Considering race and racism in Georgia classrooms: Here are some helpful definitions

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continues to provide coverage about discussions of race and racism in metro Atlanta schools and elsewhere around Georgia. It has become a point of contention in recent local and state school board meetings and also a political issue, most notably after Gov. Brian Kemp called critical race theory a dangerous ideology as he urged the Georgia state Board of Education to adopt guidelines to prevent or discourage its teaching in Georgia.

Here are some helpful definitions and explanations of some of the issues that have come up in our coverage and in the statewide debates, reported and compiled by education reporters and editors at the AJC.

What is critical race theory?

Critical race theory, also known as CRT, is an academic concept based on the idea that racism is a social construct that is embedded in all aspects of our lives, including in legal systems and policies.

CRT emerged more than 40 years ago as part of the framework for legal analysis created by legal scholars.

Encyclopedia Britannica calls the theory a loosely organized framework based on the premise that U.S. legal institutions “are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites.”

The American Bar Association describes CRT as “not a diversity and inclusion ‘training’ but a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship.

Why is CRT controversial?

Critical race theory has become a flashpoint recently as it has been tied to schools’ efforts to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives and hire staff to oversee this work.

Critics of CRT claim it discriminates against white people, can teach that they are oppressors while students of color, particular Black students, are victims.

Opposition to CRT and the New York Times’ 1619 Project, has grown across the country, with more than a dozen states having passed or considering legislation restricting how race and racism are taught in schools.

What is The 1619 Project?

The 1619 Project is a historical initiative launched by the New York Times in 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It includes a collection of stories, essays, poems and photos from more than a dozen contributors. The project centers the country’s history on the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans. It led to a Pulitzer for commentary Nikole Hannah-Jones, one of the project creators. A podcast and school curriculum were developed, and two books based on the project are set to publish in the fall.

The 1619 project has been criticised by former President Donald Trump and other conservatives who say the say the project and its premise are un-American. It has also been criticised by some historians who disputed the project’s interpretation of historical events.

Is CRT currently taught in Georgia schools?

It is unlikely that CRT itself is being taught in schools, but the concept may have influenced teachers as they wrote their own curriculum and led classroom discussions.

The Georgia Department of Education does not mandate the teaching of any particular curriculum. Rather, the agency adopts standards about things students are expected to know and be able to do by certain grades. Some school districts adopt curriculum. Others leave it to teachers to write their own. In some, it’s a mixture of both.

CRT has been linked to districts’ diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, as well as, social emotional learning, which the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning defines as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

What does the mean for Georgia students?

Georgia’s education board approved a resolution setting parameters around how race is taught in the state’s public school classrooms. Among the guidelines was affirmation that the board will not support, any K-12 public education resources or standards which indoctrinate students in social, or political, ideology or theory, or promote one race or sex above another; and that the board “believes” that schools should not teach that “an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex...”

The resolution also calls on the board to create formal rules around the stated education board beliefs.

Sources: The New York Times, Associated Press, Education Week, Georgia Board of Education