www.axios.com /2023/03/03/critical-race-theory-education-books-explained

What is critical race theory

Russell Contreras 6-7 minutes 3/3/2023
Illustration of a stack of books with a question mark printed on the pages.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Under the guise of banning "critical race theory," a growing number of U.S. states now limit public schools from having certain books with content or lessons relating to race or racism.

The big picture: Following former President Trump's 2020 loss, conservative activists launched a coordinated campaign against critical race theory by falsely claiming the graduate-school-level concept was widely taught in grade schools.

Reality check: CRT is seldom taught in public schools, especially grade school. A high school in Portland has advanced-level CRT classes and a Detroit superintendent said his district uses it as a framework, but those are rare cases.

How critical race theory began

Critical race theory — which holds that racism is baked into the formation of the nation and ingrained in our legal, financial and education systems — was developed in law schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

What critical race theory says

Racism is baked into U.S. society, according to CRT backers. It underlays how society conducts business and encompasses the everyday experience of most people of color in the U.S., Delgado and Jean Stefancic write in "Critical Race Theory: An Introduction."

Yes, but: There are divisions among CRT scholars between the "idealists" and the "realists."

What critical race theory doesn't say

The tenets of CRT do not preach that any member of a race, group, religion or nationality is superior.

What's happening in education

State of play: According to the U.S. census, about half of the nation's K-12 students today are people of color.

Between the lines: The end of the Cold War slowly brought an end to social studies as a tool to reinforce U.S. nationalism and retell a romanticized version of U.S. history.

CRT rarely came up as an issue in school board elections before Trump's presidency.

Zoom in: Elementary school teachers, administrators and college professors are facing fines, physical threats and fear of firing over accusations that they teach CRT.

The bottom line: The rebranding of critical race theory by conservatives and broadly written laws banning it in schools have led to the removal of books about conventional civil rights figures.