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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.

Photo credit: Bigstock/Digitalista

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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.

Basic background:

Resources and Reporting Tips

Journalism organizations and education institutions are helping reporters on the ground fight misinformation and disinformation with these resources.

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: