it has existed for over forty years when legal scholars like Derrick Bell and Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term. In short, it is an academic concept that analyzes how racism can go beyond individual prejudice and be embedded within legal systems and policies. It is studied at the collegiate and law school levels. In other words, CRT is not being taught in K-12 classrooms, not in the CFSD district nor districts nationwide.

This decades-old subject of higher education is now finding itself thrust into heated debates around K-12 public education just in the past couple of years. A New York Times article published this August featured teachers discussing what they do actually teach and the effects of these new CRT concerns, such as dozens of state legislatures proposing bills to restrict what they can say regarding complicated issues like race, gender, and inequality. The article also said many teachers were surprised to find themselves suddenly under attack with accusations of teaching CRT when they often did not even know what it was.

On a recent NPR’s Morning Edition CRT’s entrance into primary and secondary public education discourse was attributed to a backlash following the “racial reckoning” of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. A Washington Post article agreed that the progress made in 2020 to address racism caused a reactive response that villainized CRT and anything resembling those efforts. CRT became a weaponized term that with politicalization has drastically evolved to mean other things than its original true definition.

This is also the case with DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). The backlash turned these inherently positive concepts (related to embracing differences, fairness, and welcome) and twisted them into supposed indoctrination, making children feel guilty, or blaming them for being in the majority. None of those words mean those things.

Here's an example. If my neighbor’s house gets criminalized, I would not mind learning about it. In fact, I might want to know so that I can be on the lookout for any suspicious activity. Other neighbors who learn about it could offer support to the victimized neighbor, or tips on how to prevent it, or information that could help catch the culprit. Being made aware and taking steps to keep the neighborhood safe would be good for the whole community. It would not make sense for me, a fellow neighbor in the same subdivision who did not get harmed, to feel blamed or guilty or forced to look at crime just because this neighbor shared their experience. The only one who should feel threatened by this information is the culprit or others who are in favor of neighborhood vandalism.

Rather than abandon these concepts, we can more truthfully honor Dr. King and his desire for children to be judged by their character and not the color of their skin by not demonizing diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are the very things he fought for his entire life. None of those negative fears are actually taking place in CFSD classrooms. As always, teachers and classrooms across the district are not telling their students what to think but providing avenues for how to think critically on their own while presenting historical truths and opportunities to engage in considering a wide breadth of ideas and perspectives. And this is how we will truly achieve our district’s mission of creating a caring and collaborative learning community that will ensure each child achieves intellectual and personal excellence.

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