On September 10th Sarah Osgaard tackled the difficult issue of Critical Race Theory — a hot button issue in Irmo and the nation. She answered this question by explaining that critical race theory is not in our schools because technically and historically CRT is “a theoretical framework involving the history of US laws, systems, and organizations that focus on “the nuances of the rights protected by the 1st Amendment vs. the 14th Amendment, the history of voting rights, or the quantitative effects of public policies. It is not a k-12 curriculum.”

It is true that the academic discipline of “critical theory” began in law schools at the graduate level, similarly to how postmodernism originated in English departments in textual criticism. But both CRT and postmodernism have broken out of their departments of origin and deeply impacted universities and colleges of Education.

Although I have taught in a predominantly black college and been part of a prison ministry to mostly black inmates, I do not have academic expertise in racial issues. Nor have I taught about them. But I have read enough to question Osgaard’s assertion that the only CRT in our kids’ schools is Culturally Responsive Teaching which, Osgaard insists, “is not about racial or gender or any specific identity.” Rather, it helps “every child…[to see] him/herself represented in examples, stories, and visuals…and [feel] included and valued.” If only.

What is CRT?
The historic “critical race theory” that has its roots in legal theory is defined and introduced in many academic resources like Delgado and Stefancic’s Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, and “Critical Race Theory and Education: Mapping a Legacy of Activism and Scholarship” by Kafi D. Kumasi. They have everything to do with racial identity and injustice, and not so much to do with “culturally relevant teaching. (See more resource titles quoted at https://laelarrington.com/2022/09/is-crt-in-our-schools-a-response.)

What do all these primary sources about CRT written by proponents of CRT have in common? The very ideas which have ignited controversy in schools and communities across the nation. And I quote from them in their proponents’ own words…

”Critical race theory recognizes that racism is endemic to American life… [W]e ask how these traditional interests [like federalism, privacy, traditional values or established property interests] serve as vessels of racial subordination.”

“Critical race theory measures progress by a yardstick that looks to fundamental social transformation. The interests of all people of color necessarily require not just adjustments within the established hierarchies, but a challenge to hierarchy itself.”

“The centrality of experiential knowledge. CRT recognizes that the experiential knowledge of People of Color is legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, analyzing and teaching about racial subordination…” (In other words, the voices that should make policy, write curriculum and teach our children must be voices that speak from the lived experience of racial oppression. Other voices should defer to them.)

” Critical race theory expresses skepticism toward dominant legal claims of neutrality, objectivity, color blindness, and meritocracy…” (per CRT these ideas camouflage systemic racism and must be deconstructed to reveal their inherent racial bias)

“Revisionist History is another tenet of CRT [which] suggests that American history be closely scrutinized and reinterpreted as opposed to being accepted at face value and truth.“ (As in the 1619 Project (based on flawed research) which reinterprets America’s founding through the lens of CRT and is taught in public schools.)

”Critical race theory is interdisciplinary and eclectic. It borrows from several traditions, including liberalism, law and society, feminism, Marxism, poststructuralism, critical legal theory, pragmatism, and nationalism…”

Critical Race Theory is not just about technical legal studies or constitutional amendments and public policy.

While I’ve no expertise in racial issues, I do have an MAT in the history of ideas, and this list of CRT tributary ideas is waving red flags at me, especially Marxism. CRT is criticized by many as a form of cultural Marxism that interprets the world through the lens of racial rather than class struggle.

As a former teacher and one who loves my teacher friends, I have no desire to add to their burden. But the fact is that, while many of the tenants of critical race theory help us understand and address how racism is still experienced in America, many ideas from these primary resources are extremely controversial and sow discord in our schools.

If you had to slow down to understand them as you read them above, you are not alone. They are very academic and use words like “whiteness” and “intersectionality” with definitions unique to the discipline of CRT. Because of the unfamiliarity and complexity of the ideas, CRT can be unintentionally or intentionally camouflaged to mislead concerned parents about what is going on in our schools.

Ms. Osgaard challenges us to believe that the only CRT in our schools is actually “Culturally Relevant Teaching” and not the ideas set forth above by critical race theory’s proponents. Education Week, https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/more-than-9-of-every-10-teachers-say-theyve-never-taught-about-critical-race-theory/2021/07, a news organization that has covered k-12 education since 1981, explains that CRT is “widely misunderstood and is often conflated with other concepts such as culturally relevant teaching, which incorporates students’ cultures and experiences into instruction.”

Ms Osgaard also asks a second question: “Is critical race theory in our schools?” While space does not allow an evidential answer here, the short answer is “yes.” Although not part of a k-12 curriculum, CRT has caused trouble in South Carolina schools. For specifics read the second half of my article at https://laelarrington.com/2022/09/is-crt-in-our-schools-a-response. And more info about CRT in my articles https://laelarrington.com/2021/07/critical-race-theory-a-worldview-critique-part-one/#more-12956

And https://laelarrington.com/2021/09/critical-race-theory-good-resources-especially-a-free-christianity-today-seminar-thursday/#more-13047.

I would hope that if Ms Osgaard and I sat down for a cup of coffee, we could sort out together what CRT is and how it’s influencing our schools by discussing the evidence with generosity and grace.

Lael Arrington
Columbia