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In Focus: Critical Race Theory

"It's interesting, because critical race theory is not and should not be controversial," says law professor Gilda Daniels.
Critical Race Theory Teachers
Posted at 5:40 AM, Jul 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 18:10:03-04

BALTIMORE — Passionate parents and community members came out on Monday, July 12 to call on the Harford County Public Schools Board of Education to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in the classroom.

A spokesperson for the district, when asked to comment on the discussion, made clear that there was no item on the July 12th agenda to discuss Critical Race Theory, but it was speakers brought up during the public comment portion of the meeting.

But, the district did point to a presentation made by Dr. Paula Stanton, the school system's Manager of Equity and Cultural Diversity during the June 7th meeting, to discuss the district's cultural responsiveness teaching, and address concerns that Critical Race Theory was being taught in classrooms.

"The reason I want to share a little bit of this, is because we've been getting questions about Critical Race Theory and then they are lumping in culturally responsive teaching," Dr. Stanton said during that meeting. "And while we know it's not the same thing, I think there's some confusion."

What is Critical Race Theory?

To understand the debate, we spoke with law professor Gilda Daniels, who teaches at the University of Baltimore.

"Critical race theory began in around the 1970s, when a group of scholars certainly wanted to talk to us about how we should start thinking about race and racism, and certainly the systemic discrimination in the United States of America," says Daniels.

But, she also says that "It's interesting, because critical race theory is not and should not be controversial."

"Critical race theory lets us look at law and history and socio-economics and other facets of our lives through the prism of race," she added.

Critical Race Theory in the Classroom

Professor Daniels agrees that Critical Race Theory is something that's academically advanced for K-12 students.

"Critical race theory is certainly for higher level of education is certainly taught on the grad school levels," says Daniels. "And in law schools across the country."

But, she believes that while the theory is more for grad students, the history lessons taught through a critical lens is at the root of this fear.

"I think what people are saying is that they don't want history taught they don't want people to talk critically about about American history," she says.

Terri Freeman, the Executive Director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American Culture and History, agreed.

"Critical race theory is really just a name for teaching history. In a holistic manner," says Freeman. "It is about teaching the full history, not just portions of the history."

"What they're trying to do is protect their child from feeling any level of guilt around what occurred many years ago. But I don't think children take on that guilt. I mean, I think that it is, it is narrow minded adults to think that the teaching of history is going to be hurtful to children. And it's narrow minded of adults to think that children receive and internalize that information the way adults receive and internalize that information. In fact, as I have experienced it, younger people are far more open and understanding to this history that hasn't been taught. And what it does is it opens the door for them to want to learn more. So I try to think of this as I'm protecting my child, because I don't want them to feel any guilt. But at the same time, we're not allowing our children to really understand this nation that they live in, and how our society has developed over time. And we're assuming that our children will be negatively impacted by having the whole story, I contend that they'll be negatively impacted by not having the whole story."
- Terri Freeman

Professor James Karmel teaches history at Harford Community College.

He tells us, his understanding of Critical Race Theory, is limited, "As my understanding is, it's a high level academic theory, for example, perhaps utilized by graduate practitioners, primarily."

But he does say that it's important to take a holistic approach when teaching US History.

"As I see it, it's impossible to deny racism in American history and teach it honestly," says Karmel, "I think that there's a whole variety of ways and approaches to do that without making people of any race or background feel shamed in the educational environment."

That's what District 7 Delegate Lauren Arikan is hoping to avoid in Harford County Public Schools.

She says, parents have gotten in touch with her, worried.

"So they don't want their children to be told, if you have this skin color, then your people are purposefully hurting and holding back, your peers have a different skin color," says Arikan.

She and Delegate Kathy Szeliga have written a letter to the Harford County School Board, asking for more information about what exactly is being taught in the classroom.

We asked Delegate Arikan about how some people understand Critical Race Theory as a more holistic teaching of US History.

"I wish it was broader," she responded. "But my problem with it is the exact opposite, that it's that it's really narrow and very tailored. And there's also it's sort of an endemic obsession with judging past historical characters on current values, which is unrealistic."

Harford County Public Schools

We reached out to Harford County Public Schools to discuss the issue, but they declined to comment, further than pointing to Dr. Stanton's presentation during the June 7th meeting.

However, they did point us to a student-initiated group called Voices of Equity.