Quotes from Dixson’s Critical Race Theory in Education

Dixson’s Critical Race Theory in Education summarizes the state of CRT in the field of education and then anthologizes several of the seminal writings in the discipline. In lieu of a review, I’ve compiled important quotes below. However, I’ll make two observations.

The first is that the book contained virtually nothing about actual teaching techniques, classroom management, curricula, the efficacy of testing, etc. Given CRT’s emphasis on the importance of praxis, this omission would be somewhat surprising except that –within CRT– praxis means the practical application of theory to activism, not to teaching. Of course, it is entirely possible that young educators will read other texts teaching them the nuts-and-bolts of day-to-day education. Yet, as a homeschool father of four children, I do worry that critical pedagogy is (despite its protests to the contrary) alarmingly abstract. It seems much more concerned that children achieve a “liberatory consciousness” than that they learn how to read, write, perform arithmetic, appreciate science, enjoy music, or do anything else that educators have emphasized for thousands of years.

Second, the CRT framework is hard to square with an evidence-driven approach to pedagogy because its fundamental tenets make it difficult to even entertain certain hypotheses. Not only does CRT insist that educational disparities are evidence of racism, it also insists that any suggestion that other factors may be involved is merely a mechanism for whites to retain power and privilege. To take just one example,
studies show that different racial groups spend a significantly different amount of time on homework. Surely, the amount of time spent on homework has some influence on educational outcomes. Yet CRT encourages us to either ignore or problematize such data because they’re seen as indicative of a “deficit perspective” that “blames” particular groups for educational disparities. If we care about students, we simply cannot accept this reasoning. We have to understand the actual causes of educational disparities and our understanding has to be based on evidence, not on our ideological preferences. CRT short-circuits this process.

Gloria Ladson-Billings and William F. Tate IV, “Towards a Critical Race Theory of Education”:

“Delgado argues that despite the diversity contained within the critical race movement, there are some shared features:

  • an assumption that racism is not a series of isolated acts, but is endemic in American life, deeply ingrained legally, culturally, and even psychologically;
  • a call for a reinterpretation of civil-rights law ‘in light of its ineffectuality, showing that laws to remedy racial injustices are often undermined before they can fulfill their promise’;
  • a challenge to the ‘traditional claims of legal neutrality, objectivity, color-blindness, and meritocracy as camouflages for the self-interest of dominant groups in American society’;
  • an insistence on subjectivity and the reformulation of legal doctrine to reflect the perspectives of those who have experienced and been victimized by racism firsthand;
  • the use of stories or first-person accounts” (p. 15-16)

“when we speak of racism we refer to Wellman’s definition of ‘culturally sanctioned beliefs which, regardless of the intentions involved, defend the advantages Whites have because of the subordinated positions of racial minorities.'” (p. 18)

“Many mainstream legal scholars embrace universalism over particularity. According to Wlliams, ‘theoretical legal understanding’ is characterized, in Anglo-American jurisprudence, by the acceptance of transcendent, acontextual, universal legal truths or procedures. For instance, some legal scholars might content that the tort of fraud has always existed and that it is a component belonging to the universal system of right and wrongIn contrast, critical race theorists argue that political and moral analysis is situational–‘truths only exist for this person in this predicament at this time in history.’ For the critical race theorist, social reality is constructed by the formulation and the exchange of stories about individual situations. These stories serve as interpretive structures by which we impose order on experiences and it on us.” (p. 20)

“Delgado argues that the dominant group justifies its power with stories–stock expressions–that construct reality in ways to maintain their privilege” (p. 21)

“critical race theory in education, like its antecedent in legal scholarship, is a radical critique of both the status quo and the purported reforms. We make this observation…to underscore the difficulty (indeed, the impossibility) of maintaining the spirit and intent of justice for the oppressed while simultaneously permitting the hegemonic rule of the oppressor.” (p. 25)

Adrian D. Dixson and Celia K. Rousseau Anderson, “And We Are Still Not Saved: 20 Years of CRT and Education”:

  • CRT rejects the standard racial progress narrative in which the history of race relations in the U.S. is one of linear uplift and improvement.
  • ‘CRT repudiates the view that status quo arrangements are the natural result of individual agency and merit… CRT exposes the intergenerational transfers of racial compensation’…
  • CRT challenges the dominant narrative regarding color blindness and color consciousness
  • CRT argues that race is socially constructed…
  • CRT articulates racism as a structural phenomenon as opposed to a ‘problem that derives from the failure on the part of individuals and institutions to treat people formally the same’…
  • CRT views racism as endemic
  • CRT recognizes that racism interacts with other social forces (e.g. patriarichy, classism, homophobia, etc.).
  • CRT highlights ‘the discursive frames legal and political actors have employed to disadvantage people of color’… These legal frames include: color blindness, reverse discrimination, merit, citizenship, and so on.
  • CRT is both pragmatic and idealistic. (p. 33-34)

Garrett Albert Duncan, “Critical Race Ethnography in Education: Narrative, Inequality, and the Problem of Epistemology”:

“CRT privileges the voices of those who bear the brunt of inequalities in society and relies heavily on storytelling, as opposed to analytic means, as the methodology to represent them… I regard the stories of people of color as necessary to disrupt allochronic discourses [i.e. those that deny that the observed and the observed exist simultaneously]. In particular, they provide potent counter-points to challenge the existing narratives that help us shape how we understand the post-Civil Rights schooling experiences and outcomes of students of color.” (p. 74)

David Gillborn, “Critical Race Theory Beyond North America”

if you are against racism (and who isn’t) then you are antiracist. Yes? No. This approach resorts to a characteristic white assumption that racism is simple and crude and obvious.” (p. 91)

“The Need for a Radical, Not Reformist, Perspective” (p. 94)

“If we only focus on the scale of the inequity, and the school-level approaches to address it, we lose sight of the most powerful forces operating at the societal level to sustain and extent these inequities. Essentially, we risk tinkering with the system to make its outputs slightly less awful, but leaving untouched the fundamental shape, scale and purpose of the system itself. There is a problem, therefore, of ensuring that antiracist scholarship resists pressure to become a reformist perspective and retains a radical, critical edge” (p. 95).

Table 5.1 (p. 97)

“CRT argues that racism is ‘endemic to US society, deeply ingrained legally, culturally, and even psychologically… It is of central important that the term ‘racism’ is used not only in relation to crude, obvious acts of race hatred but also in relation to the more subtle and hidden operations of power that have the effect of disadvantaging one or more minority ethnic groups… One of the most important aspects of the Lawrence Inquiry’s approach to institutional racism is the insistence that we focus on outcomes and effects – rather than intentions… By explicitly including ‘unwitting’ and ‘thoughtless’ acts, this approach moves away from endless debates about intent by insisting upon a focus on the outcomes of actions and processes” (p. 98-99).

“CRT’s criticisms of meritocracy, and related notions such as objectivity and colour-blindness, are not a rejection of them in principle but a criticism of their raced effects in practice. It is simply and demonstrably the case that these notions, despite their apparent concern for equity and justice, operate as a mechanism by which particular groups are excluded from the mainstream… For example… deeply conservative and regressive perspectives frequently masquerade as a concern for ‘objectivity’, ‘neutrality’ and ‘standards of evidence’.” (p. 100)

Tara J. Yosso, “Whose Culture Has Capital?”

Figure 6.1 (p. 115)

“For the field of education, Daniel Solorzano… identified five tenets of CRT that can and should inform theory, research, pedagogy, curriculum, and policy:..

  1. The Intercentricity of Race and Racism with Other Forms of Subordination: CRT starts from the premise that race and racism are central, endemic, permanent, and a fundamental part of defining and explaining how U.S. society functions… CRT acknowledges the inextricable layers of racialized subordination based on gender, class, immigration status, surname, phentotype, accent, and sexuality
  2. The Challenge to Dominant Ideology: CRT challenges White privilege and refutes the claims that educational institutions make toward objectivity, meritocracy, color-blindness, race neutrality, and equal opportunity. CRT challenges notions of ‘neutral’ research or ‘objective’ researchers and exposes deficit-informed research that silences, ignores, and distorts epistemologies of People of Color… CRT argues that these traditional claims act as a camouflage for the self-interest, power, and privilege of dominant groups in U.S. society
  3. The Commitment to Social Justice: CRT is committed to social justice and offers a liberatory and transformative response to racial, gender, and class oppression
  4. The Centrality of Experiential Knowledge: CRT recognizes that the experiential knowledge of People of Color is legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, analyzing, and teaching about racial subordination…
  5. The Transdisciplinary Perspective: CRT goes beyond disciplinary boundaries to analyze race and racism within both historical and contemporary contexts, drawing on scholarship from ethnic studies, women’s studies, sociology, history, law ,psychology, film, theater, and other fields (p. 117-118)

“CRT is conceived as a social justice project that works toward the liberatory potential of schooling… This acknowledges the contradictory nature of education, wherein schools most often oppress and marginalize while they maintain the potential to emancipate and empower. Indeed, CRT in education refutes dominant ideology and White privilege while validating and centering the experiences of People of Color” (p. 118)

William F. Tate IV, “Ethics, Engineering, and the Challenge of Racial Reform in Education”:

“Originally, a theoretical movement in the field of law, CRT has expanded to include scholars in the social science, humanities, and education over the past decade” (p. 137)

Jamel K. Donnor “A Focus on Higher Education”

No less powerful or impactful than Jim Crow or South African Apartheid, contemporary practices of racial exclusion in education at the hands of White people remain informed by a White supremacist logic. While explicit methods of racism and racial exclusion were required for establishing the existing sociopolitical and economic hegemonic racial hierarchy in the United States, present day practices of racial exclusion, which are operationalized subtly through a racially coded process of discernment and differentiation, are still intended to maintain the racial status quo” (p. 147)

“Invoking a rhetorical bricolage comprised of narratives, tropes, and discursive constructs from the Black Civil Rights movement, multiculturalism, free-market fundamentalism, evangelical Christianity, and social conservatism, present-day White nationalists are adept at concealing their racism from plain sight” (p. 150)

“Because America’s foundational policy construct, (i.e. freedom, individualism, and liberty), were established to situate Whites atop its social, political, and economic hierarchy, efforts on the part of non-Whites to disrupt the status quo ante are instinctively resisted by most White people” (p. 151)

“Ms. Fisher [who brought a lawsuit against UT-Austin] and her supporters are refined racists, however, like their cruder southern segregationist predecessors, the policy logic of White supremacy is constant. Accounting for societal progression, including the evolutionary shift to global society, present-day White nationalists under refined racist tropes, such as color-blindness and equal opportunity, are committed to the re-centering of White people, White logic, and White methods as the social norm… The phantom objectivity that Ms. Fisher is intent on establishing in this case is nothing more than a self-sustaining master narrative of White besiegement and White credential inflation that structures an impervious racial obliviousness that simultaneously justifies the exclusion of non-Whites from quality institutions of higher education… To be clear, ‘new’ White nationalists are still racist underneath” (p. 155)

Devon W. Carbado and Cheryl I. Harris “The New Racial Preferences”

“anti-affirmative action initiatives, such as Michigan’s Proposal 2 and California’s Proposition 209, are both racial projects. These measures represent affirmative action as a racial preference in order to re-organize and redistribute resources–admissions spaces, government contracting, employment opportunities– along particular racial lines. This re-organization is then explained as a restoration to a distribution that is objective, neutral, and meritorious, rather than a return to a racial preference baseline that primarily benefits whites” (p. 157)

Lorenzo DuBois Baber, “Beyond the ‘Tenets'”:

the foundational pieces of CRT scholarship in higher education connected multiple tenets of the framework emanating from critical legal studies, specifically construct related to the value of experiential knowledge, deconstruction of race neutrality, and critique of traditional liberalism” (p. 185)

Use of race-neutral language effectively masks white privilege while policies and practices seeking to redress the structural and historical dimensions of racial inequalities are stigmatized as providing unfair advantages for people of color in the marketplace” (p. 193)

See all content on critical theory here.

Related Articles: