Republicans want to ban critical race theory from being taught in public schools while Democrats want to use it to pass policies that further their agenda. But what is critical race theory? And should it be taught? While both sides have been quick to politicize it, critical race theory is an important subject due to the importance of race in American history. And, as is done with other subjects, it should be taught in schools in an unbiased manner so that students can become informed citizens and form their own educated opinions.
What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical race theory holds that “racism is systemic, and not just demonstrated by individual people.” Specifically, American laws and institutions are set up in such a way as to discriminate based on race, which itself is nothing but a social construct. As an academic movement, critical race theory seeks to critically examine US law as it relates to race.
Critical race theory diverges from traditional beliefs about racism. It has long been held that racism can be ended by confronting it at the individual level — if people stop being racist, racism goes away. Critical race theory says that this is not enough. We must also make an affirmative effort to reform society itself because the system is inherently racist.
What Does the Right Have to Say?
Recently, many Republicans have made it their mission to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. They claim that it is partisan indoctrination by the left and some have even gone so far as to call critical race theory racism against white people. Others claim that critical race theory is “anti-American.” All of this amounts to the spread of lies about critical race theory, such as the belief that it “says that white people are inherently bad or evil.”
It is worth noting that not many schools actually teach critical race theory right now. This lends credibility to the argument that conservatives who are opposed to it are really just making noise for political advantage.
Why They’re Wrong
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: critical race theory is not un-American. It is quite the opposite — it is patriotic to work to improve one’s country while acknowledging its history and flaws.
Many on the right also claim that critical race theory characterizes white people as inherently racist. In a sense, this argument is not without merit — some have taken the teaching of race too far, backing up Republicans’ claims that critical race theorists believe that all white people are racist. If taught correctly, however, critical race theory avoids such decisiveness.
But supporters of critical race theory are not perfect, either. While they, of course, actually understand what critical race theory is, many on the left use critical race theory to argue for policies such as reparations. This, too, injects partisanship into the discussion — while it is fine to discuss these policies through the lens of critical race theory, opinions on such subjects should not be taught in schools. While it is important to teach about race, we cannot teach partisan ideas — indoctrination is the practice of authoritarians, not democracies. We teach students basic economics, but we do not force upon them beliefs such as “raise taxes on the rich.” A similar approach is needed for the teaching of race.
Neither side should be politicizing the teaching of critical race theory. It is not a set of doctrines. Rather, it is an academic framework based on the premise that systemic racism exists. Viewed this way, it is hard to argue against it — the year since George Floyd’s killing has made it very clear that this premise is correct.
We should not be telling white children that they are “evil” or inherently racist. There is no need to. And since education must remain apolitical, we should not be teaching specific opinions about things like reparations.
However, we must acknowledge the racism that has marked American history. For most of our country’s life, de jure discrimination has been the norm. It is very hard to believe that today’s racial wealth gaps have nothing to do with the remnants of that system. Critical race theory, if taught in an unbiased manner, is the perfect lens through which to study systemic racism. Students should learn about race the same way they learn about things like economics; they should be taught basic concepts and be allowed to apply those concepts to form their own opinions.
We should not avoid discussing race in schools simply because it is a touchy topic; while we should avoid teaching ideas that are radical or divisive, we should also not be banning ideas or whitewash our history.