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Experts discuss controversy around Critical Race Theory

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File


In Facebook groups and school board meetings across the country, parents are speaking out against teaching Critical Race Theory in their childrens’ classrooms. 

This controversy comes as communities across the country celebrate Juneteenth, but Kishi Ducre -- who’s seen similar conversations in a Facebook group of central New York moms -- said she’s worried the people opposing this topic to grade school curricula don’t really understand what Critical Race Theory is.

“The people who are really upset about it cannot define it,” said Ducre, who is an Associate Professor of African American studies and Associate Dean of Syracuse University’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Ducre said Critical Race Theory, while a foreign phrase to many, is really quite simple. 

“It understands that racism is structural,” said Ducre. “That's all it is.”

The theory -- which explores narratives of American History from all perspectives -- has been a common practice in higher education for decades. 

Karol Cooper teaches a Critical Race Theory literature course at SUNY Oswego and she said her way of implementing the theory into literature is by simply introducing her students to authors who can provide different experiences and perspectives on race.

“In the course, we read texts from authors of different identities to see how did they describe life in a society where race is a big part of existence,” said Cooper.

While her course is named “Critical Race Theory,” Cooper explained that its teaching isn’t just one thing, but the term refers to the implementation of diverse perspectives in all facets of learning.

“It's a collection of approaches that have something in common and the thing that has in common is wanting to hear people's individual stories of their life experiences,” she said. 

For a history curriculum, Ducre recommended teaching that racism has been and is a part of American history and to not gloss over the stuff white people may not be proud of. 

“You don't gloss over the moments that are now right there in our founding documents -- African Americans are not considered people, they're considered property,” said Ducre. 

While many who oppose the teachings of Critical Race Theory are fearful of making white children feel guilty for the actions of their ancestors, Ducre said the key to curbing that guilt is by teaching history as fact rather than a narrative that requires a hero and villain.

“Looking at our history is not trying to make people feel guilty,” she said. “We're not trying to create good guys and bad guys. History is the facts. Racism being structural in our systems are simply facts. If you feel guilty, that's on you.”

The conversation that’s risen from the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, is one that’s been discussed for the past year among educators. So why is the term “critical race theory” consuming school boards and political discussions now?

Ducre said this culture war was launched to drum up conservative support ahead of next years’ midterms and that she’s not surprised.

“There's always this moment this time and there's always this moment prior to elections in primaries, where there is a manufactured hysteria around a cultural response,” said Ducre. 

She said that while the majority of the country is undergoing a cultural shift, coming to terms with, and amending the historic and present systemic racism upheld by the United States, a select group is pushing to close that door to our past instead of addressing it.

“We have a group of people who -- this opposition of critical race theory -- are saying ‘we need to close the door to our past. We don't want to reckon with our past,’” she said. 

The movement to ban Critical Race Theory -- which is primarily led by conversative politicians and media outlets -- is based on the premise that teaching about structural racism will perpetuate white guilt. Ducre said guilt shouldn’t stop students from seeking the truth.

“The fact that you feel guilty should not preclude you from engaging in the history of the oppressive legacy of the United States.,” she said. 

Critical Race Theory has existed in academia for decades, and Ducre and Cooper agreed that it’s teaching has only benefited their students.

“We cannot be a true democratic country, unless people and children understand the things that we've done,” said Ducre. 


Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.