You Don't Have to Be a Critical Race Scholar to Apply a Critical Race Lens to Your Practice

Jul 13, 2021 12:00:00 AM


In education, we have a tendency to overcomplicate things by getting caught up with sophisticated academic jargon for things that, I believe, are common sense.  Differentiation, culturally relevant pedagogy, scaffolding … the list goes on and on. We can now add critical race theory (CRT) to the list of these terms.  

Although I firmly believe that critical race theory provides a necessary lens for how racism shows up in our school systems, I’ve come to realize that the term itself has become a huge distraction for many of us educators. The reason why is because many of us are intimidated by our lack of expertise in the field and spending too much time worrying and scrambling to figure out how to use the theory in our schools. Additionally, the racist gaslighting and fearmongering tactics by right-wingers and conservatives have placed many of us in a perpetual and unnecessary state of “analysis paralysis.”

I’m here to you that we’re totally overthinking this and giving way too much power to these politicians. Here’s why: [pullquote]Even though many of us are not scholars of critical race theory, we have always taught our students and fought for them in the spirit of the theory.[/pullquote] We may not know all the tenets of the theory and we may not have read all the books from the theory’s founding scholars, but I can assure you that we have already been incorporating critical race theory principles into our practice in more ways than we probably realize.

I still encourage you to spend a portion of your summer break reading up on critical race theory texts and deepening your understanding of what it is. Although being a critical race scholar is not a requirement, reading a few CRT books will only help your cause. If you are still unsure about whether you’re applying a critical race lens to your teaching practice after reading all of this, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you actively challenging racist policies and protocols that marginalize students of color in your school?
  • When determining curricular resources (ex. books, articles) to use in the classroom, particularly those centered around BIPOC, are you taking the time to assess for bias, as well as the historical accuracy and cultural validity of the content?
  • Are you making the conscious effort to continually check your implicit bias at the door when teaching, engaging with, and disciplining your students of color?
  • When teaching from a required curriculum that is racist and problematic, are you actively finding innovative ways to teach the curriculum in a way that is culturally sustaining and authentically speaks to the lived experiences of your students of color?
  • If you have emergent bilingual learners in your class, are you actively engaging in translanguaging practices that view their native tongue as a necessary asset that is instrumental to their development as English language learners?
  • Are you assessing the intellectual capabilities of your students of color through a deficit-based lens or focus more on their potential to thrive academically?
  • Do you provide a safe space in your classroom for students to engage in open and honest conversations about race and racism?
  • When you see a co-worker or colleague engage in a racist action on school grounds, are you calling in that colleague to educate them on why the action is racist and how they can change the behavior to not impose racial harm on others?

Your responses to these questions will help you in building a personalized game plan for how you intend to strengthen your critical race lens to challenge racist practices within your school.  This erroneous belief that we have to be critical race scholars before engaging in antiracist work breeds a perfectionist mindset that keeps us in a state of inaction. Instead of wasting our time worrying about what we don’t know about critical race theory, let’s shift our mental focus to what we already know. Believe it or not, [pullquote]the little that we do know about CRT is more than enough for us to take immediate action against the embedded racism in our schools.[/pullquote]

Let’s block all the political noise and channel our energy into the work.

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the Teacher in You" and his latest, "From Inaction to 'In Action': Creating a New Normal for Urban Educators". Throughout his 14-year career as a middle school math educator, author, and entrepreneur, Kwame has been on a personal mission to uplift and empower educators who are committed to reversing the ills of the public education system in America and around the world. As a staunch ambassador and advocate for teacher empowerment, Kwame has spoken at numerous national education conferences and worked diligently to support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in the education system. In January 2019, he was one of 35 Massachusetts teachers of color chosen by Commissioner Jeff Riley to be in the inaugural cohort of the InSPIRED (In-Service Professionals Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity) Fellowship, an initiative organized by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for veteran teachers of color to recruit students of color at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels to teach in targeted districts within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As an InSPIRED Teaching Fellow, Kwame facilitated professional development workshops for aspiring teachers at universities such as Boston College, UMass Boston, and Worcester State University and has served as a guest speaker for non-profit teacher pipeline programs such as Generation Teach and Worcester Public Schools’ Future Teachers Academy. A proud graduate of Temple University, Kwame holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in education. He was honored as the 2019 National Member of the Year by Black Educators Rock, Inc. for his unwavering commitment to the advancement of the teacher profession.

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