By Carl E. James and Vidya Shah
Some parents have been raising concerns about the teaching of critical race theory in public schools in the United States. Recently, these specious claims have been showing up in Canada too. School boards are being questioned for their anti-racism policies and the teaching of CRT to students.
The Waterloo Region Record recently published a story that detailed how Waterloo Region District School Board trustees in Ontario were told by some parents they were concerned their children could “internalize shame and guilt because they’re white.”
A school delegation called “for more transparency about what’s being taught in classrooms on critical race theory and white privilege” and asked education staff to provide a working definition of the terms in relation to “anti-racist lesson plans.”
And last month, a Toronto Star article on Durham Catholic School Board’s “new anti-racism policy” reported that trustees and members of the public had concerns about language such as “white supremacy” and “colonialism.”
The language, they said, “reflected ‘critical race theory,’ an academic concept that contends racism — whether intentional or not — is systemic and embedded in institutions.” The Star reported that this language was removed from the new policy.
What is critical race theory?
Law professor Derrick A. Bell is credited with introducing critical race theory within legal studies in a 1976 article for Yale Law Journal and another in 1980 for the Harvard Law Review.
In those articles, Bell sought to explain how laws and public and institutional policies might, on one hand, offer civic rights protection for individuals, and on the other hand, reproduce and enable racial inequity, racism and discrimination. Other scholars who contributed to the scholarly CRT theoretical framework include Kimberlé Crenshaw.
The theory explores race and racialization and is one of several theoretical frameworks that explains how racism is built into our structures and systems.
These systems prevent equal outcomes in education, healthcare, housing, employment and more. CRT seeks to consider how historical, economic, political, social and cultural contexts inform contemporary realities and issues.
CRT also explores the intersections between racism, settler colonialism, ableism, sexism, classism, transphobia and other forms of oppression.
In education, CRT explains how notions of fairness, meritocracy, colour-blindness and neutrality are framed through dominant perspectives, and ignore the collective experiences of race and racism that shape the lives of Black, Indigenous and other racialized students.
Canadians see racism as a problem
According to a recent poll, 60 per cent of Canadians see racism as a serious problem facing our country. This is hopeful news. To help us understand and respond to racism, we need a theoretical framework. CRT is not a policy, structure, training program or curriculum. It is a theoretical framework. As a theory, it is not introduced in K-12 schooling.
As a framework, it asks teachers to use equitable approaches to curriculum, policy and structures in schools and school boards. For example, K-12 curriculum that is viewed through a CRT lens provides historical contexts and explains how history informs contemporary social, political, economic, cultural situations and issues.
This curriculum would also include stories written from the perspective of Indigenous, Black and other racialized authors.
The ‘moral panic’
Programs and structures like this have long existed in Canada. Examples of this include: affirmative action programs, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code.
So why is there such confusion and resistance to these ideas now? Joshua Sealy-Harrington, a critical race scholar at The Lincoln Alexander Law School, told the National Post the “moral panic” around CRT is “a well-funded and well-orchestrated political campaign.”
This moral panic has gained traction among right-wing conservatives in the U.S. and Canada to stall and avert efforts at racial justice in K-12 schooling and higher education.
Critics of CRT say addressing racism in schools creates more division and is itself, an example of racism. They say CRT teaches white students to feel bad about themselves and feel guilty about being white. Instead, they call for “universal” approaches to education that focus on our common humanity.
Indeed, proponents of CRT are also committed to universal applications of rights and to equitable outcomes for all students’ learning, belonging and well-being and takes into account their lived realities.
All students are entitled to experience a classroom environment in which they can build strong relationships with teachers and fellow classmates, take risks with their learning and have their experiences affirmed.
Racism is systemic, not individual
If racism is seen as individual actions and beliefs, then suggesting someone has greater power and privilege in a white body than a Black or brown body may feel threatening. But racism is defined as systemic, and should be understood as structural.
Three components constitute the systemic properties of racism: something that is constitutive of laws, legislations and policies; something that is comprised of policies, rules and curricula within institutions; individual beliefs, perceptions and attitudes.
Therefore, feeling threatened when talking about whiteness or white supremacy is not an example of racism.
In our work with educators, we have seen the ways in which delving into issues of race and racism invite students of all racial backgrounds to make sense of the world around them and reflect on their responsibilities in creating more just and humane futures.
Avoiding conversations about race ensures that racism flourishes, creates inhospitable educational contexts and contributes to a deficient learning experience for all students.
We need dialogue that is committed to centring the voices of those who live marginalized and racialized realities and for whom schooling has failed to meet their interests, needs and aspirations. Racism needs to be addressed if we are going to flourish as a society.
Carl E. James is Professor, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora at York University. Vidya Shah is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, York University, Canada.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
It dose not belong in school. This was ohalfwit’s idea to keep the the split between whites and blacks. There wasnt the killings, fights and blm till he came along, illegal undercover Muslim. All this shootings and defund the police started with him. He hates America and Americans. Instigator. Should have been hung with hillerary for Benghazi.
Michael Cocchiola says
Hate much? Fox, Newsmax, and OAN overload do you think?
Spoken like a true MAGA conservative. Your view is well supported by a near majority of the current Flagler school board and likely will be the majority view after this election cycle. You already have the County Commission to rely on.
Really is this comment necessary
Johnson 1953 says
I like you comment. Because its the TRUTH. All these ass kissing progressives just don’t understand why the country is falling down the liberal TOILET !
The downfall of this country started 40 years ago, the psychopath trump took it over the top sowing division everywhere for his own personal gain and childlike ego and lifetime coman and you guys bought it. You just won’t admit it.
Your spelling is atrocious, and last time I checked CRT is not taught anywhere in K thru 12
Student must understand the realtiy they live. Of course!
Why are we not telling them what the realitiy is? Sheltering makes them vulenrable.
Where is it written that CRT is reality ? Theory does not always translate to reality.
CRT has no place in a K-12 curriculum. Poverty is the real issue here, racism is just the tool to justify redistribution of the poorest. I don’t see the solution for CRT uplifting anyone out of & eliminating poverty, rather a numerical percentage & fairer distribution of existing & future increases in poverty. As long as the percentages stay within a diversity proportion, the poor are marginalized, regardless of race or gender as a descriptor. That’s the problem here, poverty victims aren’t seen as individual people, rather as pieces of pie in a pie chart as a race or gender. If the politicians were more concerned about ending poverty, would the Biden inflation be happening. Where’s the hope that Biden ran on as a platform in 2020. Naturally it just makes more sense for the poor to have to pay $ 5/gallon vs $2-3/gallon, higher prices for groceries, increased premiums for healthcare they can’t afford anyway. So the distraction is CRT in schools, when really it’s a price gouging & policy of the current administration in DC that’s driving individual states to inflation. If you voted for Biden, own that vote. You put more Americans into the poverty classification. The poorest need to have a maximized purchase power of their dollar, not an eroded & weaker purchase power for that same dollar that is becoming more & more worthless under the Biden era.
Michael Cocchiola says
Um, Jimbo99, CRT is not taught in K through 9 anywhere in this country. Except in your mind, of course.
Bill C says
CRT helps explain the relationship between racism and poverty. Slavery owes you an apology for pretending to have existed.
Revisionist history and hiding the parts of a nation’s past that some believe are too horrible for children to learn about, is something that you would expect of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Putin’s Russia, Kim Jong-un’s N. Korea, etc. Certainly not the United States. But ever since the MAGA crowd’s foaming at the mouth subservience to the former, twice impeached president who lauded revisionist history to include the recent presidential election, there has been a growing movement to ONLY remember and teach the parts of American history that some like, and to completely bury other, more sordid truths that are embarrassing. History includes the total facts, the entire good, bad and yes, the ugly. To ignore, or worse, to deny and bury the truth will only embolden those who wish to revive and repeat the mistakes and the horrible past rather than allow Americans to learn from it in order NOT to repeat this country’s failures. We all have parts of our lives that we would rather forget, but we still must learn from those mistakes, and it is certainly true for our country’s future as well. That is why America must reject those who support any aspect of revisionist history such as what we all need to learn from critical race theory, books that many conservatives and school boards want to ban, etc. Let the facts be known! Our country will benefit from learning and knowing the truth so we can hopefully avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Michael Cocchiola says
The anti-CRT movement is not a reaction to concerns that white students may feel uncomfortable or shame. It is to deny the history of the white settlement of the North American continent based then as it is now on white supremacy. Our racist national birthmark remains thoroughly and profoundly embedded in 21st-century American culture.
Those who would agitate that CRT must not be taught anywhere in America would have us all forget the genocidal cleansing of the continent by displacing, incarcerating, and murdering indigenous peoples for the advancement of white privilege, grotesquely renamed “Manifest Destiny”. They would have us forget that enslavement of Africans was justified by the sincere belief that Blacks were inherently inferior to whites and suitable only as servants and beasts of burden.
The MAGAs, most notably the Moms for Liberty, insist that we should not teach students at any level that four secessionist states – Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi – codified in writing that the issue of slavery was their reason for leaving the United States. For the rest of the 11 secessionist states, the vice president of the Confederacy codified that for them… “The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions–African slavery as it exists among us–the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization”.
And let’s not forget the South’s Jim Crow laws, the KKK, and the lynching of an estimated 6,500 African Americans between 1866 and 1950, or of bitterly fighting integration and Black voting for 100 years after the Civil War. As a direct result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, members of the South’s States’ Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats) left the Democratic Party to join the more welcoming Republican Party where they remain today solidly opposed to civil (and womens’) rights.
Let us tell the MAGA Moms that we will teach the truth so we’ll never forget.
Your White guilt is no good here sir. Cope and seeth.
C Mills says
Wondering how to evaluate any of this, when insurers (ie LawPro) – effectively incentivize discrimination in our public sector? (ie – adjudicative – legal – and then splintering services – ie – regulation?)
Deborah Coffey says
Bravo! You’re exactly right. We don’t have CRT in K-12, never did, but we certainly SHOULD!
The Geode says
Religion, sexual identification, politics, and bullshit like this should be taught at HOME! Whatever happened to “reading, writing, and arithmetic”? Predictably, we have a bunch of lazy, fat, emotional, and “non-critical thinking” children whose only talent is to complain and conjure up excuses to justify their failings.
Let the teachers spend their time TEACHING our children and less time indoctrinating them according to whatever narrative is popular at the moment.
Unfortunatley it seems society doesn’t learn from history
No matter how hard you try to show it , evil is repetitious, just packaged differently for every generation.
Example: Texas school boards had to fight back at the local white supremist parents that asked to replace the term “Slavery” with “Involuntary Relocation”
Oh, gosh. I’m with Rodney King when he said “Can’t we all just get along?” CRT is not being taught in K-12, and should not be. We can teach history and facts, not theory. It saddens me that being of different colors (what’s this “race” stuff?) is still an issue, or actually, ever was.
History was blacks were enslaved by plantation owners for the owner’s gain. It was terrible, unimaginable, selfish, cruel, unfeeling and down right pathological. “White privilege?” Yes, but not only whites. African Negros sold African Negros to the English and American slave brokers. There were also American Negros who were plantation owners who owned Negro slaves.
This “race” thinking was and still is passed on to our youth, who otherwise would be more accepting of those who are people of other colors. Humans, of all colors, are a pain. Teach facts, not theories. Far right folks are tediously afraid of everything, and want the rest of us to be afraid too.