Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Texas school debate over Critical Race Theory

Keren Carrion/KERA News
The move to strengthen restrictions on CRT is one of 11 calls on Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda for this summer’s special legislative session.";s:

In Texas and across the country, Critical Race Theory – or CRT - has become a political lightning rod. 

Red state Republicans want it banned in classrooms (even though teachers say it’s not even there). Angry parents say it’s a racist curriculum that’s indoctrinating their kids.  

This spring, Texas passed 2 laws taking aim at CRT. Republican Governor Greg Abbott didn’t think they went far enough. And that’s one reason he added it to a special session that started Thursday. 

At the last Fort Worth school board meeting, nearly 100 speakers showed up, many to blast the district. Some were chanting, “USA, USA,” for what they deemed an invasion of Critical Race Theory – C-R-T – into the curriculum.

“CRT is reformulated Marxism, a neo-racist worldview that exists to agitate, enable radical identity politics, divide people,” said Blanca Martinez. ”This cultural ideology is not a solution to unity but a tool for bondage, destruction, and further separation and clearly, the enemy of our day. CRT is a poison. It’s a poison to the mind. It corrupts.”

The Fort Worth district says it does not teach CRT and never has.

Educators say most people, including critics, don’t even know what is. Professor Nikki Jones does. She teaches African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. 

She says Critical Race Theory was developed in law schools decades ago as a way to understand how race influenced the laws of this country. Laws that justified everything from slavery to slaughter.

“So it’s a way to see race, to see understandings of race, to see racism, in places where it may not otherwise, on the surface of it, be apparent,” Jones said.  

What was apparent to Texas Republicans  was that this threat presented an opportunity. So with the outcry against CRT growing in the state and the country, lawmakers passed two bills this spring. State Representative Steve Toth, a suburban Houston Republican, wrote one of them.  

He wants to stop what he calls the indoctrination of kids in districts like Highland Park. The high-income enclave is mostly white, and surrounded by Dallas.

“A parent in Highland park sent me a copy of the book that her 8-year-old son was asked to read,”Toth said. “It's called Not My Idea: A Story About Whiteness. I thought that the whole idea of stereotyping racial profiling was a bad thing and Critical race theory goes into white profiling and profiling white people. They're being taught that crap now in school.”

The Highland Park district says that’s not true. Spokesperson Jon Dahlander says the district can’t even find the book Toth mentioned. 

“Well we don’t have the book in any of our school library catalogs,” Dahlander said, “nor have we been able to find it on any of our campuses.”

And for the record, Dahlander says Highland Park does not teach CRT. Period. End of story.

Back at the Fort Worth school board meeting, parents and teachers who like the district’s focus on racial equity include Kimberly Williams. 

“As an African American female educator, we know that when racial equity is not consciously addressed,” Williams said, “racial inequality is often unconsciously replicated.”

The Fort Worth district has created a racial equity plan, and those who defend it, say critics are confusing it with CRT.

Toth, sides with the critics. His bill tells history teachers how to teach touchy subjects.

 “You can't teach that one gender is better than the other,” Toth said. “You can't discriminate and say that one race or one gender is responsible for the ills of the past. We need to teach about the bills, but you can't blame this generation for those things of the past.

UC Berkeley’s Jones says Texas and other states are trying to legitimize a fear based on a lie. 

“It is not in fact true that Critical Race Theory is racist,” Jones said. “It is not in fact true that it encourages people to hate this country.”

It is true that Governor Abbott is up for re-election next year and he’s facing at least 2 primary opponents further to his right.

Democratic senator Nathan Johnson, who represents Highland Park, says politics is behind all of this CRT push, especially because the theory is not taught in Texas schools - - no matter what others believe. 

“And it's not uncommon for people to genuinely believe things that aren't true,” Johnson said, ” particularly when their political leaders tell them they’re true.” 

The move to strengthen restrictions on CRT is one of 11 calls on Governor Abbott’s agenda for this summer’s special session.


Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues. Heâââ