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Education Leaders Address EPPs’ Role in Advancing Critical Race Theory

AACTE Town Hall on Critical Race Theory

On November 19, AACTE held its inaugural virtual Town Hall featuring an interactive discussion on Critical Race Theory (CRT) in education with six leading educators: Marvin Lynn, Ph.D., dean and professor, College of Education, Portland State University; Kimberly White-Smith, Ed.D., dean, La Fetra College of Education and Professor, University of La Verne; Lisa Norton, Ed.D., dean, College of Education and Health Sciences, Touro University, California; Jesse Perez Mendez, Ph.D., dean, College of Education, Texas Tech University; John Henning, Ph.D., dean, School of Education, Monmouth University; and Jacob Easley II, Ph.D., dean, Graduate School of Education, Touro College. During the session, the panelists addressed the integral role educator preparation programs play in advancing scholarly work on CRT as well as questions posed by the audience.

As the moderator, Mendez guided the conversation beginning with an explanation of CRT. “Please define Critical Race Theory and explain its tenets and brief history in education,” he said. Lynn responded, “Critical Race Theory is defined as a historical analysis and critique of racism and white supremacy. It’s an analysis of racism and white supremacy in the law and society that really uses relevant examples of case law, public policy, popular culture and critical historical events that are designed to draw attention to the way in which the law is racially constituted.” Lynn said, “And then we can think about critical race theory as an interdisciplinary critical theoretical method that’s taken up again chiefly by legal scholars. It draws on fields of sociology, anthropology, ethnic studies, and women’s studies to put forward a critique, a broad, systemic critique of race and racism as a key axis of power in the United States and around the world.”

“Explain how educators can resist efforts to undermine the progress critical race theory has made in education,” said Mendez. “How can educators counter opposition to critical race theory in teacher preparation?” Henning responded, “It’s important for everyone to understand the theory because the tenets of Critical Race Theory make a great lens to look at different behaviors and interactions among the races. I think it is important to lead and to advocate for it. There’s a great need for white leaders to speak out on this topic and to recognize, and to be open and vulnerable to what’s happened in the past and what continues to happen so that we can grow and get better.”

Mendez also asked, “How can educators move beyond a place-based lens and address critical race theory in national and global contexts? What are the challenges of being responders only? How can educators begin to lead this work?” Norton responded, “As the white woman on this panel, I think it’s especially important for me to be anti-white supremacist, to speak out and work with my white colleagues and make sure that we are really dismembering the whiteness that exists in our universities and in our K-12 systems. And quite frankly, in our communities and organizations as a whole.” Norton also stated, “I think that as a dean, it is my responsibility to connect these ideas. When we are planning for this, it’s not just the talking, it’s actually the walking. And we must make the steps beyond these statements to say this is the daily work. It’s really important for all children to know where they’re from, how their families were involved in the history of our city, how they identify with our city and then what are the historical dynamics and where their place is.”

“How can educator preparation providers operationalize critical race theory at their institutions? Share examples of what you are doing at your institution,” Mendez asked the panelists. White-Smith responded, “One of the first things that we did was completely reconceptualize what a strategic plan could be, and focusing in and centering in on, how do we develop our identity as a Hispanic-serving institution. Thinking about centering our students’ experiences, I really looked at my budget and found moneys to prioritize for students.” White-Smith shared, “Even though the moneys were not present at the time, rallying people around the idea of investment and change created excitement. The first center that we initiated was the Center for Neurodiversity, Learning, and Wellness. Some of the work around the center definitely comes out of critical theory, critical race theory, and critical disability theory.”

Mendez concluded with the question, “How are you working to implement critical race theory at your school of education? What solutions have proven successful that you would recommend to other deans?” Easley responded, “We have begun to think about how to refashion our curriculum. Because we live in New York, we realized that we’re positioned in a way that we have innumerable or a large vast number of resources. Meaning the city itself, particularly around cultural and historical resources that can help our faculty and our students to better understand themselves and the lives of others. So part of that is revamping our curriculum to focus on issues of identity.

Watch the full video recording of the AACTE Town Hall.


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Jerrica Thurman

Director of Marketing & Communications, AACTE