20 Plus States Introduce Legislation To Curb or Outright Ban Teaching Critical Race Theory in Public Schools

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According to CBS News, more than 20 states have introduced legislation that would limit teaching critical race theory in their public schools. Five states have already moved to ban educators from teaching it, including Florida and Tennessee. Russell Contreras, who covers race and justice for Axios, joins CBSN’s “Red & Blue” host Elaine Quijano to discuss why the teaching concept has become so divisive.

What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?

EdWeek: Is “critical race theory” a way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy, or a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people? Liberals and conservatives are in sharp disagreement.

The topic has exploded in the public arena this spring—especially in K-12, where numerous state legislatures are debating bills seeking to ban its use in the classroom.

In truth, the divides are not nearly as neat as they may seem. The events of the last decade have increased public awareness about things like housing segregation, the impacts of criminal justice policy in the 1990s, and the legacy of enslavement on Black Americans. But there is much less consensus on what the government’s role should be in righting these past wrongs. Add children and schooling into the mix and the debate becomes especially volatile.

Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.

Derrick Bell, the first tenured black professor at Harvard Law School, died of cancer Wednesday. He is seen here in 2002.

A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.

Today, those same patterns of discrimination live on through facially race-blind policies, like single-family zoning that prevents the building of affordable housing in advantaged, majority-white neighborhoods and, thus, stymies racial desegregation efforts.

CRT also has ties to other intellectual currents, including the work of sociologists and literary theorists who studied links between political power, social organization, and language. And its ideas have since informed other fields, like the humanities, the social sciences, and teacher education.

This academic understanding of critical race theory differs from representation in recent popular books and, especially, from its portrayal by critics—often, though not exclusively, conservative Republicans. Critics charge that the theory leads to negative dynamics, such as a focus on group identity over universal, shared traits; divides people into “oppressed” and “oppressor” groups; and urges intolerance.