Understanding Critical Race Theory: Why it Should be Taught for Equity and Social Justice in Education

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a theoretical framework that emerged in the 1970s as a response to the civil rights movement and the inadequacies of legal and social reforms in addressing racial inequality. CRT examines how race and racism intersect with law, politics, and society. Despite its controversial reception, CRT has gained increasing attention as a necessary tool to promote equity and social justice. In this article, we explore what CRT is and why it should be taught, with specific examples of its implementation in education.

What is CRT?

CRT is an interdisciplinary field that draws from law, sociology, history, political science, and other fields. The theory is based on the premise that race is not an isolated category but intersects with other social categories such as gender, class, sexuality, and disability. CRT scholars examine how these categories interact to produce specific forms of oppression and marginalization. They also examine how legal and social reforms have failed to address systemic racism and have, in some cases, reinforced it. (1)

One example of the intersection of race and class is the racial wealth gap. Research has shown that Black and Hispanic families have significantly lower wealth than White families, even when controlling for income. This is due to a history of discriminatory policies such as redlining and discriminatory lending practices that have prevented minority communities from building wealth. (2)

Why Should CRT be Taught?

CRT provides a powerful tool for understanding how racism operates in society and how it intersects with other forms of oppression. Teaching CRT can help students develop critical thinking skills and enhance their understanding of the complex nature of social issues. CRT can also promote empathy and understanding among students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. (3)

One example of CRT implementation in education is the Ethnic Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona. The program was created to address the academic underachievement of Mexican American students and to provide a more inclusive and culturally responsive curriculum. The program includes CRT principles and has been shown to improve academic achievement, attendance, and graduation rates for participating students. (4)

CRT can also help to promote equity and social justice by challenging the status quo and exposing the underlying power relations that reproduce racial disparities. CRT can provide a basis for developing policies and practices that are more inclusive and equitable. For example, CRT can inform the development of affirmative action policies that aim to redress historical and current racial disparities. (5)

Moreover, CRT can help to address the legacy of racism and its ongoing impact on marginalized communities. CRT provides a framework for understanding how racial disparities are reproduced and maintained and how these disparities can be addressed. By teaching CRT, educators can help to raise awareness of these issues and promote social change. (6)

map of the United States of America showing individual states color coded
categorically in shades of red according to whether or not state legislatures
have legislated or intend to legislate to censor the teaching of critical race theory. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:

CRT has also been shown to have a positive impact on student outcomes. Research has shown that CRT-based pedagogy can improve students’ critical thinking skills, increase their engagement with course materials, and enhance their understanding of complex social issues. CRT can also promote positive racial attitudes and increase students’ awareness of the impact of racism on marginalized communities. Therefore, incorporating CRT into the curriculum can have positive academic and social outcomes for students. (7)

Objections to CRT

Despite its potential benefits, CRT has faced opposition from some quarters. Some critics argue that CRT is divisive and promotes a victim mentality. They argue that CRT promotes a focus on group identity rather than individual merit and that it undermines the principles of equality and individualism.

However, these objections misunderstand the nature and purpose of CRT. CRT does not deny the importance of individual merit or responsibility, but rather aims to expose how structural factors such as race and class impact individual opportunities and outcomes. CRT does not promote victimhood but rather seeks to empower marginalized groups by exposing the systemic barriers they face and providing tools to challenge them. (8)


CRT is a powerful tool for understanding how race operates in society and how it intersects with other forms of oppression. Teaching CRT can help students develop critical thinking skills, promote empathy and understanding, and enhance their understanding of complex social issues. Moreover, CRT can help to promote equity and social justice by challenging the status quo and exposing the underlying power relations that reproduce racial disparities. Therefore, it is crucial to teach CRT to promote understanding, critical thinking, and social change.


  1. Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory: An introduction. NYU Press.
  2. Hamilton, D., & Darity Jr, W. A. (2017). Race, wealth, and intergenerational poverty: There will never be a post-racial America if the wealth gap persists. The American Prospect, 28(1), 40-45.
  3. Ladson-Billings, G. (1998). Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(1), 7-24.
  4. National Education Association. (2017). Ethnic studies: An overview. Retrieved from https://www.nea.org/professional-excellence/student-engagement/tools-tips/ethnic-studies-overview.
  5. Bell, D. A. (1992). Faces at the bottom of the well: The permanence of racism. Basic Books.
  6. Solórzano, D. G., & Yosso, T. J. (2002). Critical race methodology: Counter-storytelling as an analytical framework for education research. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(1), 23-44.
  7. Osei-Kofi, N. (2019). Critical Race Theory and education: A review of past literature and a look to the future. Multicultural Education Review, 11(1), 10-25.
  8. López, I. H., & Guzmán, C. M. (2018). Post-racial rhetoric, race, and Critical Race Theory: A dialectical analysis of the social construction and systemic pervasiveness of racism and other forms of oppression. Journal of Social Issues, 74(4), 787-808.