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Critical Race Theory | Munk Debates

SEASON TWO - EPISODE #33

Critical Race Theory

Be it resolved, critical race theory has no place in the classroom.

Guests
John H. McWhorter
Gloria Ladson-Billings

About this episode

Seemingly out of nowhere Critical Race Theory has become a highly contentious front in a culture war raging in schools across North America, pitting parents against teachers and progressives against conservatives. Proponents describe it as an important theoretical concept that explains how racism is perpetuated within the power structures of historically white societies. Students, they argue, must be taught that racism is not an individual bias, nor is it a thing of the past; rather, racism is embedded into the country’s institutions and supports the perpetuation of white supremacy in society. In sum, race consciousness, on the part of all groups, is essential to our ability to achieve equality for all.

Critics of CRT see it as non-empirical, highly specious academic doctrine that promotes discrimination and division in contemporary society. They maintain that analyzing everything through a racial lens impedes racial progress for all groups including the most disadvantaged. For its opponents, CRT is an illiberal and anti-enlightenment ideology that runs counter to ideals of progress, self-determination and equality built on people’s shared humanity.

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Guests

John H. McWhorter

“What worries me is that it's not race that is being taught in schools, but an idea that racism is everything and that battling power differentials must be the focus of all of our moral, intellectual and artistic endeavors.”

John H. McWhorter

“What worries me is that it's not race that is being taught in schools, but an idea that racism is everything and that battling power differentials must be the focus of all of our moral, intellectual and artistic endeavors.”

John H. McWhorter is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers, his M.A. from New York University, and his Ph.D. in linguistics from Stanford. Professor McWhorter has taught the American Studies seminar "Language in America," a study of American linguistic history that considered Native American languages, immigrant languages, creole languages, and Black English -- their development, interactions, and preservation. He has also taught the seminar "Language Contact," which focused specifically on the mixture of language in North America, and studied the development of creoles, pidgins, koines, "vehicular" languages, and nonstandard dialects. The seminar considered perceived legitimacy of languages, and the standing of language mixtures in media and education. 

Professor McWhorter is an author of more than a dozen books including The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, Losing the Race: Self Sabotage in Black America and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English. In 2016 he published Words on the Move: Why English Won't - and Can't - Sit Still (Like, Literally). He also regularly contributes to newspapers and magazines including The New Republic and The Atlantic. Students might be particularly interested in his article on how immigrants change languages in The Atlantic and an essay on policing the "N-word" in Time.

Gloria Ladson-Billings

“The fight about critical race theory is not an academic one, it's a political one. And when politicians cannot win points on policy, they resort to inciting a culture war.”

Gloria Ladson-Billings

“The fight about critical race theory is not an academic one, it's a political one. And when politicians cannot win points on policy, they resort to inciting a culture war.”

Gloria Ladson-Billings is the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and faculty affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She was the 2005-2006 president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Ladson-Billings’ research examines the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with African American students. She also investigates Critical Race Theory applications to education. She is the author of the critically acclaimed books The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children and Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms, and numerous journal articles and book chapters. She is the former editor of the American Educational Research Journal and a member of several editorial boards. Her work has won numerous scholarly awards including the H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship, the NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Palmer O. Johnson outstanding research award.  

During the 2003-2004 academic year, she was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. In fall of 2004, she received the George and Louise Spindler Award from the Council on Anthropology and Education for significant and ongoing contributions to the field of educational anthropology. She holds honorary degrees from Umeå University (Umeå Sweden), University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the University of Alicante (Alicante, Spain), the Erickson Institute (Chicago), and Morgan State University (Baltimore). She is a 2018 recipient of the AERA Distinguished Research Award, and she was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2018.

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