Covering Critical Race Theory: Resources and Tips to Debunk Misinformation
How reporters can arm themselves with knowledge to prevent the spread of intentional and unintentional incorrect information.
This story was updated on Sept. 23, 2021.
After a more than 40-year-old graduate-level, academic research framework became the center of a national culture war that began last year, misinformation and disinformation infiltrated the public sphere, and internet searches increased.
In 2019, Nexis listed a total of 635 news articles mentioning “critical race theory.” Today, the phrase is cited in more than 5,000 pieces a month. And the vast majority of those stories focus on how history and race are taught in schools.
The topic gained notoriety in the summer of 2020, when Christopher Rufo, a self-described conservative “brawler,” published a critique of civil rights training curricula he said was based on CRT. Since then, education journalists have seen the controversy boil over into their beat as some community members berate school board members and other education leaders, often based on misinterpretations of the framework.
Reporters covering these disputes can best serve their readers by avoiding incendiary generalizations, putting CRT in context, and investigating motives of the most important players in the debate.
“People are using it inappropriately and incautiously, making generalizations and claims they probably shouldn’t make,” Charles A. Price, a Temple University professor, said during a Q&A in August. “And critics are pointing to the worst examples of critical race theory applications rather than the best, and rather than considering its original purpose.”
Reporters seeking to set the record straight can start by arming themselves with knowledge. Here are several resources to help journalists accurately cover CRT and prevent misinformation.
Background, Context and History
Though mostly taught in law schools, CRT – like other theoretical frameworks – can be applied by those in other disciplines in higher education – typically only by graduate students and professors – to help organize research. (Note: I first learned about CRT while doing research for a graduate cultural anthropology course in 2017.) Professors and students utilizing this framework examine scholarly sources on how “U.S. social institutions are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race.”
Education scholars have used CRT to research inequalities, such as the underfunding of majority-Black and Latino school districts or the disproportionate disciplining of Black students.
The framework doesn’t focus on the effects of racism by individuals. And much CRT research isn’t easily accessible to K-12 teachers. So, it seems unlikely it’s widely taught to students in public schools. Additionally, although it shares the same initials, CRT isn’t the same as culturally relevant teaching, “which seeks to affirm students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds and is intellectually rigorous,” according to Education Week.
Untangling the controversy around critical race
theory. A Temple University education professor discusses
CRT’s origins, how it’s taught and its politicization.
Why are states banning critical race theory? Sociology
professor and Brookings fellow Rashawn Ray discusses CRT
misinformation and the number of state bans.
critical race theory? The Oklahoman Reporter Nuria
Martinez-Keel discusses the simmering culture war around CRT
and how racism in America is taught in public schools in this
EWA Radio podcast episode.
Critical race theory: A brief history. This New York Times
article explains why it’s complicated to describe the over
40-year-old academic framework, misinformation, key figures who
developed and established CRT, and why one legal scholar sees
CRT “like global warming.”
What is critical race theory, and why are conservatives
blocking it? PolitiFact fact checkers explain CRT,
criticism against it, and why some allegations – such as the
framework’s “tie” to Marxism – is overly broad.
Ask the Expert: What is critical race theory and why is
it under attack in our schools? Michigan, like
several other states, introduced legislation that would limit
how race and racism is taught in classrooms. A Michigan State
University education professor explains CRT and why moving away
from a “Eurocentric approach” to history has sparked fear.
Misleading conflation of equity and critical race
theory. Detroit Free Press Reporter Lily Altavena shows how
calls for equity in schools have been incorrectly conflated
with CRT in this EWA blog post.
What is critical race theory? Resources for
educators. The College of William & Mary School of
Education created this resource, which includes a list of 15
books, news articles and scholarly articles as well as history
and background about CRT.
The folk devil made me do it. Scholars make the connection
between the psychological phenomenon “moral panic” and CRT.
They give examples of how moral panic has manifested throughout
history and how it led to discrimination through laws, such as
the Chinese Exclusion Act and the racial profiling of Muslims
The debate over critical race theory. This audio explainer
from NYT’s The Daily details why CRT began dominating headlines
and how it became a “rallying cry” for conservatives.
What is critical race theory, and why is it under attack?
The Education Week article explains how certain groups see CRT
differently and anti-CRT bans that incorrectly conflate the
framework with other multicultural curricula and issues
affecting people of color.
- How a conservative activist invented the conflict over critical race theory. The New Yorker details how Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist, turned the once obscure CRT into the “perfect weapon.”
Resources and Reporting Tips
Journalism organizations and education institutions are helping reporters on the ground fight misinformation and disinformation with these resources.
Covering critical race theory and the push to keep it out
of US public schools: 4 tips for journalists. The
Journalist’s Resource gives journalists essential background,
CRT scholars and resources to research, questions to ask and
Critical race theory 101: Essential context for education
reporters. Academic experts break down the core tenets of
CRT and how the framework has been used in education research
and practice in this recording of an EWA webinar. Speakers also
address how misinformation is driving the controversy, and what
journalists can do to cover the topic fairly and
Critical race theory: understanding the debate. In
this on-demand recording, Education Week reporters speak with a
lawyer-educator about why CRT has become controversial.
- How a GOP Senate resolution condemning critical race theory distorts the facts. A PolitiFact fact checker explains both sides of the debate and vets an anti-CRT resolution, explaining its “distortions.”
Important Coverage Examples on Critical Race Theory, Race and Racism
Journalists around the country have reported on CRT, and how race and racism is taught in schools. Some of their work is listed here:
Michigan Republicans aim to limit teaching about racism and
sexism. Michigan Republicans proposed legislation to
restrict how race is taught in classrooms, such as removing
race and gender stereotypes from instruction, Chalkbeat Detroit
reports. The bill is reportedly fueled by
conservative reactions to New York Times Magazine’s The
1619 Project, but it also comes amid the national CRT
Critical race theory battles are driving frustrated, exhausted
educators out of their jobs. NBC reports on how
administrators and teachers either resigned or were fired after
battles over diversity and equity initiatives, which often were
conflated with CRT.
Gov. Abbott signs ‘anti-critical race theory’ bill into law
over objections from educators and civic groups. Dallas
Morning News reporters answer a series of questions about a new
anti-CRT law in Texas that bans “a long list of subjects and
ideas” that must – or must not – be taught. Opponents argue the
law will have a chilling effect in schools.
Tulsa commits to teaching ‘hard history’ after state restricts
antiracist instruction. As K-12 teachers prepared to teach
the long-ignored history of the Tulsa Race Massacre to
students, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a bill limiting how
teachers could teach race and racism to students, The 74
reports. This was
the state’s take on critical race theory.
- The battle over teaching critical race theory. NPR’s Fresh Air looked at how CRT critics are conflating the framework with “anything teaching students about systemic racism, any mention of white privilege.” Guest NBC reporter Tyler Kingkade explains that critics want to limit discussions about race and racism in classrooms.