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#AACTE21 Deeper Dive on How Educators Can Embrace Critical Race Theory

A Deeper Dive into Critical Race TheoryThe AACTE 2021 Deeper Dive session “Critical Race Theory and Countering Political Culture” brought together experts in education, law, and history to discuss how taking a critical approach can help educators engage in courageous action. The panel included Khiara Bridges, professor of law at University of California Berkeley; Sonya Ramsey, associate professor of history at University of North Carolina Charlotte; and Alfredo Artiles, Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University.

What is critical race theory?

Khiara Bridges began by acknowledging that although there is no single definition or enactment of critical race theory (CRT), CRT scholars all stand in opposition to oppression. Bridges defined CRT as an intellectual movement, a body of scholarship, and an analytical toolset for interrogating the relationship between inequality and education, law, history, health, or any other school of thought. She discussed four common tenants to CRT:

  • Race is a social construction
  • Racism is [unfortunately] a normal feature of American life and society
  • Scholarship is not, cannot, and should not be disconnected from people’s lives
  • Traditional liberal understandings of race and racism are problematic

How does CRT relate to racism?

Connecting CRT to racism, Sonya Bridges addressed the misconception that racism is the result of intentional and irrational acts of bad individuals. Using the murder of Eric Garner as a case example, she exemplified how CRT would encourage us to move beyond the individual acts of Garner, and even former officer Daniel Pantaleo, to examine the systems that allowed this murder to occur and be seen as a legal use of force. For example, while traditional approaches to racism would ask whether Pantaleo was a racist, a critical analysis would re-focus on the systems that deemed Garner’s actions a crime in the first place, led Garner to sell cigarettes, empowered Pantaleo to engage violently with a non-violent civilian, and perpetuate health disparities in Black communities.

Why is history central to CRT?

Echoing this call for addressing the systems that perpetuate racism, Sonya Ramsey made the case for understanding the historical contexts that explain systemic racism in education. Using early historians’ documentation of the founding of this nation as an example, Ramsey took a critical approach by acknowledging that the celebratory documentation of American history only told part of the story and ignored the experiences of Indigenous people, African people, women, and indentured servants who did not receive the same promises of freedom as the White men who wrote America’s history. Moreover, this initial denial to freedom and efforts to use education to erase the cultures of these communities serves as an explanation for current injustices persisting in education systems. CRT proposes a need to examine systems for this very reason, because these systems were built to perpetuate marginalization.

Why take a critical approach to education?

Alfredo Artiles contextualized CRT in education by inviting teachers to use a critical lens to engage in courageous action. Acknowledging the need for CRT in special education, Artiles explained how CRT allows us to uncover the intersection of race and disability. CRT urges us to problematize color blindness since taking a colorblind perspective also blinds us to the fact that Black and Brown students are disproportionately diagnosed with disabilities in comparison to their White counterparts. Digging deeper, Artiles explained how CRT allows us to see that this disparity is not attributable to inherent inabilities of marginalized individuals, but instead is attributable to prejudiced systems built to further marginalize Black and Brown students. As a result, Artiles presented a need for educators to be mindful and critical of contexts more so than individuals.

Strategies for educators

Each of the panelists shared some practical strategies for educators at all levels to resist hate, restore hope, and engage in courageous action:

  • Support multiple representations of competence
  • Interrogate colorblindness
  • Seek training in interpreting and analyzing historical records and scholarship
  • Embrace a strength-based approach by celebrating ingenuity and counter narratives
  • Challenge college curricula to offer more relevant materials
  • Acknowledge and grow from mistakes
  • Confront the racially unjust policies that reinforce the school-to-prison pipeline
  • Refuse to engage in practices that force students of color to compete for status and resources
  • Advocate for additional mental health professionals and resources for all their students
  • Reframe the siloed study of race and diversity into core constructs within curricula
  • Increase attention to the cultural nature of learning
  • Develop new analytical mindsets – Start with end-state patterns then follow with analyses of social structures, institutional contexts, and decision makings processes that shape end-state patterns
  • Design learning environments and experiences that promote new processes of becoming or identification
  • Build information infrastructures that document educators’ learning over time

By Temitope F. Adeoye, MSEd, is a doctoral candidate and Holmes Scholar, Purdue University.


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