Critical race theory: What it actually means

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Melissa Montoya
Published: Updated:
Critical race theory has caused controversy among Republicans, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, who want to ban it from classrooms. (CREDIT: WINK News)

Teaching critical race theory in public schools is a controversial topic.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants it banned.

But still, most people cannot define it.

Including DeSantis, who has been vocal against it, most recently saying “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.”

So what is critical race theory?

“Critical race theory attempts to enlarge the national conversation about issues of race and racial justice in the United States,” said Kendall Thomas, a professor at the Columbia Law School who helped define critical race theory. “It’s not a question of replacing one history for another, it’s a matter of enlarging the history that we’ve only been teaching part of.”

For example, Thomas said, the Declaration of Independence features the phrase “all men were created equal,” but when Thomas Jefferson wrote the line, all men were not considered equal.

The phrase then did not apply to women, slaves or people who did not own property.

“You cannot teach the story of 1776 in a responsible way if you don’t also teach the story of 1619 when slaves arrived on the shores of what was then the American colonies,”  Thomas said. “If you don’t teach a story of 1857, and the case of Dred Scott versus Stanford, in which the Supreme Court said that Black Americans had no rights that white Americans were bound to respect.”

The Dred Scott decision declared that Black Americans were not awarded American citizenship, meaning that the Constitution did not apply to them.

DeSantis and Republican lawmakers nationwide are taking action to ban critical race theory in public schools. Florida wants teachers to align their civics lessons with traditional American history.

The Florida Education Association, a teacher union, opposes the state’s plan to stick to “traditional American history.”

The State Board of Education will consider the proposal to ban critical race theory next month.

Meanwhile, DeSantis has repeatedly said he wants to do away with it.

“It needs to be taught in a fact-based way, not an ideologically-based way,” DeSantis said.

Thomas said critical race theory is not about ideology, revising history or hating country.

Instead, it’s about telling our nation’s complete story.

“It’s a question of our intellectual responsibility to young people to show them that questions of race, racism and racial justice, are not just about the relationship between individuals but that questions of race, racism, and racial justice are part of the fabric of our shared common life,” Thomas said.

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