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KPBS Midday Edition

How Critical Race Theory Became A Partisan Issue

A Black History Day banner is on display at Animo Westside Charter Middle School during a summer session to introduce new students to the school they will attend in the fall, in the Playa Del Rey area of Los Angeles. July 13, 2018.
Reed Saxon / Associated Press
A Black History Day banner is on display at Animo Westside Charter Middle School during a summer session to introduce new students to the school they will attend in the fall, in the Playa Del Rey area of Los Angeles. July 13, 2018.

Critical race theory (CRT) is a decades-old academic concept whose core idea is that racism is a social construct, not just a consequence of individual prejudice. Many scholars say education in CRT is pivotal to ending systemic racism. It's also at the center of a partisan culture war surrounding what children are taught in school about racism, history and the contemporary impacts on American institutions.

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The San Diego Union-Tribune Columnist Charles Clark explores the issues in a recent column. He highlights that many conservative lawmakers are using the CRT debate to broadly attack ethnic studies programs by limiting how the curriculum is taught in classrooms.

"You're using it to snuff out any kind of education program that requires kids to think critically about race and racism," Clark said.

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He joined Midday Edition to talk about the arguments surrounding critical race theory and why it suddenly became politically charged.

Critical Race Theory is among the most hotly contested educational concepts in the nation, and 15 states have introduced bills to restrict how racism, sexism and other societal issues are discussed in the classroom. Some critics claim the theory advocates discriminating against white people. Where does that idea come from and how is the understanding of this curriculum so vastly different among people?