Jerusha Osberg Conner, University of Villanova
Critical Race Theory – an academic framework that argues that racism is ingrained in society – has become the subject of intense debate over how issues of race should or should not be taught in schools.
Evidence of how exposure to critical race theory actually affects students is largely missing from the debate.
As a researcher specializing in youth activism, I have conducted research on and with youth organizing groups in which critical race theory is an essential component of political education. Eighty-two percent of youth organizing groups regularly offer political education, which involves critical examination of social issues, usually through workshops and group discussions.
My research – as well as that of other researchers – points to three important findings for young people who learn critical race theory as part of youth organization.
1. Ignite passion
First, research shows that learning to apply a critical theoretical perspective on race and to think critically about society does not fuel a sense of division among young people, as some politicians have suggested.
Instead, I found that it can spark a passion in young people to work together to bring about social change aimed at equity.
In my research, I have observed that when young organizers learn how power and privilege is reproduced from generation to generation through racialized policies like redlining or discrimination in housing, funding of school districts on the basis of property taxes, which favors school districts and by following students in different academic levels, they are often inspired to take action to remedy unfair conditions.
Many of the low-income young organizers of color I have studied realize that most of their struggles in life are not their fault. They develop the hope that reform is possible, if only policymakers and the public adopt more equitable policies. And so they set to work to design and defend such policies.
In a youth organizing group that my colleagues and I have studied, students teach each other a pattern called “the spiral of oppression.”
This framework helps young people understand how the societal oppression of groups of people, such as racial minorities, spirals out as individuals from these groups internalize oppression and begin to act on negative stereotypes that they believe in. have internalized. These actions, in turn, lead to further oppression, such as increased police surveillance, surveillance and state violence as the spiral continues.
Over the years, participants have told me over and over again how stimulating it is to learn this framework. It helped them make sense of what they saw happening in their communities. More importantly, it made them think about how they could disrupt the spiral, both individually and collectively. Rather than seeing themselves through the binary prism of the victim or the oppressor, they adopted identities as agents of change, engaged in institutional and societal reform.
2. Improves academics
Second, research shows that young organizers do better in school as they progress through the organization.
For example, in one study, I found that two-thirds of young organizers actively involved in lower performing schools in Philadelphia significantly improved their grade averages.
Likewise, other researchers have found that youth organizers are more likely than their peers to report that they received mostly A and B grades in high school, and that they continue to attend four-year colleges to high school grades. higher rates. Ironically, research shows that while organizing youth helps young people become more aware of inequalities within and between schools, it can also make them less alienated in school and more engaged with academics.
3. Lifetime benefits
Third, the benefits of being exposed to critical theory through youth organization don’t end in high school or college. My research has shown that formative experiences in organizing youth can shape the choices individuals make in their professional and civic lives as adults.
Alumni explain how the values and dispositions cultivated in the organization have led them not only to adopt pro-social careers as, for example, educators or counselors, but also to find ways to continue to participate constructively in the civic life of their communities as young adults.
Other researchers have obtained similar results. In a large-scale study in California, researchers found that as adults, former youth organizers are much more likely than their peers to have volunteered, worked on an issue affecting their community, participated in civic organizations and registered to vote. These findings beg the question: Could these findings become more prevalent if schools adopted some of the principles and curricular frameworks of youth organization, including critical race theory?[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]
As the debate over critical race theory and its place in schools rages on, it is important that the discourse be evidence-based.
Studies of youth organization show that, when properly taught, the analytical tools of critical race theory can support valuable long-term educational, professional, civic and political outcomes.
These results are more pronounced for low-income youth of color. When politicians propose legislation to block the use of Critical Race Theory in schools, they may in fact be blocking an important means of fostering outcomes that would make America’s democracy more solid and vibrant than it would otherwise be. .
Jerusha Osberg Conner, Education Professor, University of Villanova
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.