Critical Race Theory vs. Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Out of great concern for the inaccurate level of information being shared across the nation about how race and culture are being addressed in the classroom (or instructional levels), I have found it very much necessary for me to speak out about this topic directly and regularly.

Relevant to this blog post, my interest is in describing the difference between Critical Race Theory and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. I have found it necessary to do so because as I have traveled the country in-person and virtually when preferred, it has become more apparent to me that “carefully manufactured chaos and confusion” is being created deliberately and this mass confusion will become even more significant if we fail to counter the narratives being shared.

Throughout my travels and in conversations with school board members, school district leaders and teachers, I have learned that many are interested in ensuring that students have an accurate view of the contributions that black and brown people have made to society. In many ways they also believe that it is necessary to share information about the struggles of the aforementioned persons, so as to better ensure that people do not repeat various aspects of our country’s painful history.

Speaking of our country’s painful history, I am sure that you are now thinking, so what is the difference between Critical Race Theory and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and which one, if any is more likely to be taught in America’s public schools? Critical Race Theory analyzes the role of race and racism in perpetuating social disparities between dominant and marginalized racial groups (DeCuir & Dixon; Ladson, Billings & Tate). It has become the topic of fierce national debate in the U.S. in recent months. The conflict has most prominently played out in public school districts, as parents, teachers and school administrators grapple with how to teach race, discrimination and inequality in the classroom (Zurcher). On the other hand, according to Merriam-Webster, pedagogy is the “art, science or profession of teaching.” This definition covers various aspects of teaching and there are many moving parts to pedagogy that include teaching styles, feedback and assessment.

It is important to understand that Critical Race Theory is not being taught in the greater majority of America’s K-12 educational institutions. It is being taught at the graduate level and more specifically, in Law School. In my humble estimation the implementation of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy must occur in all of U.S. schools so as to better ensure that all students reach their fullest intellectual potential by obtaining equitable access to a quality education. At the classroom level, the implementation of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy may also be referred to as Culturally Responsive or Culturally Sustaining Teaching, and it is about what and how we teach diverse populations. It is a combination of pedagogy, curriculum, actual instructional delivery but also the attitudes and beliefs that teachers bring to the classroom. It is also demonstrated in the way the classroom looks and how the environment is arranged (Domzalski).

In closing, I would like to encourage you (regardless of your role in the educational establishment in which you lead, teach or serve), to examine the extent to which the policies associated with better ensuring that more culturally responsive practices are being implemented in your district. This includes the selection of materials that reflect the images of children (regardless of the color of their skin, ability level, native language, religion or sexual orientation) and their intellectual capabilities in a more favorable light. I would also advise that you pay close attention to the images that are being displayed in the classrooms, in the hallways and on your district website etc. Ask yourself, does the images being displayed send clear messages about what you believe about all students? Lastly, you’ll also want to ensure that the books in your schools reflect your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion goals and objectives. Books matter (so do not be confused by the carefully manufactured chaos and confusion). You see, “when children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part (Sims Bishop).” Stay the course. We can accomplish our goals in this area by being responsive, intentional, consistent in our actions, and most of all caring.

For a modified audio version of this blog post visit The Sonya Whitaker Podcast: S3 Episode One and S3 Episode Two at sonya