Critical Race Theory – Part I – What Is the Critical Race Theory

Next to mandatory masking and vaccinations, Critical Race Theory has become one of the most discussed topics in education during this school year. And while ‘discussed topic’ is certainly a nice way to put it, ‘heatedly debated’ may be a more accurate description.

It seems that everyone has an opinion on Critical Race Theory and they definitely aren’t afraid to voice it.

But what is Critical Race Theory exactly, who developed it, and why was it developed? The answers to those questions aren’t as easy to come by. 

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is exactly as its name implies. It’s a theory, an idea that is used to explain something, but it’s not a widely accepted fact. That’s important to note because, on both sides of the debate, people tend to argue that it’s entirely accurate or it’s entirely not accurate.

The truth is, theories are created to make us think, to start practical discussions, to help us gather evidence, and to help society advance.   Whether you accept certain theories or not, they do have an important role in society.

That being said, CRT is actually not a new theory. It was first developed in the 1970s by a legal scholar named Derrick Bell. Bell was looking for a way to examine how the advancements made during the Civil Rights Era had impacted Black people living in the United States and whether or not those advancements had actually continued.

Bell is now known as the godfather of Critical Race Theory because his work really started a discussion that continues today. CRT has been studied countless times since then and many prominent students and scholars have studied, debated, and furthered its theoretical framework in many different fields.

In 1995, Gloria Ladson-Billings and William F. Tate started applying the concepts of CRT to educational practices. But it wasn’t until recently, that Critical Race Theory in education became such a talking point amongst parents and educators around the country.

To better understand why, one must look at the five tenets of Critical Race Theory:

  1. Race is not biological. Instead, it is socially constructed.
  2. Racism is something that is experienced by all non-white people.
  3. All legal setbacks and advancements for people of color actually serve the interests of white people.
  4. Stereotypes against people of color are established periodically in order to serve the needs or interests of white people.
  5. The notion that whites have actually been the recipients of civil rights legislation.

Additionally, CRT holds that no person is a member of only one group, but that people of color are the ones qualified to speak on behalf of other members of their minority group. So, how does Critical Race Theory apply to education?  Generally speaking, it’s a way for people to examine how the educational system currently in place affects students of color, good, bad, or indifferent, and how that knowledge can help change a system that often fails certain students.