Critical race theory drives division in Florida schools

First drafted in the 70s, critical race theory, originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, has politicians and voters battling over whether or not it should be part of the regular curriculum. 
I do fear that the politicization of Critical Race Theory is being used to snuff out any and all conversations about equity, race, and racism in our schools,” said Justin Katz, president of Palm Beach County’s teachers union. Illustration by Yasmin Dominguez.

First drafted in the 70’s, critical race theory, originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, has politicians and voters battling over whether or not it should be part of the regular curriculum. “I do fear that the politicization of Critical Race Theory is being used to snuff out any and all conversations about equity, race, and racism in our schools,” said Justin Katz, president of Palm Beach County’s teachers union. Illustration by Yasmin Dominguez.

Isabella Whedbee, Staff Support Coordinator

This summer marked a heated political debate over critical race theory in classrooms putting Florida’s students right at the center.

From June 20 to June 26, Google Trends recorded a massive nationwide spike in a unique term called critical race theory. After becoming a hot-button issue throughout the United States, the debate made its way to Florida and ended with a total ban of teaching critical race theory in schools from the Florida Department of Education.  This topic left many students, teachers, and parents wondering not only why this was banned, but also what the phrase “critical race theory” even meant. 

Critical race theory (CRT) is a framework that explains how racism “is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies” according to Education Week. The theory, created by legal scholars in the 1970s, is a tool used to discuss how to eradicate systems that perpetuate racial inequality.

In other words, critical race theory would examine instances such as in the 1930s, when the government would specifically reject investing in areas that were considered “poor investments” mostly due to the race of the majority of the inhabitants. In turn, banks tended not to offer loans to people who lived in those areas for decades. Supporters of critical race theory want to bring more awareness to racial inequality through historical discussions. 

“The ideas of critical race theory can also get a little confusing,” said senior Tiffany Ross. “But I feel like in general it should be taught so that many can gain more information and knowledge on the topic.” 

I don’t necessarily disagree with critical race theory,” explained senior Cameron Osbourne. “Obviously you had things like Jim Crow laws in the past, so it rings true there. 

Despite the support, the rise of this term in the summer brought more controversy than ever before.  Typically, those against critical race theory argue that race-related teachings create division in the classrooms and support ideas that America is inherently racist. Parents who oppose the theory being taught in schools believe that teachers should instead focus on teaching topics like math and English. 

“Racist acts are deplorable and should be condemned,“ said Johnathan Butcher and Mike Gonzalez in an article on Heritage.org. “Yet, declaring Americans to be systemically racist today is a sign of disrespect to those brave souls who marched in civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s, fought to defend our way of life overseas, or are protecting our streets and communities now.” 

The clash between both sides sprung up even more misconceptions on what critical race theory really reflects on. For example, not all examinations and education on race and diversity fall into what critical race theory examines, even though some critics and supporters tend to conflate the multiple issues into one to prove their points. 

As of August, eight states have passed legislation in an effort to combat critical race theory, with 20 more states planning to introduce this type of legislation according to the Brookings Institution.  

“I don’t understand why you would ban critical race theory,” explained senior Cameron Osbourne. “Wouldn’t you teach critical race theory so you don’t repeat the same mistakes that happened with situations like Jim Crow laws?”

This outcome caused groups of teachers to be particularly upset that the issue had moved its focus away from the students and into political terrain. In fact, in the midst of a heated Florida Department of Education meeting on Critical race theory, about 30 public speakers began chanting “Allow teachers to teach. ” 

Mostly conservative-leaning politicians such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have campaigned against critical race theory (tweeting that the theory teaches students to “hate each other”)  and instead have pushed for “patriotic education.” However, in Florida, since school superintendents have come forward and said that CRT measures are not directly taught in schools to begin with, some believe that the Governor’s campaign against critical race theory is more political than academic. 

“Critical race theory has never been taught in any schools in FL or anywhere outside of law school,” said African American studies teacher Mr. Wynn. “This has become a political issue over something that does not nor has ever existed in public education K-12, college or otherwise except as a legal theory that is used in criminal and civil legal issues.”

The situation nationally has also sprung up controversy in Palm Beach County.  In May, the PBC School board voted to remove the term “white advantage” from their equity statement after some parents protested the team’s ties to critical race theory. Additionally, works such as  “The 1619 Project,” which is a collection from the New York Times that examines slavery, also came under fire from politicians and parents.

In general, no matter the outcome, students, teachers, and parents are ultimately swirled up within the controversy of critical race theory.  Whether swayed from legislation or the opinions of people, the division created from these discussions will not be going away soon. 

“I think awareness is highly important to aid in the future of every child whether it be through education or not,” Ross explained. “The government should listen to others and conduct deeper investigations into discussions like critical race theory.”

To learn more, please visit:

https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1254/critical-race-theory

https://www.naacpldf.org/critical-race-theory-faq/