By: Camellia Lee
This Black History Month, let’s learn the history of Culturally Responsive Teaching and Critical Race Theory. What do these acronyms have in common besides the same letters? What’s the difference? Read on to find out.
Culturally Responsive Teaching
Geneva Gay published Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice in 2000. You may have come across this pedagogy under the names “culturally appropriate instruction,” “culturally relevant teaching,” “culturally congruent instruction” or other variations on these themes. Kamau Oginga Siwatu identifies key characteristics of culturally responsive teaching as follows:
- An asset-based approach to students’ cultural knowledge in curriculum planning and instruction
- Classroom management practices that create a culturally affirming learning environment
- Diverse assessment methods and frequent opportunities for students to show their learning
- A focus on empowering learners with social-emotional competence to respectfully navigate diverse social contexts with a positive self-concept and respect for difference
Another way to conceptualize culturally responsive teaching practices is through the metaphors of windows, mirrors, sliding glass doors, and curtains. Emily Style, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, and Debbie Reese use these analogies to provide frameworks for educational equity. Culturally responsive teaching is primarily implemented in K-12 educational settings.
Critical Race Theory
Kimberlé Crenshaw, J.D. is a Harvard graduate, a faculty member at Columbia University and Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition to creating the terms “intersectionality” and “critical race theory,” she published groundbreaking scholarship that influenced the South African constitution’s equality clause.
She and several legal colleagues coined the phrase “critical race theory” in 1989 as an analytical tool to address racism embedded in the law. As members of a generation that witnessed the civil rights language of Black freedom movements be co-opted, they saw a need for a racial justice lens in legal theory. The term gives lawyers a way to make sense of Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, and other cases that shaped national history. Unlike culturally responsive teaching, critical race theory is an academic term largely used in post-secondary education.
The term entered the zeitgeist around September 2020, when Christopher Rufo and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson announced that critical race theory had infiltrated US institutions and publicly called for then-President Trump to address it. In response, the 49th president launched the 1776 Commission (later dissolved by President Biden) in the name of “patriotic education.” Not one historian of the United States contributed to the project, which included no footnotes or sources.
CRT in the 2020’s
Since then, critical race theory has become a euphemism for dog-whistle racism. Although K-12 schools do not teach legal theory, parents have used the term to push for the removal of books written by Black authors. The American Library Association reported an “unprecedented” number of book challenges last year, particularly targeting texts that tell stories of marginalized groups such as Black, Jewish, and gender-diverse individuals. An Alabama superintendent received complaints that Black History Month programs constitute critical race theory in schools.
Members of minority groups whose stories are called CRT face a world where their very lives are at risk for simply existing. (See the wave of bomb threats at historically-Black colleges and universities and the hostage situation at a Texas synagogue last month.)
When parents raise concerns about critical race theory at school board meetings, we invite district leaders to educate constituents on the difference between the two CRTs. When pressured to eliminate inclusive pedagogies, remember that culturally responsive teaching benefits members of majority as well as minority identities. At AdaptiveX, we believe that culturally responsive pedagogy prepares all learners to collaborate within our diverse society.