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Critical Race Theory Isn’t the Problem

Critical race theory (CRT), which has been around for decades, has become a catch-all for ideas, movements, curricula, teaching styles, and ideological stances, most of which are misaligned to the theory itself. Many of the things dumped into the CRT bucket don’t fit with its definition — a theoretical construct of the systemic nature of racism (typically taught at the graduate school level) grounded in tenets emerging from a legal analysis framework in the 1970s and 80s. Applying the label seems to make it easier for people to come out against it. In the recent Virginia governor’s race, then-candidate-now-governor-elect Glenn Youngkin said, “There’s no place for critical race theory in our school system, and why, on day one, I’m going to ban it.” Most educators know, however, that CRT isn’t represented at all in K-12 general education curricula or teaching concepts. So when people like the new governor of Virginia talk about banning it, what specifically do they intend to ban?

That’s the wrong question. Critical race theory isn’t the problem. The problem is that too many of our K-12 students right now have deep needs that are being overlooked while we engage in political tussles.

Right now, our children need supports to deal with the mental health effects of dealing with loss — the loss of family members, friends, and teachers whose lives have been claimed by this deadly virus; the loss of innocence as they’ve seen these ugly political battles play out in full view; and especially, the loss of a positive and affirmed sense of self as adults bicker about who matters and who doesn’t — based on racial, gender and ethnic identity.

At CT3, our main bodies of work are all grounded in the No-Nonsense Nurturer philosophy, a term coined by students. Based on in-depth research analyzing the practices of teachers achieving high levels of performance in diverse environments, the No Nonsense Nurturer approach has been successfully utilized by hundreds of thousands of teachers across all grade levels, in urban and rural schools throughout the country. For us, “No-Nonsense Nurturers are educators who understand the importance of purposefully building relationships with each student, setting high expectations for every academic challenge and holding themselves and their students accountable for success with little room for excuses. These teachers work to create environments in which they teach discipline, develop expectations and routines and create predictable environments to establish trust, respect, and a positive culture” (Borrero, 2019). This is what CRT is NOT.

We start with the No-Nonsense Nurturer philosophy because we think it’s important to honor the identities that scholars bring with them when they enter our classrooms, as we build the types of relationships with them that dramatically alter their sense of worth, their academic achievement, and ultimately, their lives. No-Nonsense Nurturer as the foundation of all of our work ensures that every student, every day gets served in ways that meet their needs. That is particularly important in places and spaces where students of color, students who have been placed at risk, and students with unmet needs are represented. If we cannot show up for all of our students, particularly the neediest among us, then how will we help any of them feel safe and whole in a world where they feel neither?

The debates about CRT raging in school board meetings across the nation seem to overlook that most central fact — our students need us to show up for them differently, right now.

  • Differently means showing up to support students and their families socio-emotionally in the midst of a continuing global health pandemic.
  • Differently means giving grace to overworked and exhausted teachers picking up the many pieces that were dropped in the virtual space in the midst of grief and loss and danger.
  • Differently means letting students know that racism has no place in our schools and society.

According to a Sesame Workshop study, some 86% of children ages 6-11 think people are treated unfairly based on race in the U.S., and half said they thought about racism often. Research also shows children can develop implicit biases early, and kids who have negative views of other races/ethnicities experience lower achievement outcomes. So whether we’re talking about race or not, our children are thinking about it, well before preschool. In other words, we can keep silencing conversations about race and racism — in history and in the present-day, but then we limit all students’ achievement, and worse, students’ trust in us to tell the truth. And the truth shouldn’t scare us, if we’re all working against racism. Who doesn’t want to work against racism?

Let’s silence the noise about critical race theory, and then we can talk about what really matters — showing up for all our students in a way that leads to trust, strong relationships, and high levels of academic achievement in the absence of racism. Isn’t that what we all want?

blog by Nataki Gregory, Ed.D., CEO of CT3 Education

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