The U.S. public education system has been a hot political topic as of late. Whether it be widespread book bans or the dismal results of post-pandemic test scores, legislators are giving increased attention to what's happening in the classroom.
One particularly thorny issue has been the question of teaching critical race theory in schools. Parent groups have mobilized to address whether discussions of race, gender, and sexuality belong in the curriculum. Some politicians are responding by introducing laws that restrict what some consider divisive topics.
A report from PEN America, a literary and free expression rights organization, counted 36 states that have introduced 137 "educational gag order bills" — a rate that is 250 percent higher than it was in 2021. Of the seven states that have passed these kinds of laws, six of them prohibit discussions of race.
Critical race theory is a graduate-level academic framework that existed for years before it became the center of political polarization and a catch-all phrase to describe teachings that reference systemic or historic racism. UCLA and Columbia Law professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, widely considered the originator of the term, defines it as a tool for examining race relations in the U.S. "It is a way of seeing, attending to, accounting for, tracing and analyzing the ways that race is produced," she said, "the ways that racial inequality is facilitated, and the ways that our history has created these inequalities that now can be almost effortlessly reproduced unless we attend to the existence of these inequalities."
Arguments on both sides of the debate have increased over the last year as more states look to introduce legislation to bar educators from implementing curriculums influenced by the theory. The question at the heart of these discussions is, should critical race theory be allowed in public school classrooms?
Democracy depends on uncensored teaching
Critical race theory proponents believe it is integral to adopt the framework as an important step in ensuring a more equitable future and improving the state of democracy in the nation. Aside from the actual theory, it's important to allow schools to select their own curricula, proponents argue.
"A healthy and thriving democracy depends on this type of uncensored scholarship," writes retired university professor Edward Renner for the Tampa Bay Times. "It is something that needs to be cherished, supported, and protected. Critical race theory is not an indoctrination of individuals, it is the foundation for creating improvements and lasting change toward eliminating racism in the United States. It is the political censorship of critical race theory that is a dangerous form of indoctrination."
Christiane Calixte, a high school junior at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, agrees. In The Washington Post, she opines, "The right to discuss and speak up against discrimination has been long fought for. So please, adults, if you're listening: Don't reverse centuries of progress in favor of promoting ignorance. If the goal of schools is to create a well-informed populace, then nuanced discussions of historical racism must be held in classrooms. It is the only way young people will learn to think critically about our country's institutions, and the only way to create an inclusive America for future generations."
Critical race theory is 'state-sanctioned racism'
Critical race theory is divisive, teaches children to be anti-White, and purposefully projects America's history in a negative light, critics say.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who recently passed the "Stop WOKE Act," reiterated his opposition to including discussions of race in classrooms if they framed one race as the oppressor over others. In his recent debate against Democratic gubernatorial rival Charlie Crist, he argued, "What I think is not good is to scapegoat students based on skin color. What I think is not good is to distort American history by saying the American Revolution was fought to defend slavery." He continued, "I don't want to teach kids to hate our country. I don't want to teach kids to hate each other, and the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."
After the Florida Department of Education rejected some math books they considered indoctrinating, DeSantis commented, "It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students."
In a letter responding to an Observer-Reporter op-ed titled "Republicans misrepresenting CRT," Marty Sloan warns that certain books "unambiguously equate white people with the devil himself." He declares, "CRT is simply a false religion, and its evangelists are laser-focused on pushing anti-white racism to convert our children into obedient believers via our public schools. This is nothing short of state-sanctioned racism and a radical reversal of the separation of church and state."
Allowing critical race theory in K-12 classrooms encourages indoctrination
Teaching young students critical race theory promotes left-wing indoctrination, other opponents argue, and parents should have control over what their children are exposed to in school.
In an op-ed for the Washington Times, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania senate Kathy Barnette encouraged legislators to step up and take action against the implementation of CRT.
"From critical race theory and radical gender ideology to sex-ed classes for kindergartners and drag shows in classrooms, the radical left is more determined than ever to turn schools into indoctrination chambers for their sick and perverse worldview, all while silencing parents who try to do anything about it," she wrote. "With Election Day just weeks away, every candidate has a responsibility to make clear how they plan to take action to stop this madness, safeguard parents' rights, and restore trust and integrity in our education system."
Conservative writer Christopher Rufo recently tweeted about a "bombshell study" that revealed that 93 percent of recent high school graduates reported being "taught at least one of the basic principles of critical race theory and radical gender theory."
The report states, "Publicly funded schools that teach and pass off left-wing racial-ideological theories and concepts as if they are undisputed factual knowledge — or that impart tendentiously curated readings of history — are therefore engaging in indoctrination, not education. The question before us, then, is not whether or to what extent public schools are assigning the works of Richard Delgado, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and other critical race theorists. It is whether schools are uncritically promoting a left-wing racial ideology."