Explainer: Expert breaks down ‘Critical Race Theory’ debate; What you need to know about in Kansas

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Some lawmakers in Washington and some at the Kansas Statehouse are working to make sure Critical Race Theory is not taught in the classroom.

Critical Race Theory, or CRT, studies the impact of race on legal systems and policies.

The controversial subject has become the center of a national debate, as it’s been criticized as a divisive way to teach racial history by some. However, supporters claim that while certain issues may cause discomfort, they need to be discussed.

Political Analyst Dr. Bob Beatty explained the theory to the Kansas Capitol Bureau as a “difficult” topic to discuss.

“To talk about anything involving a theory, there’s going to be an argument about what it all means,” Dr. Beatty said. “One of the arguments is the definition of it.”

Beatty said the main idea behind the theory is to examine race and racial injustice in the United States as institutionalized rather than individual.

“An individual may not feel like they’re racist, but an institution could be racist,” he said.

Beatty noted that the theory got a lot of traction in the 1990s among the legal profession, as a way to examine racial discrepancies regarding incarceration rates for different minority groups. It then expanded to looking into other institutions. He said that some may argue the fact that there are disparities between the sentencing of white and black criminals.

“Many people want to get rid of any talk of institutional racism, and statistics show that there may be a problem in certain institutions, and that’s what a lot of people with critical race theory do want to study,” Dr. Beatty said.

While no schools in Kansas explicitly teach the theory as a course, some lawmakers are pushing to ban the subject from being taught in schools.

Public school advocates, like Mark Tallman with the Kansas Association of School Boards, said this might raise questions, as to what other topics dealing with racial equity and justice, are able to be discussed.

“In the fear about Critical Race Theory, and what taken to the extreme it might mean, would some of these bills limit the ability to teach factual things about what is going on,” Tallman said.

In Kansas, local school boards are in charge of making decisions regarding curriculum or what is being taught in each district. The state school board sets standards for subject areas. Tallman said there might be concerns that some of the upcoming proposals may give lawmakers control to decide on school curriculum changes.

He also pointed out a fine line between critical race theory and other subject matter rooted in historical evidence.

“If some folks are going to look at this from the viewpoint of legislation, what are you actually trying to do, and how do you enforce it? I think that most people agree, it is not the role of schools to teach young people exactly how to believe. It is to give them a set of facts.” Tallman explained.

“Talking about social justice or those sorts of issues in class is really more about making sure that students understand the history of something we had to deal with. The fact that African Americans were enslaved when they came to this country. There were long periods of legal discrimination that has affected other groups.”

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