DETROIT, MI – Culture war controversy surrounding critical race theory gained new ammunition when a Detroit superintendent acknowledged the concept’s influence on anti-racist efforts in his school district.
Conservative activists in Michigan and across the country packed school board meetings this year to denounce the teaching of critical race theory – a graduate-level academic framework that examines how racial groups are affected differently by legal systems and institutions. School officials assert “CRT” is not part of any curriculum in Michigan, but educators are making commitments to understand their own biases and provide students with a wider view of history.
If you’re on social media, you’ve probably heard plenty about “CRT.”
Critical race theory has been known to academics for decades, but the term was relatively unheard of in public life until last year. Researchers say critical race theory is often misinterpreted and oversimplified. It’s also become a political issue; Republican lawmakers across the country are drafting bills dictating how race can be taught in public schools.
State Superintendent Michael Rice addressed concerns about critical race theory during an August meeting of the Michigan Board of Education. Rice said that while some teachers have read about CRT and had their thinking informed by it, critical race theory itself is not being taught to children.
“It is not a curriculum, and it is not a pre-K-12 curriculum,” Rice said. “It is an academic lens or set of lenses developed primarily by those in higher education to consider the elements and impacts of racism and particularly institutional racism on our country and citizenry.”
Two months later, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the district’s curriculum is “deeply using critical race theory” during a board meeting. The statement was quickly picked up by activists and right-wing news organizations who perceived Vitti’s comment as a smoking gun admission.
Vitti returned to the topic at a board meeting the following week, saying critical race theory is not a part of DPSCD curriculum but does inform anti-racist efforts in the district. Critical race theory isn’t taught in Detroit schools, Vitti said, but the district embraces its goal of acknowledging historic inequities based on race, class and
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