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American Bar Association: CRT and Education

July 19, 2021

For those who are hearing the term “critical race theory” (CRT) and who wish to know more about what is behind the term, I offer excerpts particularly focused on education and CRT from this January 12, 2021, article from the American Bar Association:

(Note that twice that “interrogating/interrogation” is used when “integrating/integration” seems to fit the context.)

CRT is not a diversity and inclusion “training” but a practice of interrogating (integrating?) the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship. … CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation. 

CRT does not define racism in the traditional manner as solely the consequence of discrete irrational bad acts perpetrated by individuals but is usually the unintended (but often foreseeable) consequence of choices. It exposes the ways that racism is often cloaked in terminology regarding “mainstream,” “normal,” or “traditional” values or “neutral” policies, principles, or practices. And, as scholar Tara Yosso asserts, CRT can be an approach used to theorize, examine, and challenge the ways which race and racism implicitly and explicitly impact social structures, practices, and discourses. CRT observes that scholarship that ignores race is not demonstrating “neutrality” but adherence to the existing racial hierarchy. For the civil rights lawyer, this can be a particularly powerful approach for examining race in society. Particularly because CRT has recently come under fire, understanding CRT and some of its primary tenets is vital for the civil rights lawyer who seeks to eradicate racial inequality in this country.

The originators of CRT include Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Cheryl Harris, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Tara Yosso, among others. CRT transcends a Black/white racial binary and recognizes that racism has impacted the experiences of various people of color, including Latinx, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. As a result, different branches, including LatCrit, TribalCrit, and AsianCRT have emerged from CRT. These different branches seek to examine specific experiences of oppression. CRT challenges white privilege and exposes deficit-informed research that ignores, and often omits, the scholarship of people of color. CRT began in the legal academy in the 1970s and grew in the 1980s and 1990s. It persists as a field of inquiry in the legal field and in other areas of scholarship. Mari Matsudi described CRT as the work of progressive legal scholars seeking to address the role of racism in the law and the work to eliminate it and other configurations of subordination. …

In the field of education, Daniel Solórzano has identified tenets of CRT that, in addition to the impact of race and racism and the challenge to the dominant ideology of the objectivity of scholarship, include a commitment to social justice; centering the experiential knowledge of people of color; and using multiple approaches from a variety of disciplines to analyze racism within both historical and contemporary contexts, such as women’s studies, sociology, history, law, psychology, film, theater, and other fields.

Some of the most compelling demonstrations of how racism has been replicated through systems is within the education system. Many can recall images of troops escorting nine Black students to integrate Little Rock Central High School. Or Ruby Bridges being escorted into a New Orleans Elementary School by armed guards six years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated racially segregated education in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Those moments are just snapshots of the intersection of racism, the law, and the education system. This article provides just a snapshot of CRT, and the following explanation is a glimpse of the application of CRT in education. But the explanation below seeks to capture how CRT applies to the education system, particularly in addressing how racial inequality persists in the post–civil rights era.

Education and CRT

Segregated schooling is a particularly profound and timely demonstration of the persistence of systemic racism in education. For example, Brown is often couched in terms of American exceptionalism. But Gloria Ladson-Billings and other CRT originators in the field of education recognizethat Brown was the culmination of over a century of legal challenges to segregated schooling and second-class citizenship and far from a natural occurrence or inevitable result of racial progress. The late Harvard Law Professor Derrick Bell, in Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma, noted that the Fourteenth Amendment alone could not effectively promote racial equality for Black people where such a remedy threatened the superior social status of wealthy white people. Further, Bell noted that Brown was decided the way it was because of what he termed “interest convergence,” which is the recognition that the interests of Black people in achieving racial equality will be accommodated only when it converges with the interests of white people.

Therefore, Browns legal invalidation of racial segregation in education held some benefits for white policymakers as well as for Black students. Chief among these, Bell argued, was not the moral imperative of ending legal segregation but restoring the credibility of America’s image abroad. As the nation waged a Cold War, it became increasingly difficult for the country to justify its racial caste system, Bell observed. Further, the Brown ruling was limited in its relief, and the persistence of racial inequality following the civil rights era implicates the law in maintaining racial inequality. For example, the Supreme Court failed to outline a specific remedy to achieve integrated education. As Ladson-Billings notes in Landing on the Wrong Note: The Price We Paid for Brown of Brown II decided in 1955, it can be seen as a combination of flawed compromises that combined a denouncement of legal segregation with a limited and unworkable remedy. It took years of subsequent litigation over the ensuing decades until the Court finally mandated that school districts act to uproot all vestiges of segregation “root and branch.” 

A particular limitation of legal efforts to address racial inequality has been the inability of many legal mandates to reach the covert and insidious nature of de factoracism. This has proved that eradicating racial inequality in education is not merely an exercise in ending legal segregation. For example, achieving racial balance, as Bell asserted, did not obviate the need to address other systemic practices that perpetuate racial inequality within diverse schools, such as the loss of Black faculty and administrators, many of whom lost their jobs in the wake of Brown as retribution for aiding school desegregation efforts. Bell observed that changing demographic patterns, white flight, and the reluctance of the courts to urge the necessary degree of social reform rendered further progress in Brown virtually impossible.

The limitations of legal interventions have led to current manifestations of racial inequality in education, including:

  • The predominance of curriculum that excludes the history and lived experiences of Americans of color and imposes a dominant white narrative of history;
  • Deficit-oriented instruction that characterizes students of color as in need of remediation;
  • Narrow assessments, the results of which are used to confirm narratives about the ineducability of children of color;
  • School discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color and compromise their educational outcomes (such as dress code policies prohibiting natural Black hairstyles);
  • School funding inequities, including the persistent underfunding of property-poor districts, many of which are composed primarily of children of color; and
  • The persistence of racially segregated education.

School funding inequities are exemplified in many racially and socioeconomically isolated districts, such as Detroit’s public schools. In 1940, shortly before Verda Bradley arrived in Detroit, Black Americans comprised 9.2 percent of the city’s population. Over 30 years later, when her children went to school, Black Americans comprised 44.5 percent of the city’s population. The ratio of Black students to white students was 58 to 41 in 1967. Seeking to desegregate the city’s schools, Bradley and other parents who were represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People alleged that Michigan maintained a racially segregated public school system through policies that isolated Black students within the city’s public schools. Due to racially discriminatory housing practices, Black families were excluded from the surrounding suburbs populated by white families that fled the city to avoid integrating the schools. However, in Milliken v. Bradley, the Supreme Court rejected a desegregation plan that encompassed Detroit’s public schools and the surrounding all-white suburbs. In exempting the surrounding suburban districts from the desegregation plan, the Court held that they were not required to be part of the desegregation plan because district lines had not been drawn with “racist intent” and the surrounding suburbs were not responsible for the segregation within the city’s schools. The Court left Detroit to desegregate within itself. In his prescient dissent, Thurgood Marshall observed, “The Detroit-only plan has no hope of achieving actual desegregation. . . . Instead, Negro children will continue to attend all-Negro schools. The very evil that Brown was aimed at will not be cured but will be perpetuated.”

Consequently, in 2000, the ratio of Black students to white students in Detroit’s public schools was 91 to 4. The city’s racially isolated public schools are also profoundly under-resourced. Recent litigation—Gary B. v. Whitmer—brought on behalf of students in Detroit’s public schools illuminates the state of the schools in the decades following Milliken. In their complaint, the plaintiffs describe deteriorating facilities that lack heat and are infested with vermin. They describe the absence of qualified educators that resulted in a middle schooler serving as a substitute teacher. But students like the Gary B. plaintiffs (and students in similarly racially isolated and under-resourced districts) are left with little recourse given that the Supreme Court held in 1973’s San Antonio v. Rodriguez that there is no federal right to education.

Instead, the Gary B. plaintiffs brought a novel claim alleging that they were entitled to a minimum level of education that enabled them to achieve at least a basic level of literacy. The decision of the Court of Appeals in favor of the plaintiffs was ultimately set aside, and the state of Michigan reached a settlement with the plaintiffs. However, from a CRT perspective, the case is instructive about how the law can reproduce racial inequality. By rejecting a desegregation plan that sought to transcend the racial divisions imposed by discriminatory housing practices, the Court essentially foreclosed the possibility of implementing a workable desegregation strategy, and racial and economic inequality persisted unabated. CRT recognizes the inevitability of the segregated and under-resourced schools at issue in the Gary B. litigation, given Millikens indifference to the nature of covert discrimination decades earlier.

CRT and a Call to Action for Civil Rights Lawyers

The example of application of CRT to education in the case of Milliken illustrates how CRT recognizes the role of the law in perpetuating racial inequality. Employing a CRT framework necessitates interrogation (integration?) of systems and structures in which we function. The Milliken example also implicates the impact of discriminatory housing policies and school financing systems in perpetuating racially isolated and under-resourced schools in Detroit and recognizes that education policy does not operate in a vacuum.

End of excerpt.

There is nothing in this article about instituting activities in K12 classrooms whereby students are labeled or told to self-identify as “oppressor” and “oppressed.” Moreover, this article does not present CRT as a K12 curriculum, nor is it an indoctination scheme for teacher training programs any more than learning Freudian theory was an indoctination scheme in my training as a guidance counselor.

Still, I guarantee that this info will make some people uncomfortable in the same manner as did my investigating why my home parish of St. Bernard, Louisiana, decided to open a voucher school for white students in 1960 right across from the St. Bernard-Orleans Parish line, or as did my asking why in 1966-67 St. Bernard’s middle and high schools were integrated by race but segregated by gender.

I’ll leave it at that.


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  1. LisaM permalink

    So where is this “self-identify, oppressed/oppressor” thing coming from in public schools?….because it IS happening in many public schools! Please give this nonsense a name so that we can all get off the CRT train wreck. It’s what parents are reacting to and what FOX is “calling” CRT. No, it is NOT CRT(!), but whatever it is, it is wrong to do this type of “teaching/learning” with children and young adults who are going through very profound hormonal/developmental changes in their lives. It’s also happening with gender/queer theory and radical feminism. All of this is reminiscent of the late 60’s early 70’s….but on steroids (likely due to social media)! If “activists” and/or social scientists are using children to indoctrinate for a “cause” then they have crossed the line and should not be allowed access to the millions of children in the school settings.

    • Linda permalink

      Lisa M
      You’ve time traveled from the Nixon era. (Read Ryan Girdusky’s 2014 interview posted at Pat Buchanan’s site.) Pat, like you, is an enemy of the “counter culture”.

      If you are not a man who just claims to be “Lisa”, here’s a stat for you, fewer than 10% of Black people are willingly giving up their political rights which contrasts with close to 50% of women.
      Prominent Republican Peter Thiel said, women voting in a capitalistic democracy is an oxymoron.

  2. fullerhunt permalink

    This is a new, ridiculous low for public education. Instead of holding ALL students accountable for their behavior, work ethic, attendance, etc. they just look for ways to lower the bar for minorities and, eventually, for all students. This is another extension of No Children Left Behind, aka, Leave ALL Children Behind, and Race to the Bottom. Public education, teacher’s unions, and administration have been failing our children for decades. I taught in public schools for years and the last thing most staff cared about was helping the students to achieve and move beyond the obstacles they encountered in life and learning. It was always, “CYA”.
    And where the heck have the parents been?!?! Finally, they’ve woken up and are fighting this Marxist ideology.

  3. David Schultz permalink

    Thank you for sharing this American Bar Association excerpt about CRT with us. While I appreciate the substitutions you suggest, I believe that the author(s) purposely used “interrogating/interrogation” to mean carefully question or examine, which is consistent with the use of CRT in the fields of scholarship.

    • One interrogates individuals, not inanimate objects or social constructs, in which case “examine” would have been the clearer term.

  4. LisaM permalink

    This is what parents are reacting to! It’s NOT CRT, but it IS cause for alarm. In print, these ideas/theories seem reasonable and fair. In practice, something is going terribly wrong. I don’t know who is responsible for the development of this type of curriculum for public schools, but I can tell you that this is what is causing such commotion in schools (and at home when the kids tell their parents). The Social Scientists and Psychologists (not science at all!) need to get the heck out of schools and test their pseudo-science on those who wish to volunteer. “Grit” and “Growth Mindset” didn’t work….so now we have this mess. It’s no wonder that parents are leaving public schools in droves. SEL was the final straw for our family when we left public for private 3 yrs ago and we have no regrets….happy teachers, happy students and healthy interactions in a real learning environment.

  5. Linda permalink

    Thanks for posting the ABA’s explanation.

    Ryan Girdusky formed a PAC to raise money to fund school board candidates who are opposed to CRT. He received a fawning interview at Catholic Vote. Seven years prior, he interviewed Pat Buchanan in a telling story about the political agenda of the conservative religious i.e. right wing Catholics and evangelicals working together for the GOP. The 2014 Buchanan interview is posted at the Buchanan site. The authoritarian leader of Hungary (54% Catholic) who promotes large families also received praise at Catholic Vote.

    Christopher Rufo who The New Yorker credits with creating the controversy over CRT tweeted that he planned to send his oldest child to a Catholic school (suggesting a reason other than CRT). Rufo is a Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow along with Jack Murphy (2021) who is the subject of articles at WAMU, which delved into his connection to charter schools and, at Think Progress which reproduced Murphy’s vile comments about women. At the Lincoln Fellow site, readers can review how many Lincoln Fellows since 2016 have affiliations with Catholic organizations. One Fellow was a state Catholic Conference executive director (the Conferences are the political arm of the bishops). The Fellows also include right wing activists, Jack Posobiec, James O’Keefe of Project Veritas infamy and Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA. Out of approx. 100 Fellows since 2015, only one appears to be Black, inducted in 2015.

    An Ed Choice spokesperson is profiled at Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, “One step at a time: Mike McShane’s Journey with Catholic Education.” He has connections to Sinquefield-funded institutions (e.g. the Show Me Institute which is described at Sourcewatch) and his doctorate is from Walton-funded University of Arkansas. Prof. Patrick Wolfe of the University of Arkansas’s Education Dept. is profiled at Arkansas Catholic.

    A colleague close to Pope Francis, Antonio Spadaro, S.J., wrote in a La Civil Cattolica article (updated 2/2021) about an alliance between American right wing Catholics and evangelicals, “(They) condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in a nostalgic dream of a theocratic state…ecumenism of hate…. Intolerance is a celestial mark of purism.”

    The gender-separate school mentioned in the final sentence of the Deutsche 29 blog post above is consistent with an American type Taliban plotting for a theocratic state, enabled by Republican Catholics and evangelicals. The wealthy who promote school privatization for their libertarian goals are happy to exploit the colonialism comfort zone of the conservative religious. And, many right wing religious are happy to pick up fat paychecks from the wealthy, justifying with religious goals, their actions undermining U.S. democracy and eliminating common goods.

    Predators boast, “to the victor go the spoils”. And Jefferson said, in every age, in every country, the priest aligns with the despot.

  6. Linda permalink

    “segregated by gender”
    The Republican theocratic state threatens women’s rights. The possibility of the loss of women’s rights in the U.S. has a parallel in Iraq. “Equal rights for women were enshrined in Iraq’s constitution in 1970, the right to vote, run for political office, access to education and own property. Today, those rights are all but absent under the U.S. backed government of Nouri al-Maliki (3-19-2013)”

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