Education, History, Race, USA

What Critical Race Theory looks like in my Social Studies classroom

One of the last units of study in the high school U.S. History course I taught this year was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  This unit functions as somewhat of a culmination of our study of the racial/racist history of the United States—a study that includes the colonization/extermination of indigenous peoples, the importation of the first black slaves, the debates over slavery at the Constitutional Convention, the growth of that institution through territorial expansion, the Civil War that abolished it, the system of Jim Crow that replaced it, and all the other ways that race and racism have manifested themselves as important historical phenomena in this country’s history. 

Our study of the Civil Rights Movement focuses predominately on the non-violent protests of those decades that lead to both concrete judicial and legislative victories as well as sweeping changes in the racial attitudes of white Americans.  However, my students and I conclude the unit by confronting a sobering reality: The Civil Rights Movement made significant progress, but it also left a lot of unfinished business. 

To illustrate this point, we read an article that enumerates the significant racial disparities that still exist today, particularly in regards to economics and education.  These disparities are not ideological inventions.  They are measurable and objective facts, and as I say to the kids, there are two ways to explain them. 

Explanation #1: The racial inequality that still exists today exists because there is something wrong with black people.  There is something about their race or their culture that prevents them from achieving educationally or economically at the same level as whites. The problem with this explanation is that it is literally racist.  It literally ascribes to black people some sort of shortcoming or inferiority that is rooted in the color of their skin.  Luckily, for those who believe in the inherent equality and potentiality of all human beings regardless of skin color—who believe that, everything else equal, black people, white people, and people of any race or color would all succeed and struggle at roughly the same rates—there is another explanation. 

Explanation #2:  The racial inequality that still exists today exists as a result of the historical and/or modern-day societal forces that produced it.  The racial disparities that exist in our country are not and have never been “natural”.  They were intentionally manufactured by a country literally founded on the idea of white supremacy—an idea that was built up and fortified over centuries through the history outlined above.  And while achievements during and since the Civil Rights Movement have dealt great blows to the system of white supremacy, we still very much live with that system’s legacy, and live with a current system that, despite many well-intentioned actors, continues to produce racist results. 

The above paragraph is a great representation of what Critical Race Theory looks like in practice—seeking to explain how structures and systems work to produce the racial inequities that have existed throughout history and that continue to exist today.  It also shines a light on the absurdity of one of the primary attacks levied against Critical Race Theory by its opponents: That it teaches white students that they are all a bunch of racists. 

In my classroom, this could not be further from the truth.  I don’t teach my white students that they are perpetrators of racism any more than I teach my students of color that they need to feel like victims.  Instead, I am trying to help all of my students understand the systemic nature of why people of color—particularly blacks—are more likely to live in poverty, to struggle in school, and to be incarcerated than people who are white.  As writer and researcher Clint Smith said:

“Critical Race Theory is not…thinking about an individual and their relationship to race or racism or their own relationship to their skin, necessarily.  It’s not concerned with what’s in their heart or their interiority.  What it is asking of us is to recognize the ways that racism has shaped what…the contemporary landscape of inequality looks like.   To understand that the reason one community looks one way and another community looks another way is not because of the people in those communities, but it is because largely of what has been done to those communities—the resources that have been given or taken away from those communities generation after generation after generation.”

In this sense, an understanding of Critical Race Theory can actually be quite liberating for the not-racist individual.  It can help not-racist cops and judges understand how they can be part of a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets black people.  It can help not-racist elected representatives and government officials understand how they can be part of a political system whose policies and legislation perpetuate racial inequities.  And it can help not-racist teachers (like me!) understand how they can be part of an educational system that continues to underserve its black students.  Critical Race Theory does not assume our complicity as individuals in any of the racist results that these systems produce.  It does, however, beg the question of what we as individuals and as a larger society should do about it. 

To answer this question, I have my students participate in a Socratic Seminar in which we discuss potential solutions.  The beliefs and attitudes shared by students run the ideological gamut, but they all start with an acknowledgement of the problem—an acknowledgement that racial disparities are a fact of history in this country, and they continue to exist today. 

And while opponents of Critical Race Theory often label it as inherently ideological or a form of indoctrination, acknowledging racial disparities is not an ideological act, no more than it is ideological to acknowledge that George Washington was our country’s first president or that World War II happened.  Acknowledging racial disparities—both historical and modern—is simply a recognition of an objective reality.  

Which is probably why I have never thought of myself as a teacher explicitly teaching Critical Race Theory.  It was part of my graduate school training, and definitely informed my philosophy in regards to the teaching of history, but it is not something I have actively or consciously considered since my official arrival to the classroom, and certainly has not been a term that I’ve used or shared with students.  That’s because to teach Critical Race Theory is simply to teach history and the role that race has played in shaping how individuals and groups have experienced this country in the past and in the present. 

I will concede that it’s not difficult for me to imagine unproductive attempts at teaching Critical Race Theory and teaching about race in general.  Not all teachers are currently equipped to tackle and teach a topic that requires so much knowledge and so much nuance.  I know I have been to plenty of social justice workshops and trainings myself that have not been done well or at times left me rolling my eyes.  But all that means is that we should continue to have conversations about how to best carry out this work, not if we should carry it out.  I also don’t think that school districts should run from the terminology.  Critical Race Theory is something that students should be learning in their Social Studies classrooms, and school districts should demonstrate both a commitment to equity and a backbone and stand by that. 

I’ve always told my students that in order to change the world, you first need to understand where that world comes from.  History gives us that understanding.  It teaches us that the world that we were born into did not fall from the sky—that the present that we inhabit is a product of the past.  This is true about every modern-day phenomenon that you can imagine, and race is no exception. 

Critical Race Theory provides students of all races with knowledge that is essential in understanding the legacy of racism that still lives and breathes in the United States today.  Critical Race Theory helps students to cultivate a true sense of patriotism that recognizes the country for both its virtues and its flaws, and sees criticism of those flaws as something that comes from a place of love that challenges the country to be better.  These are the reasons that I will continue to make Critical Race Theory an essential component of what I do in my Social Studies classroom, and I won’t apologize for doing so.  And if you’re a teacher teaching Critical Race Theory in your classroom, you shouldn’t either. 

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22 thoughts on “What Critical Race Theory looks like in my Social Studies classroom

  1. CPK says:

    Wasn’t mlk about not seeing color in people? Or faulting folks for past negatives and overcoming? Or not holding people whom had nothing to do with injustice responsible for an injustice? Maybe I’m wrong?:/

    You’re preaching about history wow crazy bizzaro world these days! Wawaweeewa!
    Glad I’ve been checked out from social media and all this political fun stuff. “Service with a smile”
    Glad i live in the stix with no arrogant divisive woke folks whom are often violent. Those you see and hear aggressively pushing their own false often arrogant depictions and interpretations of history and or the current world. With consistent mirage of moral high ground regardless of fact or logic. Whom leave or accept no others thought, disagreement or discussion if contrary to their own. Those whom will never see the political pawns they are.

    Glad we have an amazing set of former and current teachers, nurses, business workers, machinist, builders and entrepreneurs to touch on a few collaborators. With an amazing group of parents dedicated to fighting this politicized crap I’m reading and hearing about! working together to homeschool our kids!

    Want to try the history stuff?…
    Cpk pop quiz ha

    who was ciprus atticus ?

    Wentworth Cheswell?

    Whom worked with and or for the British and helped with the capture and perpetuating in Africa of the slave trade?

    Did blacks own other blacks?
    Who is nat butler?

    Were only blacks slaves? or treated as less than? What others were considering less than? Why?

    What sunset provisions pertaining to the slave trade were in the constitution?

    3/5th clause was that to say each slave person was only 3/5th a non slave person or was it total population based? Why or explain?

    What countries at that time didn’t have slavery or slave labor?

    What races were slaves in other nations? And in the usa and what percentages?

    What party was that of the kkk or john wilkes booth how about Lincoln? Jim crow?

    Could blacks hold office or own land?
    What about vote? If so where when why?

    Whom did the 1st gun laws apply to?

    What Supreme Court cases and opinions led to the fugitive slave act? What states opposed this? and how and with what means?

    Why did or would blacks fight for the cause of the patriot and colonialists? How many did?

    What was the thoughts of freed slaves like Fredrick Douglas pertaining to the constitution or system of governance in the usa? Why?

    Could you own a cannon? Lol

    Few quickly I could think to ask you or the students you “teach” jk more to come I’m sure;)

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    • Walter E Williams says:

      Only 2 ways to explain disparities? You should not be teaching kids. Read some Thomas Sowell Discrimination and Disparities

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    • CPK says:

      Whelp no response not surprised. Anyway hope your doing ok bud! Checking out again from tech and politics maybe chat again next time i log on someday. Cheers 🍻

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  2. He tells his students that there’s 2 ways to look at disparities, his way or the racist way. What a douche. Fucking pansy preaches bull shit then blocks people for calling him out on twitter! Named his daughter Lenin after vladimir lenin a piece of shit tyrant marxist responsible for the dumbest idiocy known to man responsible for some 100 million deaths! Cant wait for his kid to have to explain about his dad being and idiot marxist when people ask why her daddy named her lenin lol cant ban me her fucktard marxist shit bag 💼

    Like

  3. Big Cat says:

    Actually, I could block you on here, but I choose not to. Was happy to let you continue your incessant harassment of me on my Twitter account, too. I can take it. But once you started insulting my 7-month old daughter, I decided that was enough. Nevertheless, thanks for being a loyal reader of my blog, and please feel free to continue to offer your alternative viewpoints here. Just leave my daughter or if it, please.

    Like

    • How can you ban someone on a platform like this? by name? Thats changeable. By ip? Again changeable and many services like express vpn use and re use and let many people use the same ip and shuffle them from many different servers. Just curious what your method of banning here could be?

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  4. Many blacks denounce thug culture, is thug culture not a thing? What’s happening in the big cities? Many blacks have explained what’s it’s like to try hard and be successful to just be denounced by many in their own race for success “uncle toms”, is that not a thing? From my experiences it is! I don’t think race is the catalyst here just happened to be this way culturally and what they ran with and propped up.

    “ Explanation #1: The racial inequality that still exists today exists because there is something wrong with black people. There is something about their race or their culture that prevents them from achieving educationally or economically at the same level as whites. The problem with this explanation is that it is literally racist. ”

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  5. Still glad ya voted for biden billy? Lol you dumb bastards own this mess every person whom voted for biden this is your fucking mess you imbeciles! You are directly responsible for all this with the guy you voted for same as you leftist and obama all that drone strike blood and carnage is on your hands too! How do you sick fucks sleep at night with all this blood on your hands?

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  6. Andrew Austin says:

    Why are cultural explanations racist? “The problem with this explanation is that it is literally racist. It literally ascribes to black people some sort of shortcoming or inferiority that is rooted in the color of their skin.” Your argument presupposes that cultural differentiation is rooted in racial differences, which you explicitly define here phenotypically. There’s a word for that, no? “Racist,” I believe the word is. And what about whites for whom culture is a barrier to success? For every poor black person, there are three poor white persons. Do you suppose the culture that fails them is rooted in the color of their skin?

    Like everybody who pursues this line of thinking, you are confusing individuals with abstract categories. People are not personifications of demographic categories. There are black capitalists and managers who exploit the labor of white proletarians. There are affluent blacks in all walks of American life. Academics. Lawyers. Scientists. Were they able to achieve these things while maintaining the cultural sensibilities that appear to hold back other blacks? Or did they achieve these things because they adopted the cultural norms and values that lead to success in life? They surely would not have found advantage in adopting the cultural sensibilities that hold back so many whites.

    This is about class and culture. Race has little to do with the achievement gap—except for those who want to change standards to rationalize their failure to close the achievement gap, a problem exacerbated by telling black kids that they live in a world that means to oppress them and that whether they rise or fall has nothing to do with norms and values. I mean, how are your to account for the fact that six percent of the US population commits more than half of the homicides in America? That has nothing to do with culture? The white oppressor makes black men kill other black men?

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