I keep coming across discussions of critical race theory in our community. Our one black candidate for local office (outside of election boards) this year was pointedly asked about it on social media in the run up to the election. Last week the NAACP had a great presentation on critical race theory by Dr. Harrell-Levy, but I haven’t found any public copy of the presentation yet.
To start on this discussion, its clear those bringing up critical race theory have little understanding of what critical theory is. Critical theory is an analytical technique used primarily in post-graduate education and research. It is equally absurd to demand our schools stop teaching quantum electrodynamics. Of course they aren’t teaching quantum electrodynamics – most children do not have the preparation in calculus, relativity, or electromagnetism to pursue such studies, and no teacher is going to try to cover quantum electrodynamics at a high school level. The same argument is true of critical theory.
So if this is not really about critical race theory, what is this about? As a recent poll shows, calls to ban critical race theory are cover for opposing teaching about racism,
Schools almost universally aren’t teaching critical race theory but, instead, have often (though, again, not universally) increased the attention paid to how historic racism still has effects in American society.
The Post-ABC poll asked specifically about that: How much should those lingering effects be taught? More than two-thirds of adults said they should be taught a “great deal” or a “good amount” — but most Republicans thought it should be taught “not so much” or “not at all.”
Calls to ban critical race theory are really calls to stop an honest reckoning with America’s past and avoid difficult conversations about the shadow it casts on the present. The debate here is between conservatives that want to teach a mythology that glosses over the darker parts of American history vs. everyone else that want the more complex truth introduced to students. While most Americans think it is important to teach history so children are prepared to understand the historical context of today’s issues, there is a loud, vocal Republican minority that seeks to purge parts of our nation’s history from its textbooks.
So far, the majority has not taken this attempt to whitewash history seriously enough, as low turnout in this year’s school board elections shows. As Orwell wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”