Trey Kay Published

Us & Them: Can We Have A Hard Conversation About Race In America’s Classrooms?

Us & Them: Critical Race Theory
Us & Them: Critical Race Theory
Us & Them Team

Americans are looking back to reassess their history and origins.

George Floyd’s murder launched a global movement to assert the critical role that race plays in American law and society; however, even before Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation and the world, there were efforts to redefine America’s origin story.

Now, there are fresh fracture points in how we see ourselves and how we teach our history. A focus of this debate is on a little-known academic and legal concept called Critical Race Theory that says that racism is inherent in our laws and institutions.

The theory is not part of standard public school curriculum; however, it has become a catch-all term for efforts to include race as an element in how we teach America’s history. Some parents are against any approach that makes their children pawns in a racial legacy they say focuses too much on oppression and victimization.

Once again, one of our nation’s most sensitive cultural flashpoints is evident in debates over laws and school curriculum, and who decides what students will learn about our past.

This episode of Us & Them is presented with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and CRC Foundation.

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Nikole Hannah-Jones

James Estrin
Nikole Hannah-Jones developed The 1619 Project, which was turned into a podcast and later, a book. Among the goals for project was to reframe the origin story of America and to document how instrumental the institution of slavery was in the creation of the United States.

Nikole Hannah Jones website.

Nikole Hannah-Jones interview on the PBS News Hour.

1619 Project - Book Copy

The 1619 Project Book Cover
Jelani Cobb

Peter Morenus/UConn
Columbia School of Jounalism
Jelani Cobb is a professor at the Columbia Journalism School faculty. He has contributed to The New Yorker since 2012, and became a staff writer in 2015. He is the recipient of the 2015 Sidney Hillman Award for Opinion and Analysis writing and writes frequently about race, politics, history and culture. Cobb was most recently an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut where he specialized in post-Civil War African American history, 20th century American politics and the history of the Cold War.

Jelani Cobb’s New Yorker article about Derrick Bell —”The Man Behind Critical Race Theory.

Matt Hawn

Rachel O’Hara
Matthew Hawn was a social studies teacher in Sullivan County, TN. He was fired for lessons he taught that delved into the role of race in American society.

Articles about Matthew Hawn in The Atlantic and Washington Post.

Jonathan Zimmerman

University of Chicago
Jonathan Zimmerman is an education historian at the University of Pennsylvania. He has written about the culture wars in the public schools for decades. An updated version of his book from 2002, “Whose America” will be published this fall. The original book took a deep dive into the religion and history wars in the schools.

Jonathan Zimmerman’s article in The Hill about Critical Race Theory.

Learn more about Jonathan Zimmerman’s book “Whose America, Culture Wars in the Public Schools.”

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks during an election-night rally at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles in Chantilly, Virginia.

WAMU 88.5
Glen Youngkin picked up support from parents because he talked about their concerns on the campaign trail in his race for Governor of Virginia. He saw their anxiety over masking requirements and the pandemic, and he tapped into their frustration about what students were learning, or not learning at school. He made a campaign promise to ban Critical Race Theory from being taught in Virginia’s school system, despite the fact that CRT was not part of the state’s education curriculum. Youngkin defeated former Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. As promised, when he took office on January 15, 2022, Governor Youngkin signed an executive order against teaching “divisive concepts” in public schools. Youngkin’s order was a version of similar legislation that’s passed in a dozen states so far, and still being considered in a couple dozen more.

Moms For Liberty
Tiffany Justice is a co-founder of Moms For Justice, which has grown into a nationwide organization of parents. Some reports show they have 70-thousand members in 165 chapters in 33 states. Justice is a wife and mom of four school-aged children. From 2016 to 2020, she served on the Board of the School District of Indian River County, FL. Justice says her organization empowers parents to look behind what she calls the “education curtain.”

Learn more about Moms for Liberty.


Jo McCulty
The Ohio State University
Hasan Kwame Jeffries is associate professor of history at The Ohio State University where he teaches courses on the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement.