Dial down the panic over ‘Critical Race Theory’

Wildly inaccurate accusations are flying all over the place right now. Don’t get sucked in—do this instead.

If you are worried about critical race theory in schools, here is some advice from someone who actually teaches it.

If you want your concerns to be heard, first of all, start by listening. What is your school actually teaching? It probably is not actually critical race theory. It almost certainly is not Marxism.

Despite the red-baiting you may have heard on Fox News, you’d be hard pressed to find an American anywhere who actually advocates “the abolition of private property,” as one unhinged guest recently said critical race theory was advocating.

The controversy over CRT is a moral panic, and wildly inaccurate accusations are flying all over the place right now. Don’t get sucked in.

If you accuse a school of teaching critical race theory or Marxism and that is not what they are teaching, they probably won’t listen to you. They’ll be too busy arguing that they are neither teaching critical race theory nor Marxism (and that racism is bad). Then you’ll be more frustrated that they aren’t listening to you.

Second, keep in mind that these are emotional issues for everybody. Misunderstandings happen quickly.

People who argue over whether something is or isn’t racist often have different definitions of racism. Have conversations when you aren’t overwhelmed by emotion and take breaks if or when it begins to get heated. Clarify what you mean and ask questions about what the other person means.

As a white person raised in a mostly white suburb, it took me a long time to get up to speed. The level of my own ignorance was shocking, especially since I considered myself a good, well-educated, open-minded person. It didn’t take much for my emotions to overwhelm me, impairing my ability to learn. Pace yourself, but keep at it.

As I tell my students, you aren’t responsible for what happened before you were born, or for what you did not do, or for what you cannot control. However, you are responsible for learning about the world we live in—and for what you do with that information.

Even when your intentions are good, it’s possible to do something hurtful because you don’t know better—provoking someone else to respond angrily because you’re the 64th person to do that this week and they can’t take it anymore. It pays to give everyone a little extra room in the learning process, and to give yourself enough room so that you are able to accommodate others.

Third, look for areas of agreement. Would it be OK to add a few more books by authors of color to the English curriculum? Can you agree that students should develop critical thinking skills and learn to think for themselves? Maybe there are still major areas of disagreement to be addressed later, but it’s nice to start by finding the progress that can be made now and doing it.

Fourth, assume that all of the people involved are well-meaning, even if you disagree with them. Teaching about race is difficult. I’ve been doing it for years and each class is different, with new challenges. I’m doing my best, but I don’t always get it right. If I screw up, it’s because I’m human, not malicious.

What’s not productive? Calling teachers Communists. Passing harsh new laws that punish teachers for doing their jobs—and students for trying to learn. Cutting school funding over students’ or teachers’ political views. Treating the study of our country’s history like an attack on it.

One of the loudest complaints critics make about teaching about race is that it’s “divisive.” If that’s your view, I hope you’ll take steps to bridge that divide—not censor it.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson writes about food, agriculture, the environment, health, tolerance, and well-being. Currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, she’s the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.” Distributed by OtherWords.org.

3 Responses to Dial down the panic over ‘Critical Race Theory’

  1. CRT suggests that endemic racism is the cause of Black under achievement-even after 55 years of set asides and affirmative action for POC. Seems a very weak argument to me. Folks are just afraid to seek other causes and explanations.

  2. Catherine l Fiorelli

    CRT teaches that white people are privileged and that Caucasians have held down people of color, which is not universally true. Students are NOT being taught to think because that isn’t easy and also because dissent from the mainstream media censors thought which differs from its “propaganda.” I am a conservative and yet I read the NY Times to hear what the other side has to say. How many progressives ever challenge their beliefs with conservative news

  3. Nicole Bernstein


    I can appreciate your perspective but unfortunately when you dig a little deeper, especially as a parent, it’s pretty obvious that you (Jill) are not 100% unbiased. And as a “teacher of ethnic studies”, you seem to have already fallen victim to the indoctrination that has hijacked well meaning educators like yourself who genuinely want to be sensitive and open to all points of view.

    Example from here in California, ethnic studies sounds great, until a school district defines how it will be implemented and who will be “educating the educators”, and you quickly see the red flags and dangerous ideology that you’ve already been conditioned to ignore.

    Exhibit #1:

    Exhibit #2:


    Exhibit #3: “liberated ethnic studies curriculum”:


    It’s time to do some serious soul searching on this issue – as an educator, do you want to teach your students to regurgitate the only “acceptable” way to learn about diversity or do you want to teach the truth about history and racism in order to ensure they never repeat the mistakes of our past? Because you cannot do both – it’s time to choose: teaching truth based real history (as painful and shocking as it may be), or do you want to indoctrinate and segregate and vilify one race against another until everyone hates everyone else?