Teaching and critical race theory

Classroom teacher and public intellectual Jose Vilson has a post on his blog on “the work we must do” in public education. After pointing out that our guiding principle should be “educating for an informed democracy,” he provides good advice on how to respond to the misguided critics of critical race theory:

“We can say ‘critical race theory has two tenets: 1) we have systems that depend on racial hierarchy and 2) we can do something about it.’ We’ve been doing this work towards a better democracy for decades and can’t shy away from it by going on the defensive. We teach the truth without apology. We’re unafraid because we know our communities trust in us to do this work and we know history will look kindly on those who put justice, compassion, and the truth in front of young people who need it the most.”

I know that I’ve been responding to the silly attacks on critical race theory by pointing out how those attacking it don’t seem to know what critical race theory actually is. Critical race theory is not, for example, the same thing as the Frankfurt School of Marxism, despite what some pundits would have us believe.

But I think Vilson is right. There’s no reason to go on the defensive. Instead, we can meet these attacks head on. Maybe some people don’t like “critical race theory,” but racial hierarchy is real. Since a fundamental purpose of education should be to strengthen democracy, then we of course we should talk with children about the places where democracy has fallen short. Of course we will address all topics in a developmentally appropriate way, but there is no reason to lie to children.