Critical Race Theory Explained Leading Into Special Session

May 18, 2021, 9:17 PM | Updated: 10:23 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The phrase “Critical Race Theory” became a hot topic in schools and the legislature in recent weeks, but what does it mean?

Governor Cox decided not to include it in Wednesday’s special session. He said the issue needed more time and thought but the State Senate and House decided to discuss it anyway.

Critical race theory isn’t all that new. It’s been around for the past 30 years. It can be difficult to understand because it’s not a specific subject. Rather, it’s more of ‘looking at race and institutions with a critical eye.’

Mark Peterson from the Utah Board of Education called it, “A lens, if you will, for a way of looking at things. You can apply critical race theory to history, to economics, to current events.”

The controversy exploded about a month ago when the Biden Administration proposed to offer grants for U.S. history classes that teach critical race theory.

Those who have studied it, like author Darlene McDonald, said there’s a misunderstanding about what that means.

“It’s to make sure that we’re bringing in more diverse voices and perspectives so that we get a more accurate history told to our future generations so that we don’t continue to have the sins of our past. That’s what this is about,” McDonald said.

McDonald added critical race theory itself doesn’t need to be taught in schools, but accuracy in teaching about history, like Christopher Columbus or the 4th of July, is important.

“Why the 4th of July, Independence Day doesn’t mean the same thing to black Americans because black Americans were not free on July 4, 1776. So it’s a totally different perspective,” said McDonald.

Critics such as Representative Chris Stewart, who wrote an editorial in the Deseret News, said critical race theory has an agenda that focuses solely on the country’s past flaws, and there’s a danger in that.

So far, at least six states have passed laws opposing or banning critical race theory in schools, and another ten have introduced legislation opposing it.

U of U Ethnic Studies Associate Professor Edmund Fong called it a setback. “We’ve made a lot of strides over the past few decades around racial equity, justice, and inclusion, around diversity. And so the fear I think is bills like this don’t just stop with critical race theory, the phrase itself, but they really try to target and turn back the clock on many of these efforts to build a more inclusive educational curriculum.”

Critical race theory isn’t currently being taught in Utah public schools but the Utah State Board of Education is considering training teachers about how to talk about racial bias to their students.

Meanwhile, the Utah Senate and House will consider a resolution regarding critical race theory Wednesday during the special session.

The Senate Majority Caucus released a statement that said, “Everyone is created equal and should be judged by their character, not the color of their skin. For this reason, we oppose critical race theory being taught in schools. American history should be taught in a way that highlights our country’s highs and lows, triumphs and mistakes. We do not want to erase or bypass history, but we need to prevent schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts.”

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Critical Race Theory Explained Leading Into Special Session