Responding to the Battle Over Critical Race Theory: We're Elevating Excellence and Opportunity

The voices, the visibility, and the explicitness of writing and talk about racism in our society and in our schools has risen to new levels this year. At the same time the voices, the visibility, and the explicitness have also reached a peak for pushback against efforts to be honest about our past and about the need to examine our biases and our school policies. The latest form of pushback is distortion of the concept of Critical Race Theory. See Charles Blow’s article.

To put these events in context: Who would have expected a U.S. President to talk about the toxic effect of white supremacy in his inauguration speech?! Who would have expected an activist in Washington D.C. to file a complaint to the Justice Department for discrimination against the Wellesley Public Schools because they have conversations about racism?

This is the world we live in. It is one where we can be pleased the conversations are more frequent, more open, and may finally lead to action. And it is one where we need to prepare ourselves for nasty accusations, outrageous arguments, and to stand firmly without withdrawing from the field. These moments call for clarity, self-management, courage, and mutual support.  


Accuser’s tactics seek to suck us into debate on their terms. Those terms aim to make us defend and deny. “We’re not trying to make children hate America!” Debates like that repeat the accuser’s terms again and again even in denial – “you attack patriotism”, “discriminates against whites”, “rewrite history”, “subtract rigor”, “give up on excellence”, “neglect high achieving students”. That becomes a cloud of negativity around the truth.

Successful public officials who come from authentic stances don’t answer bad questions. They say what they want listeners to hear about the topic no matter how the reporter phrased the question. Similarly, we can ignore the bait and reply directly with what we want, what we believe, and what we are actually doing.  “We are striving to make all students feel included and valued.” “We’re elevating the rigor of the thinking in curriculum tasks we give your children, and filling in gaps some students have in vocabulary and prior knowledge so all the kids can succeed at demanding work.” “We’re building our students pride in a country that faces its past to construct a better future.” “We’re standing behind the beliefs in debate and open discussion of those who founded this country and committed their lives to freedom.”

"We can ignore the bait and reply directly with what we want, what we believe, and what we are actually doing. " 


Some of us have very strong reactions, even outrage, at what critics may say of our attempts to elevate the opportunities for marginalized students. They often blame the families, blame the students, call us names, attack our motives, spray distorted facts and stereotypes into the dialog. Responding in anger gets us nowhere in these show-downs. But it takes a level of self-awareness to monitor our own internal feelings and pause long enough to respond effectively rather than reactively. There’s nothing wrong with naming a tactic you perceive being used in a confrontation. It is the audience listening, however, that we need to think about. They can be educated and swayed more than the person we are debating with.  Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands offers great insights into accomplishing this self-awareness.


Courage can be learned. (See previous blog Speaking up to microaggressions or biased judgments we hear takes courage, especially with colleagues and friends in our lives outside school. This is especially true for white educators who seek harmony and are conflict averse. It’s a great help to practice with colleagues the responses I began to describe in the section above on Clarity (see Derald Wing Sue, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence; Sue and Spanierman, Microaggressions in Everyday Life).  There comes a tipping point in white educators’ development where silence is no longer bearable.

For me as a white educator it has been important to ask and listen to what people of color want from me. They want me to lead other white people in the dismantling of racism in this country. They don’t want whites to “help”, they don’t want to be asked to teach us, they don’t want our guilt.  They want us to do our own work. They will do their own work if we remove the centuries-old personal biases and structural and institutional bonds surrounding them that we tolerate and benefit from.

How do white educators work effectively with their white peers? They say, “Come along with me as I work on myself.” How do white educators work with Black educators? They create safe spaces for them to be themselves. We work together to eliminate the obstacles we have placed in children’s progress.


"Come along with me as I work on myself"



Blow, Charles. Demonizing Critical Race Theory, The New York Times Opinion Section, June 13, 2021,

Menakem, Resmaa (2017) My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Central Recovery Press. Las Vegas, NV

Saphier, Jon. (2021) The Courage to Lead,, Research for Better Teaching, Acton, MA

Sue, Derald W. (2015). Race talk and the conspiracy of silence: Understanding and facilitating difficult dialogues on race. John Wiley & Sons Inc. Hoboken, NJ

Sue, Derald W., Spanierman, L. (2020) Microaggressions in Everyday Life, Second Edition. John Wiley & Sons Inc. Hoboken, NJ.


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Jon Saphier is the CEO and Founder of RBT.
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