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Did the Divide over Teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) Cost Terry McAuliffe the Virginia Governorship?

Is Teaching About CRT Inherently Bad?

I have previously blogged about Critical Race Theory (CRT). I've tried to take a balanced approach and explain not only why parents object to it being taught in schools and explaining what it holds as a theory, but have also discussed in a blog why educators claim it is not taught in schools any more than it teaches that America is an inherently racist country.

It appears that a division in society over whether CRT should be taught in K-12 grades had an impact on the results of the elections on Tuesday. The most obvious example is that of Glenn Youngkin, who successfully ran for Governor of Virginia. Youngkin turned the fight against CRT— an academic framework centered on systemic racism in American institutions, but is not a fixture in K-12 public schools — into a key campaign issue.

There were weeks of criticism from parents and Republican lawmakers about Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s suggestion that parents shouldn’t tell schools what to teach their children. That was up to the local school board. The problem is McAuliffe forgot about the fact that parents and, indeed, all voters elect the school board members, so they clearly have a stake in what is taught in their children’s school.

What is CRT

CRT holds that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.

Critical race theorists believe that political liberalism was incapable of adequately addressing fundaments problems of injustice in American society (notwithstanding legislations and court rulings advancing civil rights in the 1950s and 60s) because its emphasis on the equitable treatment under the law of all races (color blindness) rendered it capable in only the most overt and obvious racist practices, not those that were relatively indirect, subtle, or systemic.

If CRT is correct, then racist practices are not always obvious and may underlie the treatment of African Americans and other marginalized groups in America. Practices such as discrimination in housing, unequal opportunity, and the like are obvious racially discriminatory policies. What is not so obvious is our criminal justice system that purportedly treats African Americans differently that white Americans. The result may be that Blacks are disproportionately incarcerated over white Americans.

Is CRT Really Taught in Our Schools?

It’s clear to me there is a lot of misinformation out there about CRT and that is fueling the divide in our country between those who support teaching it in some form or another and those [vehemently] against it.

In a broad sense, CRT does hold that there is systemic and institutional racism in America. This manifests itself in lack of equal access for Blacks to a quality education, red-lining policies in housing, unequal treatment under the law, and police overreach in dealing with Black Americans including stopping them in their automobiles more frequently than whites and often for no good reason. In addition, Black Americans, especially teenagers and young adults, are stopped and questioned in the street more frequently than their white counterparts and, it is argued, this occurs because of the systemic racism.

Blacks often feel marginalized by those in power, or so it is argued. They need to be able to relate better to the literature and history taught in our schools, which is one reason for the increased availability of Ethnic Studies curricula in colleges and universities. CRT is not designed to teach about hating America but what the connection of Black Americans is to it. CRT taught in schools

Comparing Points of View

Those who support teaching about CRT argue that CRT is not an ideology. It doesn’t assign moral fault based on anyone’s race. Instead, it helps us to understand why inequities exist. Consider the following.

  • CRT gives voice to the voiceless by bringing in broader experiences to better understand race in America.
  • Discussions about racism round out the character of America and shine a bright light on its social, educational, economic, and political biases against Black Americans.
  • Both Black and White Americans need to learn how to have productive conversations about race in America and CRT provides one perspective.
  • Black students need to consider how they view themselves in America to better understand the barriers to equal educational opportunity and success.

Those against teaching CRT, especially in K-12, point out by claiming racism is systemic and institutionalized, CRT divides people into two camps: the oppressed and the oppressors. This is counter-productive to the goals of education, which are to stimulate a dialogue about race in America, not to demonize one group or the other.

Some have argued that CRT has been weaponized meaning it could incite violence and strong criticism by those who are against it. They see the teaching of CRT as an attack on “their” America. This is the reason so many parents in Loudoun County Virginia were up in arms about the perception that there exists the teaching of CRT, and it accounts for why Terry McAuliffe lost his bid to be the Governor of the state.

My View

We need to learn to have conversations about hard issues without assessing blame. Critics argue CRT does assign blame to white America. Supporters of CRT argue this is an overreach because CRT is designed to change the nature of the conversation to talk about why the racial divide exists – has existed – for so many years. Why can't we discuss controversial issues like CRT by presenting both points of view and have students draw their own conclusions? I don't think the teaching of CRT, if, indeed, it is taught, should be taught in K-5.  It should begin in middle school, starting with sixth grade. Kids are old enough at that point to understand both perspectives and weigh them in forming their own opinion.

I’ve learned that CRT is not a zero-sum game where if we allow more voices to be heard, more will be silent. In fact, teaching about the tenets of CRT should stimulate an open and honest discussion about the racial divide in America, not silence voices who fail to recognize it still exists today.

I can’t say I still am against CRT, but I will say there are good reasons not to fear it. Like most things, the devil is in the details. It may take one academic year to truly understand its benefits and shortcomings. So next year if we have this conversation again, we’ll have more evidence to rationally evaluate the teaching of CRT.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on November 4, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.