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Critical Race Theory Opens New Opportunities for Student Learning

Amid the heated national controversy over CRT in schools, some Black educators are openly using the framework to help students better understand history and contextualize current events.


Most American students graduate from high school never learning a full, unvarnished account of their nation‘s story. Systemic racism within the education system, historical erasure of black and brown narratives, and manipulation of curriculum standards and textbook content have long undermined even the best efforts to teach the full truth about history and heritage. persistent genocide and slavery in the United States. Recent efforts by conservatives to redefine and weaponize the pedagogical approach to history called “critical race theory” have made this work even more difficult.

There was a time when the CRT only referred to a relatively obscure legal framework for analyzing structural and institutional racism, developed by scholars such as Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw and Richard Delgado. Then, in 2020, journalist Christopher Rufo strategically broaden the definition to include anything that disrupts whitewashed interpretations of American history and current affairs – and to intentionally spark partisan debate and mobilize conservative activism around educational policy and curriculum content.

When conservatives fomented national fury over alleged widespread indoctrination of CRT in K-12 schools, many progressives disdainfully insisted that the decades-old legal framework does not was taught only in institutions of higher learning – completely missing the opportunity to reclaim the narrative and more culturally publicly endorse a responsive education at all levels.

“We cannot just raise up and say, ‘We have to be neutral, don’tdon’t teach CRT,” says Cierra Kaler-Jones, social justice educator and director of storytelling at the Communities Fund for Just Schools. “In fact, we should go in a more radical direction [direction]claiming that there are ways to teach critical race theory in schools.

Contrary to popular progressive belief, some black and brown educators are explicitly and unabashedly using CRT in their classrooms to deepen student knowledge.‘ historical knowledge and help them develop skills to make sense of the world around them.

Jania Hoover, a high school history and social studies teacher, regularly answers questions about hot topics, like police brutality, in her classroom. The students are “smart and mature enough to handle the truth,” she wrote in a editorial for Vox. “A well-meaning parent should want their children to understand the CRT, American exceptionalism, and other frameworks they can use to understand American society.”

There are many ways to incorporate CRT into lessons. For example, in a recent lesson, Hoover not only covered the New Deal policies that successfully ended the Great Depression, but she also explained how they included racist lending practices to create segregated communities.

“I showed them maps that detailed the areas where the FHA guaranteed loans in the city we live in,” says Hoover, who teaches at a predominantly white private school in Texas. “I then showed them current maps showing housing patterns by race and income levels.”

The lesson didn’t, as conservatives might have you believe, make white students feel bad, black students feel helpless, and they all hate America.

“Black and white students were blown away by the very real implications of this information. White students don’t haveI don’t feel guilty, and black students don’tI don’t feel helpless,” Hoover says. “Everyone felt empowered because they knew information that helped them understand the patterns they saw on a daily basis.”

Teaching the most shameful aspects of our nationThe story of through a critical racial lens also opens up opportunities to showcase black and brown resistance to the white supremacist structures and systems that legal theory was originally established to critique.

“ThisIt’s important to focus on agency, resilience, and joy, not just violence and oppression,” Hoover says. She offers the following example: ” We giveI don’t do a good enough job of saying [students] the many ways slaves resisted. They worked slowly, pretended to be sick, ran away for short periods, broke tools, learned to read and write, grew vegetables to feed their families, maximized their skills to generate income away from slavers. Slavery was far more complex than the abbreviated scenario included in many state standards.

Unfortunately, most teachers do not have the lived experiences or nuanced resources they need to explore such complexities in teaching history. The common core standards, adopted by most states after 2010, have been criticized for their lack of representation (and for just does not work). Some school curricula even call for teaching bondage through reenactment, just an example of “school violencewhich traumatizes minority students, writes Stephanie P. Joneswho founded Mapping racial trauma in schools.

According to a study by NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. And course materials aimed at improving minority representation focus almost exclusively on struggles, rather than the deep history and legacy of black and brown communities, says Natasha Capers, parent organizer and director of the NYC Coalition. for Educational Justice.

In 2019, the New York State Department of Education adopted a Culturally Appropriate and Sustainable Education Framework to improve equity in public education. “One of the key elements of [the framework] who was informed by the CRT is that we need to stop teaching history as if black people only began to exist on the shores of South Carolina,” Capers says. ” We giveI don’t allow Africans and Blacks to have a prequel. We only have slavery. we dondon’t let asian americans have a prequel. They only have internment camps. we dondont let latinx people have a prequel [prior to] Columbus.”

Counter-narrative, a central component of CRT that centers lived experiences through the lens of race, is a powerful tool teachers can use to layer this texture and complexity into conversations about the history and culture of people. Black.

“Wedid activities where they‘draw pictures of themselves and say, ‘This is what I say about me, and this is what society says about me’, so they can actively criticize structures and systems around them, while developing a strong sense of self,” says Kaler-Jones. “WeI also have [used the lyrics from] India Arieit’s I am not my hair and Solangeit’s put ondon’t touch my hair …as a framework for writing our own counter-narrative song lyrics.

Black and brown teachers like Kaler-Jones have the advantage when it comes to adapting critical race theory to such rich classroom experiences because of their lived experiences with race. According to Education week80% of public school teachers and 85% of private school teachers are white, and most learned “a very liberal, race-neutral way of talking” in their teacher preparation programs, Kaler-Jones says.

“There is … deep internal work that needs to be done to even be able to show up to have critical conversations about racism and oppression,” she continues.

Pioneering educators, like Kaler-Jones and Hoover, are standardizing the inclusion of the CRT, the framework, and its key concepts in history and social studies courses. Some schools, like the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, already offer workshops and electives on CRT for high school students.

According to Harvard professor Jarvis R. Givens, Jarvis R. Givens in Atlantic.

“Black educators have always known that their students live in an anti-black world and so have decided that their teaching should be opposed to the very order of that world,” wrote Givens, whose book Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching was released last year.

“They took a holistic approach to teaching – honoring black life, with all its beauty and contradictions,” he explained, adding, “In my classes growing up, we had to study and embrace the anti-racism, certainly, but we also had to know that our value and our offering to the world, and to ourselves, was much more than that.

But educators who want to rely on CRT and black pedagogy in their practice continue to face many obstacles, in addition to the overwhelming whiteness of teachers and curricula. To date, 36 states have passed or are considering legislation banning CRT from classrooms, reports chalk beat. The notoriously vague language of the bills passed has created a chilling effect on teachers, who don’t know what they can say about race and what will get them fired. According to color linesmany black teachers are leaving the profession altogether.

Still, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of CRT in classrooms. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed lawsuits against New Hampshire‘sand OklahomaConservative-led anti-CRT bills and, most recently, against a Missouri school district’s ban on books reflecting POC and LGBTQ+ perspectives.

Teachers like Kaler-Jones and Hoover are demonstrating the benefits CRT-infused lessons bring to students and paving the way for other educators to adopt similar strategies in their classrooms.

Additionally, “there are many reputable and helpful organizations and groups dedicated to creating resources to help teachers teach about these topics,” Hoover says, citing the Zinn Education Project and Learning for Justice.

Many teachers also publicly commit to teach the truth, bans be damned. Perhaps even more encouraging is the way educators and young people themselves are creating Instagram and TikTok content to provide extracurricular education on CRT concepts, such as intersectionality, systemic racism, and privilege.

“My dream is to have history classes where no one feels left out or undermined,” Hoover says. “Every student feels seen and valued in the world.”

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Ruth Terry

is a Black and Puerto Rican American freelance writer in Istanbul, Turkey, who writes about culture, travel, and race.