MSN news ran a story describing what Critical Race Theory is and why conservatives should not worry that it is being taught in public schools and universities across the nation. While their initial commentary is correct, CRT is a legal theory derived from the 1970s to examine the so-called failures of the civil rights movement, the writers fail to dive deeper into the radical philosophies of its proponents. For instance, they don’t discuss how education and achievement are “white constructs” perpetuating white supremacy, as Rochelle Gutierrez (2013) suggests. Instead, in true leftist fashion, the writers at MSN attempt to ridicule conservatives, and their attempts to prevent CRT from being pushed on our children, while also insisting the underlying message that all white people are inherently racist, is unfounded. The deeper one dives into the non-sense that is CRT, however, the more they realize there is no way of escaping the accusations of systematic discrimination. Every aspect of our culture is something that pushes the myth of an oppressive society specifically designed for white people alone.
While many of my own articles focus on the relationship between CRT and its parent philosophy of Critical Theory, many of the attitudes and beliefs being pushed in CRT go back to the early 1900s. This is important because systematic discrimination and inequalities of educational opportunity are key components of CRT. One of the major themes is the so-called achievement gap. As mentioned above, CRT considers achievement itself a white construct, and efforts to solve the achievement gap are nothing more than something that-
“offers little more than a static picture of inequities, supports deficit thinking and negative narratives about marginalized students, accepts a static notion of student identity, relies upon Whites as a comparison group, divides and categorizes students, ignores the largely overlapping distributions of student achievement, offers a “safe” proxy for talking about students of color without naming them, relies upon narrow definitions of learning and equity, and perpetuates the myth that the problem (and therefore solution) is technical in nature.” (Gutiérrez, 2008a).
This is the racism in education that leads to inequality and achievement gaps because it focuses too much on misconstrued interpretations of racial differences. Ironically, this line of thinking isn’t traced back to a white supremacist sporting a confederate flag, or one of our founding fathers for that matter. Instead, it comes from two black Americans known for being the first to earn doctoral degrees in America’s higher education system, Carter G. Woodson and W. E. B. Du Bois. According to the book Critical Race Theory in Education (p. 14), these two men had a profound influence on the scholarly work contributing to today’s CRT. Woodson, who achieved a Ph.D. from Harvard University, took the view that education for blacks was “controlled by outside interests” (Snyder, 2015) and reflected the “history, values and hierarchies of the oppressors” (Snyder, 2015). In his book Miseducation of the Negro, he makes the claim that blacks were taught to admire the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Latin while dismissing their own culture (Woodson, 1933, p.1). Furthermore, he states that education in America at the time, put all its emphasis on white achievement, thus crushing the aspirations of black students (p. xii). The result was a race of people who felt inferior and lacked confidence in their own identity.
There is some truth to this when examining the concepts of biological racism. Darwin’s theory of evolution, for example, pushes the concept of racial inferiority based on evolutionary principles. When examining the tenants of Critical Race Theory, it is the justification of creating systems of racial preferences, based on the preconceived notion of the racial superiority of whites, making up most of the theory. To argue, for example, that ability and achievement are white constructs black students cannot identify with, you would have to believe one race is superior is to another.
W.E.B. Dubois also had some interesting things to say about the place of black Americans in higher education. Dubois earned his Ph.D. in 1909 from Harvard and went on to become a professor at Atlanta University. He was also one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Those are some amazing accomplishments. You must wonder how he was able to do this in a system that encouraged him to view himself as inferior to whites. According to Ladsen-Billings and Tate (2016, p. 14), Dubois argued that black Americans are conflicted with a double identity. One they feel must conform with the hegemonic culture and the other which seeks to understand their own. Ladsen-Billings and Tate (p. 14) cite David Lewis’s biography of Dubois in saying that black Americans had a heightened sense of moral insight into American society as their thoughts continually dwelled on their oppressors and their wrongdoings. This could theoretically explain the philosophy of the superior virtue of the oppressed.
As mentioned earlier, the authors of Critical Race Theory in Education noted that the theories of these two men contributed greatly to the scholarly work that makes up today’s CRT. They also took note that they didn’t intend to diminish the work of other black scholars, who also earned Ph.D.’s from prestigious universities such as Harvard and Columbia but focused on these two who are considered “seminal thinkers” on the issues of race and racism. This raises some interesting questions those seeking to understand CRT must consider. Why did these two, who earned doctoral degrees on their own merits and abilities focus so much on racial grievances? Is it their attitudes and insistence that the systems they navigated are rife with racism, and that black Americans struggle with a conflict of identity in finding their place within them, that are leading to problems like the so-called achievement gap today? Why not teach young blacks that if they apply themselves as these two did, they can overcome anything? Consider the impact of being told your whole life that the system they force you to be a part of does not value you and in fact, considers you inferior. Would you try to do your best in that system? These are ideas, which CRT scholars admit, come from two of America’s first black Ph.D. recipients. Two people that could have set a whole different tone in racial relations simply by stating they achieved what they did through hard work and dedication. Even if American education was racist, these two persisted through it and didn’t let it stop them. Why not write books about how they did so?
Do you think that would have changed anything?
Creating Racism: Psychiatry’s Betrayal. Citizens Commission on Human Rights Creating Racism (cchrstl.org)
Gutiérrez, R. (2008a). A “gap gazing” fetish in mathematics education? Problematizing research on the achievement gap. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 39(4), pp. 357–364.
Gutiérrez, R. (2013). The sociopolitical turn in mathematics education. Journal for research in mathematics education, 44(1), pp. 37-68
Ladsen-Billings & Tate, W. F. Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education. From Critical Race Theory in Education (2016). New York, Routledge.
Lewis, D. L. W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919 (New York: Henry Holt, 1993), p. 281 (note: this citation was taken from the book Critical Race Theory in Education)
Pinon, N. (2021, July 4) What is Critical Race theory? msn.com
Snyder, J.A. (2015) Progressive Education in Black and White: Rereading Carter G. Woodson’s Miseducation of the Negro. History of Education Quarterly, 55(3) pp. 273-293
Woodson, C.G. Miseducation of the Negro (1933) The Associated Publishers