Critical Race Theory: Expert breaks down widely debated concept

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 10:06 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Critical race theory is a widely debated topic across the country, and there’s a mix of opinions about teaching the concept in the classroom.

The theory is an academic concept introduced by legal scholars in the 1970s.

It’s an idea that there is no biological or scientific justification for racial categories, concluding race is a socially-constructed invention.

Some people feel teaching the theory promotes division, while others said it tells the truth about America’s history.

A UW-Madison education policy expert said the concept is widely misunderstood.

“Those who oppose using critical race theory really don’t understand how it’s possible that the current generations can be blamed for something that happened so long ago,” John Witte, UW-Madison Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Public Affairs said.

Critical race theory is creating a strong divide in and outside the classroom.

“The opponents of using the term resist that dramatically by saying, ‘We aren’t to blame here,’” he said.

Critical race theory teaches that much of America’s history is infused with systemic racism.

Advocates explain these inequities should be front and center in school curriculum.

“The commonality is that these inequities are traced back to slavery,” he said.

Witte said teachers should be cautious using the term because it means different things to different people.

“I strongly agree that racial differences should be discussed in schools. They shouldn’t be avoided, but using that term, I would be a little bit reluctant to if I was a teacher,” he said.

He explained who is being taught the theory makes a difference.

“High school kids should be able to discuss this in a pretty hard nosed way,” he said. “To bring this up into middle schools and certainly elementary schooI, I think it’s going to be very confusing and potentially quite harmful for both white children and minority children.”

He said either way teaching America’s history shouldn’t be put on the back burner, but ditching the term “critical race theory” should be considered.

“I would try and use another term to discuss the racial disparities that exist,” he said.

Critical race theory is a topic of conversation in Wisconsin. At the beginning of June, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill hoping to ban critical race theory from Wisconsin schools.

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