Who’s Afraid of a Little CRT?

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been in the news lately, especially in Montana. As it turns out, several Montana public officials (you know who you are) appear frightened by CRT. Their response to the idea (not the reality) of CRT being taught anywhere or anytime is to try to ban it, as in make it illegal. It’s like a modern Montana-style prohibition (“Don’t you go out and get caught with a bottle of CRT or we’ll be taking you on down to see the sheriff!”).

All jokes aside (well, not all), I have a couple brief comments and a question.

I’m struck that, in the 21st century, anyone is using the old tried and failed strategies of banning ideas and burning books. Alcohol prohibition seemed rather unsuccessful. . . and we don’t need to know what happened with Romeo and Juliet to understand that, that which is forbidden, takes on a certain sex appeal.

My other main thought is that, just in case anyone was sleeping through science class, Critical Race Theory is a . . . (wait for it) . . . a theory! As with all theories, it’s not a perfect explanation of anything. It’s a working model, a set of ideas, with maybe a few scientific hypotheses. The right response to CRT isn’t to outlaw it—because if CRT is outlawed, then only outlaws will understand CRT. Instead, CRT is great food for thought, discussion, and public and private discourse. Rather than make it illegal, we should be discussing, evaluating, and critiquing its usefulness and validity, rather than acting like studying the presence of systemic racism in American history is blasphemy. If you contemplate the issue, the answer is “Yes, of course” there has been, from the beginning, systemic racism in the U.S. (think Columbus, slavery, Indian Boarding Schools, etc.). However, the fact that systemic racism is an historic and contemporary reality doesn’t make every jot and tittle of CRT true; but certainly it suggests we take it seriously. If not, we risk tempting our children with forbidden fruit or teaching them to be afraid of new ways of thinking. Either way, banning or illegalizing or running like scared rabbits away from CRT does a disservice to our state, our country, and our children.  

My question is whether I should write an Op-Ed piece on this topic. If you think so, let me know. If you think not, tell me I should let it go.

20 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid of a Little CRT?”

  1. Hi, John—

    I have reservations about your emphasizing the “theory” part of CRT. This emphasis seems, despite your intention of inviting thoughtful critique, to offer uncomfortable White folks an easy position from which to dismiss CRT altogether— “It’s just a theory.” We have already seen this tendency among some sects with the dismissal of the “theory” of evolution. Science uses the term “theory” to remain open to new knowledge; non-scientists use “theory” to dismiss all evidence as inconclusive of anything. I wonder if there is another tack you might take in arguing for the inclusion of CRT in curricula.

    1. Hi Sam,

      I think you make excellent points here. Of course, my goal is to make the point that CRT has content that’s important for all of us to learn from. Finding the right way to do that is tricky. My biggest hunch is that no matter how I frame the importance of not dismissing the content that many people will still dismiss the content. My hope is that by emphasizing that we should critique CRT, just as CRT critiques the dominant U.S. culture, and yet still learn from it, I might open the ears of a few folks who are hearing the usual and simplistic media framing of CRT. Despite my leaning, I will take your thoughts into consideration and try to find language that’s clear, and yet welcoming of a dialogue, discussion, and mutual learning.

  2. Yes please! Op-ed. And soon! I am TA for a leadership and diversity class thar starts in July. Ha
    Hope you guys are doing awesome!

  3. Please write an Op-Ed piece! It can often feel like a lost cause to educate closed-minded people (evidenced by our nation’s 2016 election), we cannot give up hope of opening at least a portion of those minds. It is also useful in bringing awareness and knowledge to those who may not understand the issue at hand.
    If we know better, we must not only do better but also share that knowledge. Right? 😊

  4. Yes. Do it. Love your approach. Such a minor theory with a “catchy” name that has folks and media over reaching logic of the intent. I do worry how this will impact how we can teach. Can you also post to the many small papers around MT

    Warmly, Chris


  5. It seems to me Johnny That most have no idea what it says Myself included It’s difficult to keep pace and still ride bikes paddle canoes hike the mountain,make dinner get some sleep and slip in some work My thinking is there is no easily accessible way of knowing what it says So most rely on headlines and sound bites and opinions of others. Just the name sets some people off. I think your op ed will get a lot of letters to the editor that your just another liberal who hates America.

  6. For sure, I encourage you to write the Op-Ed piece — and in fact I think little needs to be changed from what you’ve written here. Thanks for this, John!

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