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What is Critical Race Theory? Resources for Educators

  • CRT Resources
    A theoretical framework:  Critical Race Theory is one tool that researchers in graduate schools of education use to examine why inequalities persist in education.  
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In recent months, Critical Race Theory has garnered widespread attention and been highly politicized, with school board meetings becoming the site of debates about its relevance to K-12 classrooms and partisan organizations and media outlets distorting its role in education. The faculty in the School of Education gathered the following resources to help educators and families better understand the theory. As educators, we must strive to develop a shared understanding of — and a shared language to describe — the obstacles to opportunity that prevent students from reaching their full potential.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a theoretical framework that was first developed within legal studies in the mid-1980s. Scholars at Harvard and UC-Berkeley developed the critique as a means to examine how laws and policies can be vehicles for reinforcing the advantages of the dominant, affluent and predominantly white culture while ignoring the needs and rights of minority and economically disadvantaged people.

In the 1990s, scholars in graduate schools of education began to use CRT as a lens to study how and why inequalities persist in education. Among the topics they’ve studied are racial segregation in schools, the underfunding of majority-Black and Latino school districts, the disproportionate disciplining of Black students, and barriers to gifted and other selective-admission programs. 

There are five major tenets of CRT as defined by Delgado and Stefancic in 2001:

  1. Racism is deeply ingrained legally, culturally and psychologically in our society and intersects with sex, class, national origin and sexual orientation to create systems of privilege that serve to exclude and isolate.
  2. “Color blindness,” the claim that people are capable of ignoring race or that race is no longer a factor within education and larger society, is an illusion that enables the perpetuation of those systems of privilege.
  3. Counter-storytelling allows people to challenge claims of a “postracial” society, preserve their own sense of self and worth, and educate others by sharing their own stories of marginalization.
  4. Our country’s civil rights victories enshrined equality in basic rights, but masked or in some cases even exacerbated the underlying social and institutional dynamics of racism.
  5. Social, educational and economic value is associated with being white, which provides white students with certain rights and rewards while reinforcing exclusionary practices that affect students of color.

Critical race theory is one lens or tool with which scholars of law and education have attempted to examine the causes and consequences of persistent racial inequalities. It studies the effects of racism at a systemic, rather than an individual, level. It does not call for the teaching of specific content or curricula in classrooms. It is related to but not synonymous with culturally relevant teaching and other strategies used by educators to affirm students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds in the classroom.

Importantly, criticism of CRT should not be allowed to silence important ongoing discussions about racism or hinder the pursuit of justice and opportunity within our schools.

Resources to learn more

In the fall, School of Education faculty hope to offer several opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community stakeholders to learn more about this theoretical approach and engage in scholarly discussions regarding its applications. In the meantime, the following resources offer a primer in the theory:

  • Bell, Derrick. And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice. New York: Basic Books, 1987.
  • Bell, Derrick. Race, Racism, and American Law. Boston: Little and Brown, 1973.
  • Berlatsky, Noah. "Is the First Amendment too broad? The case for regulating hate speech in America." NBC News Think, Dec. 23, 2017.
  • Crenshaw, Kimberle, et al., eds. Critical Race Theory: Key Writings That Formed the Movement. New York: New Press, 1995.
  • Delgado, Richard. “Words That Wound: A Tort Action for Racial Insults, Epithets, and Name-Calling.” Harvard Civil Rights–Civil Liberties Law Review 17 (1982): 133.
  • Delgado, Richard. “First Amendment Formalism Is Giving Way to First Amendment Legal Realism.” Harvard Civil Rights–Civil Liberties Law Review 29 (1994): 169–174.
  • Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic, eds. Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.
  • Harris, Angela. “Forward: The Jurisprudence of Reconstruction.” California Law Review 82 (1994): 741–785.
  • Hudson, David L. Jr. "Hate Speech & Campus Speech Codes." Freedom Forum Institute, March 2017.
  • Knaus, Christopher Bodenheimer. Race, Racism and Multiraciality in American Education. Bethesda, Md.: Academica Press, 2006.
  • Lawrence, Charles R. III. “If He Hollers Let Him Go: Regulating Racist Speech on Campus.” Duke Law Journal (1990) 431–483.
  • Matsuda, Mari. “Public Responses to Racist Speech: Considering the Victim’s Story.” Michigan Law Review 87 (1980): 2320–2381.
  • Matsuda, Mari. Where Is Your Body and Other Essays on Race, Gender, and the Law. Boston: Beacon Press,1996.
  • Valdes, Francisco, et al., eds. Crossroads, Directions and a New Critical Race Theory. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.
  • Wing, Adrien Katherine, ed. Critical Race Feminism: A Reader. New York: New York University Press, 1997.