Critical race theory is a cross-disciplinary approach to exploring how education, laws, and social and political movements are shaped by societal conceptions of race and ethnicity. In the past year, the topic has generated a partisan conversation around how and what to teach students about the United States’ history of racism.
In a new working paper from the Annenberg Institute, Jonathan E. Collins of Brown University concluded that Americans opposing critical race theory largely seem to do so not because of its impact on how public schools teach history but because they have come to dislike the term itself.
Using data collected through a series of national surveys entitled “Assessing Opinions of Public Education and Political Participation under COVID-19,” Collins measured the importance of parental consent for a public school curriculum dedicated to teaching the history of racism. He found that Americans, on average, express overwhelming support for an anti-racist curriculum, even when the curriculum is not approved by parents.
But when the term “critical race theory” is mentioned, it drags down support for anti-racist curricula considerably. The political politicization of the term is effectively thwarting the use of curriculum that could foster healthy racial discourse, an approach that most Americans say they want.