Recently, a controversy has surfaced in Rocky River involving the teaching of critical race theory (“CRT”) in the local schools.
According to Anne Douglas of the Rocky River Citizens for Transparency, the Rocky River City School District has partnered with the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio, which has been teaching students about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion since 2013. In her testimony presented at the Ohio House of Representatives in support of House Bill 327 (which would ban CRT from being taught in Ohio schools), Anne said that she was able to review the curriculum. Most notably, students were asked to identify which group identity (race, ethnicity, sex, gender, etc). they most strongly connected with, and then the students were separated into groups based on their choices.
Additionally, 7th grade students were taught cycles of oppression (stereotype, prejudice and discrimination). Furthermore, according to Jacob Cain, a recent graduate of the Rocky River School System who participated in the Diversity Center program said during his testimony for House Bill 327 that the instructor taught that “Only white people can be racist.” These ideas are all components of CRT. In addition to speaking at the Statehouse, many concerned parents have been voicing opposition to CRT at Rocky River school board meetings. At the same time, supporters of CRT, such as the Black Lives Matter group, have been voicing their support for CRT.
What is Critical Race Theory?
CRT is an academic movement that focuses on race and racism inherent in society. The major tenet of CRT includes advancing oppression narratives. The narrative is that in America, white individuals oppress non-white minorities through the racist design of society and institutions, leading to systemic racism. This movement has become more apparent in the public square through the development of the 1619 Project (an initiative by the New York Times that re-frames America’s founding around slavery) and also by the publication of various books and articles, including one entitled White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.
Kimberle Crenshaw, a CRT founder, said that “Critical race theory is a practice. It's an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what's in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it” (Karima, 2021). Furthermore, as reported by to Conn Carroll in The Daily Signal, Crenshaw edited a book entitled Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement, and wrote that critical race theory’s goal is to “recover and revitalize the radical tradition of race-consciousness among African Americans and other peoples of color” (Crenshaw, et. al., 1995).
Opponents of CRT believe that it actually works to increase racism. Conn Carroll, the director of communications for Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), wrote that “instead of uniting Americans as one people with a common set of values, critical race theory encourages all Americans to think of themselves primarily in racial terms. Just as Marxism encourages Americans to think of themselves in terms of class, critical race theory encourages people to think of themselves in terms of race” (Carroll, 2021).
Evaluation and Impacts
On its surface, CRT seems to have laudable goals of addressing inequality and supporting minorities. These goals align with America’s earliest principles of promoting individual self-determination. However, upon closer inspection, the practical implications fall woefully short of our American ideals in two respects. First, rather than seeking to promote unity and reconciliation, CRT actually promotes division and disunity by emphasizing the importance of race as a primary means of self-identification. Martin Luther King Jr. said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” If our schools emphasize racial categories against MLK’s aspirations, how can we not expect that racism will continue and advance in our society? This is not a path to reconciliation but will rather foster distrust, a lack of respect and racism.
Second, CRT advances the idea of oppression narratives, which practically lead to negative thinking, disempowerment and victimization. In her master’s thesis entitled Critical Race Theory and the Impact of Oppression Narratives, GerDonna Ellis, an African-American, writes that “My white professor would continue to bring up issues of privilege and oppression and reiterate that I am oppressed” (Ellis, 2020). If a teacher were to instruct African-American third graders that they were oppressed, they would most likely believe and internalize this dogma. The students would most likely feel victimized and disempowered, leading to an inability to overcome any challenges that life may present, including any overt or indirect racism.
Third, there is the issue of the practical impact of teaching an unproven theory such as CRT on the test scores of Rocky River students in state proficiency tests. Currently, Rocky River students are scoring consistently within the top tenth percentile on state history and social studies proficiency tests using the traditional social studies and history curriculum. Devoting a considerable portion of teacher and student attention to CRT-based curriculum not accepted by most historians or social studies scholars is likely to reduce Rocky River’s excellent test scores.
A Path Forward
Instead of CRT, our communities should develop sensible approaches to addressing racial equality focused on directly improving student academic performance. Rather than focusing on developing new courses or spending money partnering with diversity organizations, schools should focus on producing better student academic outcomes using traditional, proven curriculum with additional student support in closely supervised environments. Many Cleveland schools that have large minority student populations are performing poorly in this area, which inevitably will cause these students to struggle socioeconomically in their lives. By improving learning outcomes rather than teaching dogmatic oppression narratives, these schools can better equip minority students to be more successful in finding strong, successful livelihoods and can work to overcome economic and racial inequality.
Another solution to addressing racial inequality involves promoting alternative educational paths, such as charter schools or vocational schools, that could provide parents more choice. According to Jon Valant of the Brookings Institution, many minority Democrat voters support charter schools. These alternative paths could provide parents of both white and minority students with the means to pursue stronger, outcome-based schooling systems for their children, enabling them to achieve more successful livelihoods and careers.
Carroll, Conn (6.22.2021). “San Francisco is Most Racist City in America, According to Critical Race Theory.” The Daily Signal. https://www.dailysignal.com/2021/06/22/san-francisco-is-the-most-racist-city-in-america-according-to-critical-race-theory/?utm_source=TDS_Email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MorningBell&mkt_tok=ODI0LU1IVC0zMDQAAAF93C8ftVWXkK9XWOEohm_dygejlCVSTmC6OfnAFscYqYl3Se_hY23mQ-OLPq4nVYJYJ8dQzGhExeViTZtU03peTsR--aiRYSHvBL7CfbuXEe2mRA. Accessed on 6.24.2021.
Cleveland 19. “Parents concerned about what is being taught in diversity and inclusion programming.” Cleveland 19. https://www.cleveland19.com/2021/05/04/parents-concerned-about-whats-being-taught-diversity-inclusion-programming/ Accessed on 6.24.2021.
Crenshaw, K. et. al. (1995). Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement. The New Press.
Ellis, G. (2020). Critical Race Theory and the Impact of Oppression Narratives.” Boise State. https://scholarworks.boisestate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2811&context=tdAccessed on 6.24.2021.
Karimi, Faith (5.10.2021). “What critical race theory is – and isn’t.” CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/01/us/critical-race-theory-explainer-trnd/index.html. Accessed on 6.24.2021.
Ohio House State and Local Government Committee. “Committee Meeting on June 23, 2021.” The Ohio Channel. https://ohiochannel.org/video/ohio-house-state-and-local-government-committee-6-23-2021 Accessed on 6.24. 2021.
Valant, Jon. (5.21.2019). “Democrats’ views on charters diverge by race as 2020 elections loom.” Brookings Institution: Brown Center Chalkboard. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/05/21/democrats-views-on-charters-diverge-by-race-as-2020-elections-loom/. Accessed on 6.27.2021.