In recent months, debates about teaching race and racism have leaped from textbooks and classrooms into news, social media and people’s living rooms.
And many parents of school-aged kids in the Pittsburgh region have been trying to make sense of the power plays and controversies surrounding this central question: How should we, as a society, teach children about historic and systemic racism?
To help understand the debate over what’s sometimes (though inaccurately) called Critical Race Theory, we talked to several parents to find out exactly how they are processing the tidal wave of information — and the very different viewpoints — coming their way.
But first, we’d like to explain the terms and clear some distortions. Two key terms are used when referring to instruction on race and racism in the classroom. One is “diversity, equity and inclusion” [DEI] education, and another is Critical Race Theory [CRT]. The terms mean different things, but many debates among residents and school boards have conflated the two (sometimes in an attempt to intentionally muddy the debate).
Those who criticize “Critical Race Theory” cite concerns for their kids’ self-esteem. If their white kids have to think critically about the racism behind the Civil War or slavery, they might struggle with negative feelings of self-worth about being white. Those who support DEI education believe that a deep understanding of racism and social justice issues is necessary to create a more just society. But is that actually Critical Race Theory?
Charles A. Price, a Temple University associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development, explains why it isn’t. For one thing, Critical Race Theory is a college-level sociological concept that’s more than 40 years old and involves an in-depth examination of systemic inequalities such as redlining or unequal access to health care that have fueled racism in America. The emphasis there is on college-level — it’s not a curriculum meant for younger students.
“Why in the world would anyone want to teach pre-college students CRT?” Price wrote in an email. “Why not instead teach them what CRT was created to address: the workings of race, class, inequality, injustice in the USA?”
This might sound like two sides of the same coin, but CRT isn’t simply education on inequity and historical racism. It’s a deep dive into the social construct of race that has led to racist power structures in this country, and a deep dive into sociological thinking that is beyond the scope of K-12 education.
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