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Critical race theory: What is it and why is everyone arguing about it? (and about The 1619 Project)

Updated 4-22-22

Debates about critical race theory are coming to your district, board room, and classroom. Here's what you need to understand about CRT and the chilling effect of legislation not to teach about divisive concepts such as race and gender and sexual orientation. Needless to say, the topic has become highly politicized. One component of the discussion: The 1619 Project.


What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack? (Stephen Sawchuk, Equity & Diversity Explainer, Education Week, 5-18-21) "The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others. A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas." In other words, racism is imbedded in our institutions.
So Much Buzz, But What is Critical Race Theory? (Associated Press, NBC, 8-30-21) An excellent "Explainer." Former President Donald Trump has railed against it. Republicans in the U.S. Senate introduced a resolution condemning any requirement for teachers to be trained in it. And several Republican-controlled states, including Texas, have invoked it in legislation restricting how race can be taught in public schools. The concept known as critical race theory is the new lightning rod of the GOP. But what exactly is it?
     "Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. Scholars developed it during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what they viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

      "It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
      "The architects of the theory argue that the United States was founded on the theft of land and labor and that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race. Proponents also believe race is culturally invented, not biological."

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Florida rejects math books with ‘references’ to critical race theory (Valerie Strauss and Lindsey Bever, WaPo, 4-16-22) "In its latest attempt to be the nation’s leader in restricting what happens in public school classrooms, Florida said it has rejected a pile of math textbooks submitted by publishers in part because they “contained prohibited subjects,” including critical race theory.... "Critical race theory is an academic concept centered around the idea that racism is not simply individual prejudice but it is systemic, woven into our legal systems. One example of this is when government officials in the 1930s deemed certain areas — often inhabited by Black people — as bad financial investments, making it hard for them to get mortgage loans and buy their own homes, according to Education Week.


Why are states banning critical race theory? (Rashawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons, Brookings, 7-2-21) "Critical race theory (CRT) has become a new boogie man for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present. CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people. Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race."
What Does Critical Race Theory Have to Do with Early Childhood Education? (Barbara Kaiser and Judy Sklar Rasminsky, Children with Challenging Behavior, 1-3-22) "This notion of systemic, structural racism displeases many conservatives, from Tucker Carlson to former President Trump to parents fed up with the pandemic and angry at having their children out of school. Although CRT remains an academic subject taught almost exclusively in higher education, they have misinterpreted it and turned it into a catchall phrase for any initiative that advocates improving outcomes for children of color in elementary, middle, and high schools." Early childhood educators aren’t teaching CRT or discussing structural racism, and it isn’t clear when it would be appropriate to introduce these issues. At what age can children grasp them?...Early childhood educators can make a difference when they encourage children to recognize everyone’s strengths; when they teach them to empathize, to be kind, to be caring, and to acknowledge and believe that everyone has rights and everyone can make a contribution to society."

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UMass Panel To Explore “Telling The Truth About History” (Amherst Indy, 4-1-22) "For not the first time in U.S. history, the content of public school curricula is being challenged across the country. Since January 2021, 41 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict the teaching or discussion of “divisive concepts,” such as racism, sexism, critical race theory, and the 1619 Project. A Tennessee school board recently banned teaching the Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust novel Maus. And at least 16 states are considering “don’t say gay” laws, which restrict discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"This panel of scholars, political leaders, and teachers will address the ongoing national assault against teaching accurate and evidence-based history at the K-12 level, and increasingly, at the community college and university levels. Panelists will consider the history of public school educational disputes around race, sex and sexuality and the impact these educational gag orders have, not just on the teaching of history, but most importantly on our democratic system of government and the meaning of equality in the United States."

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The law that prompted a school administrator to call for an “opposing” perspective on the Holocaust is causing confusion across Texas (Brian Lopez, Texas Tribune, 10-15-21) Lawmakers say schools are misinterpreting a new measure designed to keep critical race theory out of public schools. “The point of public education is to introduce the world to students. It’s not there to protect students from the world.” ~ Paul Tapp, attorney with the Association of Texas Professional Educators
Joint Statement on Legislative Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism and American History (PEN America, 6-16-21) "We, the undersigned associations and organizations, state our firm opposition to a spate of legislative proposals being introduced across the country that target academic lessons, presentations, and discussions of racism and related issues in American history in schools, colleges, and universities. These efforts have taken varied shape in at least 20 states, but often the legislation aims to prohibit or impede the teaching and education of students concerning what are termed “divisive concepts.” These divisive concepts as defined in numerous bills are a litany of vague and indefinite buzzwords and phrases including, for example, “that any individual should feel or be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological or emotional distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.” These legislative efforts are deeply troubling for numerous reasons."
Critical Race Theory (1970s-present) (Purdue Online Writing Lab, Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism) Helpful for students and teachers.

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Lesson of the Day: ‘Critical Race Theory: A Brief History’ (Jeremy Engle, The Learning Network, New York Times, 9-20-21) Culture wars over critical race theory have turned school boards into battlegrounds, and in higher education, the term has been tangled up in tenure battles. Dozens of United States senators have branded it “activist indoctrination.” In this lesson, students will look at the spread across the country of legislation opposed to critical race theory. Then they will consider the impact of these bills on their own schools and learning.
Attorney General Hunter to U.S. Department of Education: Keep Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project Out of Education Priorities (Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General). 'In the proposed rule, the Department of Education embraces the much-criticized “1619 Project,” which argued that U.S. history should be defined by our worst moments, as well as critical race theory scholar Ibram X. Kendi, who advocates for a form of racial discrimination euphemistically called “anti-racism.”  The comments, filed by Attorney General Hunter and 19 other state attorneys general, call the teachings of the “1619 Project” and Mr. Kendi deeply flawed and controversial.
What is Critical Race Theory and is it taught in North Carolina? Answers to common questions. (T. Keung Hui and Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, News & Observer, 9-28-21) A series on a school board battle. Republicans in North Carolina and nationally, including former President Donald Trump, have called for a ban on what they call “toxic Critical Race Theory” in schools. Many schools say they are not using Critical Race Theory but are trying to make lessons more relevant to an increasingly non-white student enrollment.
What Is Critical Race Theory and Why Are People So Upset About It? (Lauren Camera, US News, 6-1-21) Most Americans are not familiar with the term critical race theory, but that hasn’t stopped some from getting upset about attempts to reckon with the sprawling repercussions of slavery.

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Critical race theory (Wikipedia) and The 1619 Project are particularly helpful Wikipedia entries, which explain and link to many facets of both topics, liberal, conservative, and objective.
The New York Times’s 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history (World Socialist Web Site, 9-6-19) A long piece, presenting an opposing viewpoint: "The 1619 Project is one component of a deliberate effort to inject racial politics into the heart of the 2020 elections and foment divisions among the working class. The Democrats think it will be beneficial to shift their focus for the time being from the reactionary, militarist anti-Russia campaign to equally reactionary racial politics."

Laugh at the outrage over ‘sexy seahorses’ – but there’s nothing funny about conservatives trying to rewrite history (Arwa Mahdawi, The Guardian, 9-25-21) The rightwing playbook: outrage, leading to the passage of deliberately vague laws and advocacy groups diligently weaponizing those laws. The Moms for Liberty have been methodical: they’ve sent the Tennessee department of education a detailed spreadsheet outlining their complaints about the books being foisted on their children. A book about Galileo is “anti-church.” Over the past year, US conservatives have become obsessed with “critical race theory” (CRT). "None of the people raving about CRT are actually able to explain what the academic concept means; to them it just means anything that is less than complimentary about white people."

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