Of Course CRT is in Schools

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Masters of linguistic evasion and rhetorical obfuscation, the social justice left too often outwits us detractors on the linguistic battlefield of ideas. We waste time quagmired in futile debates over what this or that means. There’s an opportunity cost here. This intellectual subterfuge allows them to avoid direct engagement on the substance of ideas to instead quibble over definitions. The recent battle over Critical Race Theory has been no exception. Its defenders evade defining it to instead engage in sophistry over its existence and application in education. 

In recent months, I’ve engaged in many conversations—it’s generous to call them that—about this topic both in-person and online. They typically involve me asserting Critical Race Theory’s existence in education followed by a staunch denial of this fact. However, what is curious is that when I ask colleagues to define Critical Race Theory, they say it is simply the teaching of “true history.” In response, I ask them if they teach a fictitious version of history, which usually puts me on the receiving end of an irate rant accusing me of not knowing what Critical Race Theory is and attempting to “whitewash” history. 

This response is illustrative of two facts: the first is that many teachers themselves are ignorant of Critical Race Theory. The second is a degree of tacit acknowledgment that Critical Race Theory exists in education while avoiding using what’s become a politically poisonous label.

Before defining Critical Race Theory, one must understand its presuppositions and the distinction between them and the theory they underlie. Critical Race Theory rests upon two presuppositions: the first is that racism in America is not aberrational but normative, and the second that America’s social, legal, and political institutions are inherently racist as a consequence of our admittedly dark racial past. In other words, racism permeates our modern socio-political fabric.

Critical Race Theory is the practice of interrogating race and racism in American institutions and society using the aforementioned presuppositions. It is not a theory so much as an analytic lens for understanding the racial disparities in our country and an activist imperative for action. Unlike social science theories constructed on empirical evidence, Critical Race Theory uses a new epistemology in which truth is subjectively determined by “lived experiences” rather than what can be impartially observed, quantified, or falsified. It is an activist tool masquerading as a theory of social science.

Critical Race Theory does not exist to test claims or assess their validity but to bolster its presuppositions. In other words, Critical Race Theory is not interested in proving that racism is an everyday occurrence and all-encompassing phenomenon, but in discovering where and how it manifests and how to deconstruct it and shift the power balance. As Richard Delgado, the co-founder, said in 2017, “(Critical Race Theory is) a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.”

And what of the claim that Critical Race Theory does not exist outside of graduate-level legal studies by the function of design? While it is true that Critical Race Theory was originally a practice and lens applied to the law, people that adhere to this originalist definition are either dishonest or ignorant. In reality, Critical Race Theory has since been expanded to analyze and interrogate race and racism outside of the law. Consider, for example, the words of co-founder Richard Delgado: “We didn’t set out to colonize, but found a natural affinity in education…  Critical Race Theory is in some ways livelier in education right now than it is in law.” 

So, let us please once and for all put to rest the idea that Critical Race Theory cannot exist outside of graduate-level legal studies. A framework designed to interrogate race and racism is unlikely to limit itself only to the law. Recent discourse concerning institutional racism in public education is evidence that Critical Race Theory has expanded in scope.

Let us be honest and instead debate whether Critical Race Theory is manifest in schools today and to what degree.

Now, if you are expecting to find Critical Race Theory to be listed in school district training manuals or curriculum maps, you’re going to be disappointed. It does not exist in education as a course of student studies but as praxis, ideas in action. Think of Critical Race Theory like the scientific method. The study and training of the scientific method take place in institutions of higher learning and are applied in professional practice. That your doctor does not mention it during his work does not mean it is not embedded in his approach. It is entirely possible, even likely, that the scientific method is seldom named or discussed as a topic of conversation in most medical practices. Would anyone use that as evidence that the scientific method does not exist in medicine? Of course not; that would be preposterous. Similarly, we look for applicational evidence of Critical Race Theory in Education.

We can identify its praxis in education by analyzing educational dialogues, policies, training, pedagogies, and curriculums. We should assume the incorporation of the presuppositions of Critical Race Theory or racially interrogative practices as evidence of its manifestation in education. The proceeding list is not intended to be exhaustive or definitive but rather a guide to identifying clues that warrant a more thorough investigation. Critical Race Theory praxis in education may involve:

  1. Administrators, teachers, and consultants claim that the school is systemically racist or those specific district policies or teacher practices are oppressive.
  2. Institutional racial analyses of disparate academic or behavioral outcomes presupposing bias without a rigorous method of inquiry.
  3. Dialogues, policies, and staff training centered on interrogating race and power in the school district.
  4. Curriculums or lesson plans built upon the presuppositions of Critical Race Theory or incorporating racially interrogative analyses.
  5. Pedagogies and disciplinary theories are constructed through a racially analytic lens, precisely one that interrogates racial power dynamics in the classroom (see Culturally Relevant Pedagogy).
  6. Activist language centered around dismantling institutional bias and oppression in education.

I encourage readers to use this list as a lens to analyze the specificities unique to their school districts. Above all, remember that labeling these manifestations of Critical Race Theory is less important than well-reasoned critiques of them. Decide for yourself whether you agree or disagree with these practices and work on articulating why so that you can engage in dialogues with your school board members that may shift the needle away from this way of thinking.

Why have I been highly critical of the previous dialogues and practices taking place in education? Contrary to the criticisms and libelous accusations levied against me, my objections are not borne of a denial of racism. I do not discount individual experiences with racism, and I would never suggest that there are no times when engaging in broader racial analyses of society may prove helpful. My primary contentions with Critical Race Theory rest upon the following:

  1. A refutation of the Kendian causal reductionism that argues the existence of a racial disparity is sufficient evidence to conclude that racism is the cause. Convenient one-size-fits-all explanations in absentia causative evidentiary arguments are, at best, lazy, and at worst academic mysticism.
  2. I reject the presumption that racism is normative. If anything, racism appears to be aberrative.
  3. I find it problematic that Critical Race Theory rests on an untested presumption of the two points mentioned earlier.
  4. Using a racial lens as one’s primary mode of analysis tends to predispose one to biased observations and interpretations.

  5. I believe that any good inquiry process must consider and test multiple competing hypotheses rather than rest upon a default explanation.
  6. I believe that scholars invested in a “theory” where activism is the primary function are unlikely to be interested in testing or validating the said theory.

In conclusion, I would like to address those who may have had a reactionary response to this piece. My primary goal has been to more clearly elucidate what Critical Race Theory is and provide a framework for assessing the degree to which its praxis has influenced education. For constructive dialogues of substance to transpire, we must share a common and accurate understanding of Critical Race Theory and a mutual acknowledgment of how its praxis manifests in education.

If you still refuse to acknowledge its educational influence, I ask, is it because you do not see evidence of such or because you do not want to be required to defend Critical Race Theory? If it is the latter, let us discuss and debate the areas I described as evidence of Critical Race Theory without using the label. If you defend such, I ask that you consider and address my criticisms. Is your disagreement with them reflexive, or have you honestly questioned the presuppositions of Critical Race Theory? Have you assessed plausible alternative explanations for social disparities and considered the consequences of using a single analytic lens for interpreting and compartmentalizing the world? If so, then present a well-reasoned rebuttal and let us advance our discourse to a more substantive realm. Remember that one should never become so invested in an academic theory or belief paradigm that its tenets become unquestionable or irrefutable scripture.

Frank McCormick
Frank McCormick is a teacher, writer, and historian. He has taught for over ten years in both public and private educational settings. During the summer of 2021, he decided to publicly speak out against what he saw as the ideological infiltration of Woke politics in public education. He created a blog and various social media profiles to get his message out to connect with other teachers and parents willing to fight back. He has become known under the moniker "Chalkboard Heresy" because he described his heterodox educational views as heretical to the Woke academic orthodoxy.