Antiracism and k-12 education

by Kevin Currie-Knight

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I talked with Samantha Hedges (Heterodox Academy, Substack) about recent articles she has written criticizing critical-race-influenced approaches to diversity and equity training in schools. We talk about why Samantha believes that these trainings inadvertently stoke racial division as well as the possibility of an alternative “common humanity” approach to these issues.

3:41​ From Teacher to Education Policy Writer 14:58​ – Samantha’s Concerns with Critical Race Approaches to Diversity and Equity in Education 24:38​ – Questions and Concerns About Research on Implicit Bias Tests 32:50​ – Might Critical Race Approaches Misidentify the Causes of Some Educational Disparities? 44:55​ – Juxtaposing Critical Race Approaches to Diversity with a “Common Humanity” Approach 49:08​ – How Much Do (K-12) Students Need Exposure to Antiracism Training?

19 comments

  1. Thank you (both) for having this conversation. Maybe the EA could host a conversation with Professor Erec Smith next?

    1. Thanks for listening. I heard Erec Smith give a talk for Heterodox, and what I was deeply impressed with is that (like myself) he acknowedged that CRT has produced some work of immense value. I cannot stress enough how I occupy that unfortunately lonely middle where I have issues with some of what I see coming fro CRT as I profit from other works written within its approach. I’d love to reach out to him and have him on.

      I really, really also want to have one or two guests on who work within CRT. My colleague (a few doors down from me at ECU in fact) Ben Blaisdell has tentatively agreed to do it. I also really want to reach out to philosopher Derrick Darby (Rights and Recognition, The Color of Mind); I don’t think Darby explicitly works within a CRT framework, but I suspect he is comfortable there.

      As ambitious as it seems, I want to be one of the few who had on guests from multiple perspectives on CRT. I am tired of seeing just about every media source take either a for or against stance that simply plays to an audience who’s already made their minds up.

        1. Sure, though I must confess that I have the sense that I am walking into a trap where the goal posts may shift in response to what I say. So, let me clarify: when I say “come out of,” I don’t particularly mean “originated.” It may be – in fact sometimes is – that something CR theorists take seriously and work seriously with did not originate with CRT, but find voice with CRT.

          That said, here goes.

          First, CRT-inspired histories have really done a good job unpacking the various ways in which modern ideals of race have originated via social power dynamics. The book What Comes Naturally, for instance, does quite a good job at tracing how the modern “one drop rule” (and all that stems from it) was largely the creation of southern miscegenation laws (and the rationales for their creation).

          Second, CRT is one of several disciplines engaged in the project of unpacking how often neutrally couched concepts like liberty or equality have themselves generally been practiced in very non-neutral and racialized ways. (See the recent CRT-inspired book White Freedom for a good example.)

          Third, I think CRT has done a much needed questioning of the social ideal and idea of the colorblind society in the face of evidence that at least certain areas (education, incarceration) are marred by persisting racial inequalities.

          1. Thanks. I’m not nearly as impressed as you are, and in some cases, I think these are actually bad developments, so we’ll just have to leave it.

          2. Well, if the question is whether the ideas I listed can be taken in bad or negative directions, I would agree with you that they can. I’d even say that some writers HAVE taken them in bad directions.

            My concern is that I see a lot of folks throwing some potentially valuable babies out with Robin DiAngelo’s bathwater.

            Perhaps, my take on CRT is also shaped by racial elements that have affected my life in the last year or so that Dan knows from private conversation but that I have reason not to disclose to many others.

            Lastly, I’d say that if I didn’t see so many CRT-opposing voices making too many mistakes in the other direction – we don’t have race problems in the US; the Civil Rights Era happened! – I probably wouldn’t see so many elements in CRT that I think should occupy us more than they do. As I tell my students, take just about any town with more than a handful of non-white people living there, preferably African-Americans. Now, notice that there is a “black area” of that town. And notice that the black area of that town is not among the more resourced areas of that town. And notice how well this generalization holds up in most of these towns. That wasn’t accidental. And knowing how it wasn’t accidental and why the disparities are important are two necessary steps to figuring out where to go from there.

          3. A little late to the rodeo but, this, and Dan’s dismissal caught my eye. I think the way you phrase these three consideration ascribed to CRT are true and should be presented to age appropriate students. I think where Dan and I have trouble is often how certain elements of CRT are presented and its way of finding the Devil in every detail without historical nuance and a blanket condemnation of the entire race question as a power grab with all whites as de facto complicit and, a focus on the past and not the future. Ironically putting more emphasis on race and partitioning by group identity and hypersensitivity, There’s the innocent and the guilty with no one in between. This leads to wholesale blaming and resentment.

            The idea is to inform, educate and sensitize, not to indict and curtail free speech, cancel and threaten at every single clueless verbal misstep. Anecdotally, that is what it has come to.

  2. Do you (or Daniel) pay any attention to Braver Angels? One of the few actual conversations between an advocate of CRT and a skeptic of CRT happened there, which I found worth watching. If (either of) you have time & interest, here’s the link: “Systemic Racism & the Data | Wilfred Reilly & Roderick Graham with John Wood, Jr.” | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1SXcdNSy9Y&t=5182s

    1. I did see it. To be frank, I did not find Graham to be a very effective conveyer of CRT. Part of that was his delivery, which of course, he can’t and shouldn’t be held accountable for. But I myself could imagine better responses to Reilly than I think he gave at times.

      But yes, Braver Angels is to be commended for putting that unfortunately rare sort of discussion together.

  3. Oops. That last comment of mine was directed toward my recollection of a different conversation entirely. Yes, the one with Reilly and Graham was quite good. The one I was thinking about was here, where Kmele Foster and John McWhorter deftly gang up on a critical race advocate that just seemed out of his depth or unprepared. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qjTwzkeby4

  4. There are so many comments that I missed this remark from Kevin:

    “Or is it only the sovereignty of that rare set of customers who feel desperately slighted if they don’t have the option to read their kiddos books with illustrations that depict Africans as little better than monkeys?”

    = = = =

    It is cheap and dirty and a good illustration of why I do not enjoy debating these issues with Kevin. Love working with him, but it really is better if he and I do not engage one another on these sorts of issues, because of dirty pool like this.

    I’m out of this conversation.

    1. I find Kevin’s image in the quote you’re replying to vivid and harsh, and distracting.

      = = =

      In your first comment on ‘Cancel Culture is a Misdiagnosed Problem’ you use the expressions argumentative move, talking points, fixated on, and scoring. Expressions that are benign in themselves but gain manipulative power when used in new contexts. Your provocation articles are a good example. I’m often impressed by the style, your skill and force, independently of whether I agree or disagree with your arguments.

      Just to be clear I definitely don’t want to imply here someone started it. I don’t believe that’s something that actually happens, or is something worth exploring. I find it genuinely interesting to watch you two exchange, you both bring good perspectives and don’t shy from difficult arguments. At times there’s also a kind of tone that runs along side, sometimes it escalates, and sometimes it reaches a particular exchange that puts a stop to the discussion. And when it does it seems to me quite sudden and unpredictable.

      Maybe that’s a reflection of why I don’t comment very much: it often seems like no matter how I write about something I can always think of a way it might be misinterpreted.

  5. Perhaps you could do an article outlining the dominant themes of CRT, Kevin? I have no education in this, but everything I find on the web is so shallow and lazy. It’s always for/against DiAngelo or Kendi or whatever. Very little in the way of substance.

    One thing I think I’d be interested in hearing from the ‘Common Humanity’ side is an explanation of the brute fact that disparities along race lines do exist, so something about the color blindness approach must not be working. If a group of nice white liberals treat everyone the same and fairly irrespective of skin color, and we still see a difference in outcomes then what do they think this due to?

    1. “One thing I think I’d be interested in hearing from the ‘Common Humanity’ side is an explanation of the brute fact that disparities along race lines do exist, so something about the color blindness approach must not be working.”

      Right. It is one of the basic ideas that motivated CRT from its inception and it would have been a good question here.

      For my part, I think there is loads of nuance needed here. One can overthink race just as one can (through colorblindness) overthink it. But in areas where disparities persist in the predictable ways – education, law enforcement, finance – it’s not beyond the pale to think that remedying these disparities might necessitate approaches that take race more into account than how we’ve been doing.

      1. “How Much Do (K-12) Students Need Exposure to Antiracism Training?”

        Kevinck, just a short question. It is generally recognized that the US is a very unequal society, economically speaking. Socioeconomic mobility is lower than in more equal societies like Denmark, Norway and Finland.

        This is something that surely has an impact on millions of Americans.

        Do you feel that K-12 students should be “exposed” to some “training” in this regard, training based on a theory that happens to be “en vogue” at the moment in academic circles? For argument’s sake we could take Marxism as the lens through which the students should understand class.

    2. Ditto here. I don’t live in the U.S. and while I see CRT constantly referred to, I’m not at all sure what it’s main tenets are. An article from Kevin outlining CRT would be very welcome.

  6. kevinck

    I enjoyed the talk. It’s good to hear a conversation that explores the arguments and takes care not to polarize things.

    1. Thanks, Marc! Good to hear that that respect came through. Dr. Hedges was fair in her concerns throughout and I’m definitely trying to stay away from the crass “for or against” approach I see so often in all corners of media.

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