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Teachers and students left out of critical race theory debate

The term “critical race theory,” or CRT, has been popping up for almost a year now, from news media outlets such as Fox News and CNN, to Instagram posts from content creators such as @soyouwanttotalkabout. It has sparked up debates amongst conservatives and liberals alike, resulting in statewide bans of implementing such theory in schools across the country. 

But, do these officials and representatives banning CRT actually know what they are banning?

CRT suggests that the legal systems and institutions within the United States are flawed because they perpetuate social, financial and judicial inequalities between white people and minorities. 

Critical race theorists also argue that laws currently in place to uplift and equalize the races are not necessarily being practiced regularly. CRT and its theorists counter the very idea that racism in America ended after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which states that one cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their race, sex, gender, religion or ethnicity. 

Despite the existence of a clear definition, defining the theory in the public consciousness is troublesome as CRT has become synonymous with supposedly divisive language like anti-racism and white supremacy. CRT seems now to be a catchall term used by Republicans to end conversations about race and racism in the United States. It has been deemed evil, un-American and something to be feared.

The complication of CRT’s definition and the common understanding of its implementation in U.S. schools and government agencies can be traced back to Christopher Rufo’s, a conservative activist, appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in September 2020. Rufo investigated CRT practices within several agencies and institutions of the federal government and believed these practices, which included discussions of antiracism and intersectionality, were threatening core American values. Rufo claimed that CRT has become “the default ideology of the federal bureaucracy and is now being weaponized against the American people.”  

While Rufo was attacking CRT on Fox News, a memorandum from the executive office was sent to heads of executive branch agencies demanding that they stop the “divisive and un-American propaganda training sessions” related to CRT and white privilege. By Sept. 20, 2020 Trump had signed an executive order to end funding for any program that mentioned CRT, claiming they are divisive and un-American.

This denunciation of CRT did not stop at an executive level. As of June 2021, over 20 states have proposed legislation that would ban anti-racist trainings and programs within state governments and K-12 schools. However, it is unclear to what extent K-12 students are exposed to or taught about CRT. 

As lawmakers scramble to make sense of and ban CRT, it seems some of the most important people are being left out of this discussion: teachers. 

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s English professor Earl Brooks, whose classroom focuses on topics of rhetoric, wrote in an email comment, “it is important for students and the general public to know that teachers are specifically trained to avoid forcing their partisan opinions on their students — which seems to be the unstated but ultimate insinuation of CRT’s critics.” 

While teachers or professors should not impose their beliefs on students, it is important that they deliver the tools necessary for students to formulate their own opinions on subjects, including topics of race, politics, etc.

As far as what Brooks hopes students to achieve in his classroom, he writes, “I want students to leave my classes with the tools to express themselves with greater clarity, accuracy, and rhetorical savvy, regardless of whether they are progressive, conservative, libertarian, etc.

“I try to impart to my students the important roles that critical thinking and critical literacy play in the survival of our democracy as well as the equally important role they will play as citizens tasked with navigating complex decisions that will shape our futures.” 

CRT is just one of those critical thinking tools. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the theory, it is not up to a legislator to limit a student’s ability to form their opinion on America and its foundation.

While President Joe Biden has rescinded Trump’s executive order, the debate around CRT is only becoming more heated and the very definition of critical race theory is becoming even more blurred. In such a case, it is important that people become educated in understanding the tenets and essence of what CRT is: a theory that helps students form their view of the world.