Critical Race Theory: What Is It and How Should We View It?

By NANCY PATRICK

I have not kept up with all the new trends in modern American education since my retirement from public school teaching in 2004. Although I continued to teach at the college level for another 10 years, I discovered that not all state rules apply to private college education.

In the Sept. 14, 2021, edition of the Abilene Reporter News, I noticed an article about a topic unfamiliar to me. Christine Fernando’s article “Teachers say so-called critical race theory bans are threatening students’ learning” intrigued me. One of my main passions during my career as an English teacher dealt with inspiring my students to see their world through honest eyes and think critically about what they discovered. 

I began researching articles about the subject (usually referred to as CRT) and found it extremely complicated and controversial with the potential for political and educational upheaval. Christopher Rufo in a Wall Street Journal article on June 27, 2021, defines CRT as “a radical ideology that seeks to use race as a means of moral, social and political revolution.” Rufo says CRT is rooted in Marxism, and he outlines its history and similarities in his analysis of the theory.

I had to read several articles and compare different interpretations of this theory before I could formulate my own understanding. Even with my reading of the interpretations, I saw the difficult position in which this theory thrusts teachers and other public officials.

Depending on the language used as state leaders write the theory in to or out of their educational systems, teachers, administrators, and parents may feel restricted or threatened as they try to discern how to deal with racial issues in their classrooms.

As I see the spectrum of critical race theory, I can imagine extremes on both ends. In its most pervasive language, CRT portrays white people as worthless, unforgivable, aggressive oppressors. That theory also portrays black people as perpetual victims of the Eurocentric idea of power.

On the other extreme, those who want to ban CRT, have proposed laws that outline curriculum for the teaching of American history. Although some people may consider this topic one for social studies classes, the ideologies involved cross subject lines. For example, my American literature classes included much about our country’s history. 

Some people suggest that opponents of CRT want to ban instruction about the dark periods of our history such as slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, and the internment of Japanese Americans during WW II. To form my own opinion, I read Texas HB 3979 twice in its entirety.

Usually liberal in my political leanings, my first reaction to bans on CRT was negative. If I understand correctly, the proponents of CRT want to change the educational approach to teaching American history from the current Eurocentric approach to one that focuses on the systemic racism they believe has created and perpetuated the inequities in American society.

Although I agree with the basic premise, this does not mean America is unique in its approach to power. Most empires became empires by conquering other people—invading and taking what belonged to others. In my lifetime, I have seen social awareness and change on a wide scale. That awareness (or wokeness) has provoked change regarding subjects like gender, race, religion, justice, morality, and other social mores.

I do not, however, agree with the desire of some to teach that all white people are racists who have victimized all people of color, including Native Americans. Shaming white children for their race or blaming them for past injustices does nothing to contribute to our ideals of liberty and equality.

After reading Texas HB 3979, I feel the prescribed curriculum is fair and inclusive. The bill does provide for restrictions on what districts may or may not require of their teachers; it also prohibits teachers from making certain assignments for their students. 

However, after reading the bill, I realized that my own method of teaching sensitive literature about race would fit the bill’s requirements. I taught concepts and experiences honestly and openly with the goal of encouraging critical thinking and analysis among my students. 

I certainly understand the motivation of critical race theorists in light of events of the past several years. The instances of police brutality, sometimes causing the deaths of black citizens, provoked outrage. Learning of the events of the Tulsa Massacre surprised many people of my generation. I should have known about that from my American history books; if the books included the event, I certainly do not remember it.

Several years ago while touring a museum in a former slave state, I watched a video in which the narrator talked about the important contributions of “early African immigrants.” These attempts to change truth—excluding information or euphemistically characterizing facts—are not acceptable. These types of incidents have provoked CRT proponents to extreme views in some cases.

Nonetheless, my understanding of HB 3979 does not interpret it as a ban on teaching about racism. The bill lists numerous historical events and literary selections that include diverse nationalities, races, cultures, genders, and belief systems.

This ban does not include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the writings of Frederick Douglass, the novels of William Faulkner, or any other feminist or constitutional literature. The bill does state that no teacher may teach that one race, gender, religion, or culture is superior to another. That should be the aim of public school teachers anyway.

Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing

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