I write this op-ed from my perspective as teacher educator with expertise in multicultural education to address parents and community members who are concerned about the issue of “critical race theory” in the public school curriculum.
First, it is important for parents to have a clear understanding of how critical race theory is accurately defined. CRT is an area of academic inquiry that originated in law school courses and has become an area of interdisciplinary scholarship.
As its name suggests, CRT is a theory — a system of ideas and general principles that is intended to explain how some laws and public policies perpetuate racial inequality and discrimination.
The purpose of CRT is to promote critical thinking and rigorous analysis to overcome and rectify injustices that can occur in a racially, culturally and linguistically diverse society. These academic objectives are aligned with the learning outcomes articulated in the state-adopted curriculum standards approved by the Legislature and the State Board of Education for the core content of American history and ethnic studies courses.
Unfortunately, critical race theory is being used as a straw man by opportunistic politicians and others who want to promote, rather than resolve, conflict to further their own dubious agendas.
A straw man argument is where a false representation of a concept is constructed for the purpose of attacking certain premises or practices. The author of an argument builds a straw man and then, metaphorically, sets it on fire. This generates much more heat than light.
Critical race theory has been portrayed as “inherently conflict-ridden and divisive” that is being “slipped into the curriculum” for nefarious purposes. The CRT straw man argument is made to attack public education in an attempt to win victories in a culture war in a way that is detrimental and counterproductive.
Currently in California and across the nation there is a severe teacher shortage. Teachers are leaving the field through early retirements and resignations due to burnout and frustration. Fewer candidates are entering our teacher credential programs to qualify for a teaching career in our schools.
The level of public hostility toward teachers and lack of appreciation for their vital and challenging work are making teaching a less attractive profession. As vocal groups of parents at school board meetings call for restrictions on teachers’ instructional decision-making, teachers become increasingly demoralized.
The controversy generated by the opponents of critical race theory is especially problematic since public school teachers have a responsibility to ensure that their students meet the state curriculum standards. Teachers design courses that conform to the requirements in the authorizing statute and other legal requirements for curriculum in California.
Multiple fields of scholarly theory and research, including critical race theory, provide the academic knowledge base for courses that meet the requirements for high school students’ admission into the University of California and California State University systems, Teachers follow the guideline for the state-adopted curriculum in selecting content and instructional strategies.
Teachers are not empowered to omit content that some parents may find objectionable or alter course outlines to accommodate the expressed concerns of a particular parent organization.
The CRT battle is fostering mistrust and divisiveness within school communities. Parents and educators should be working collaboratively to provide equitable instruction. Teachers need to be supported in creating opportunities in their classrooms for students to examine the role of racism as a divisive force throughout history and in the modern world.
I implore parents to engage in civil, respectful, non-combative conversations with school board members, administrators and teachers about how the state-adopted curriculum standards address valuable academic content and critical thinking skills to prepare our students to achieve success in our pluralistic society. Come, let us reason together.
Dr. Jill Kerper Mora is a retired professor from the School of Teacher Education at San Diego State University.