Bills, the budget, and letters to university presidents: the critical race theory debate in SC
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Critical Race Theory is not part of South Carolina’s K-12 curriculum, educators say, and state lawmakers want to keep it that way.
CRT is a framework of understanding focusing on how race has shaped public policy. Experts say the term is being misrepresented and unfairly demonized.
But opponents of CRT claim it is part of a larger crusade against American history.
In addition to introducing legislation banning any teaching related to the controversial theory, South Carolina lawmakers have called on colleges not to teach it, calling it, “wildly inappropriate” and “rooted in Marxism.” There are even mentions of the terms often associated with CRT in the state budget.
The budget writers included a section saying, “For the current fiscal year, of the funds allocated by the Department of Education to school districts, no monies shall be used by any school district or school to provide instruction in, to teach... (1) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (2) an individual, by virtue of his race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously...”
But some educators like Georgetown University Law School associated professor Janel George say they believe lawmakers are looking at CRT the wrong way.
“It has become a lightning rod, a catch-all for anything related to race, diversity, inclusion,” she says.
CRT is being frequently attacked by conservative leaders but rarely taught to kids the way a teacher would teach algebra.
“This is dense. This not what kids are reading. There is no K-12 school, they are not reading Derrick Bell’s work,” she says. “This is a backlash to progress. We saw it post-Reconstruction, we saw it in the wake of the Brown v Board of Education ruling.”
Rep. Ralph Normal says CRT should be banned because he feels it teaches all white people are oppressors and all Black people are oppressed.
As recently as Thursday, former Vice President Mike Pence said something similar.
“It teaches kids as young as kindergarten to be ashamed of their skin color,” Pence said. “It is nothing short of state-sponsored and state-sanctioned racism.”
George disagrees with Pence and says this is a misrepresentation of what CRT is and argues some people who oppose CRT aren’t truly interested in learning about what it is.
What is CRT and how did it become a hot topic?
When Gov. Henry McMaster signs the budget into law, he will also be ensuring no taxpayer dollars can be used to teach “that an individual, by virtue of his race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
That criticism defines the opposition’s view of CRT and is an idea many associate with the theory.
CRT began as a way to look at a legal case through the idea that racism is a social construct and part of our legal system, law professors say. But in the past two years, the topic has become a heated debate across the country and in the Palmetto State.
The concept originated in law schools in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the American Bar Association.
“It’s a verb, not a noun,” George says. “It’s an approach to how the law can replicate racial inequality.”
She says an example of the framework is looking at school segregation while also looking at housing discrimination. CRT was not a commonly-known term until 2019.
In addition to the debate being a backlash to major events like the death of George Floyd, Critical Race Theory also came up two years ago when the New York Times published the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning report that aimed to look at the legacy of slavery in American life today.
Historians questioned the project and leading conservative voices called it propaganda.
The New York Times later had to correct part of the project that inaccurately said slavery caused the Revolutionary War.
But attacks on the project only got louder when President Donald Trump went after it in 2020. That same month, the Trump Administration issued an executive order to stop all spending on any training mentioning CRT or white privilege, writing in the order that “the divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans.”
In a statement, South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said it is not being taught in K-12 schools that she knows of.
In a Facebook post Spearman wrote, “The Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideology has no place in South Carolina schools and classrooms. The South Carolina Department of Education has no current or proposed standards that include CRT concepts and will not be adopting any CRT standards nor applying for or accepting any funding that requires or incentivizes the adoption of these concepts in our classrooms,” Spearman goes on to write, “We will not provide professional development opportunities or training that seek to promote CRT amongst South Carolina educators.”
But this week, members of the South Carolina General Assembly said it is being taught at the University of South Carolina and Clemson University and they want all teaching of the framework to stop.
UofSC and Clemson representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
George, meanwhile, wants to make it clear the debate over critical race theory is not the debate over teaching about racism in schools but is being portrayed as such. That, she stresses, is an important but separate conversation.
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