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23 states have banned teaching critical race theory. But what is it?

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Posted at 2:10 PM, Jun 29, 2021

Perhaps you have heard about critical race theory. It is a red-hot topic in school board rooms across the country, as states try to figure out if they think it is an appropriate subject matter to teach their kids.

Twenty-three states have taken action as they have either banned or proposed bans to teach the curriculum, which suggests racism and division are not just based on personal prejudices but are ingrained in some of our country’s institutions.

“We know in history they say how history is talked about depends on who the victor is,” said Deb Ortega, a critical race theory professor at the University of Denver. “It really is the jumping-off place for people to begin to have critical thinking skills. How it does, that is, it starts to ask us to look deeper into the things that we are told, what we say, what we read, and start to question those things to decide is that: what our truth is today? Is there a different truth, or is there a misfit between truths?”

This theory about our truths started to gain steam in the 1950s when the Supreme Court ruled segregation in schools was unconstitutional in the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka.

When integration began, but equality still lagged, a Black civil rights activist and lawyer at the time, Derrick Bell, looked at what was happening and asked the question: is this coincidence, or is this structural?

It is a question still being asked and debated in classrooms today.

“[Critical race theory] does take a race perspective, but with the intention of uncovering the places where we’re missing that connection, that understanding of other people who don’t make up a majority of our social context,” said Ortega.

While 23 states, many of which are in the South, have restricted or proposed restricting teaching the subject matter, nine states across the country have pushed to expand education on racism and bias by revisiting state standards.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently banned the curriculum saying, "The woke class wants to teach kids to hate each other... but we will not let them bring nonsense ideology into Florida's schools. I love my country. I find it unthinkable that there are other people in positions of leadership in the federal government who believe that we should teach kids to hate our country."

“I would challenge anyone to actually read what critical race theory is about and talk about how that actually creates hate,” said Ortega. “I think what it does is reveals the way that there are holes in our policies, in our practices, in our laws that allow hate to thrive. I think part of [why this is happening now] is the violence in the communities and not just the Black communities. I think that there has been a look to an answer of how to understand the context of what’s happening.”