No, Critical Race Theory Isn't 'Anti-American'Roundup
tags: critical race theory, 1776 commission
David E. DeMatthews is an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously, he was a high school history and government teacher and a middle school administrator. Terri N. Watson is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership and Human Development at the City College of New York. She is also a distinguished visiting scholar at the University at Buffalo's Center for Diversity Innovation for the 2020-21 academic year.
President Donald Trump has ordered all federal agencies to immediately stop funding any training that “teaches or suggests” that the United States is a racist country, and he explicitly called out critical race theory as “anti-American propaganda.” In addition, he has called for the formation of the “1776 Commission” and a “National Commission to Promote Patriotic Education” to encourage educators to “teach our children about the miracle of American history.” The Trump administration is clearly ignoring the nation’s history and how critical race theory can be used to address racial injustice.
While the policy to eliminate critical race theory does not directly include public schools, it does include the U.S. Department of Education, which in turn monitors state, district, and school compliance with civil rights mandates. Trump has also attacked the Pulitzer-Prizewinning New York Times “1619 Project” and has threatened to withhold federal funding for public schools that incorporate it into their curriculum. Thus, schools—which can be the first place many students will personally experience racism—may be affected by these misguided policy changes.
Critical race theory, which presupposes that racism is embedded within society and institutions, is not propaganda or anti-American; it is a toolkit for examining and addressing racism and other forms of marginalization. Rather than rejecting this toolkit, the Department of Education should ensure principals and teachers learn how it can be applied to address long-standing educational inequities.
The Trump administration would benefit from learning about the origins of critical race theory and its application. Derrick Bell was a Harvard Law School professor who wrote about how hard-fought battles of the civil rights movement were rolled back as racism evolved to maintain segregated schools. Bell used critical race theory to explain why desegregation was curbed over time, which clarifies why most children still attend racially segregated schools—almost 70 years after Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation. Scholars Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, and Jean Stefancic continued to use critical race theory to examine racial injustice in the criminal-justice system and in schools.
The Trump administration’s policies ignore the persistence of racial segregation in schools as well as disparities in educational opportunities and funding between majority-Black and majority-white schools. Moreover, BIPOC—Black, Indigenous, and people of color—students are disproportionately suspended and funneled into special education programs. Clearly, race does matter in the schools.
The majority of principals and teachers are white (even as their students are not), which means many are unable to fully perceive how racism operates without specific training. BIPOC educators can also benefit from applying critical race theory to the institutions in which they operate.
Education scholars Gloria Ladson-Billings, William Tate, and others have noted that critical race theory calls upon principals and teachers to examine how history, politics, culture, and economics inform our understanding of race, racism, and other forms of marginalization.
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