After American Experiment launched its campaign to improve the second draft of Minnesota’s K-12 Social Studies Standards, a Minnesota school superintendent posed a good question:

Which parts are CRT specifically?

She’s referring to Critical Race Theory and our claim that the second draft represents “Critical Race Theory in action.” We also wrote:

These themes represent the application of Critical Race Theory and reflect its framework, despite CRT not being specifically mentioned in the document.

The Minnesota Department of Education’s Q&A about the standards devotes a question to this topic.

Is Critical Race Theory part of the standards?

Critical Race Theory is not included in any current or proposed Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards. Critical Race Theory is a theory that was developed in the 1970s by legal scholars. It may be taught in some master’s or doctoral-level programs.

This is the favorite answer of proponents when questioned about the influence of CRT in the standards. “It’s a complicated theory, taught in law school or graduate programs. We don’t teach CRT to fourth graders.” Of course we don’t teach CRT to fourth graders. That’s not how it works.

The Critical Race Theory framework can be found throughout the second draft of the social studies standards. Using Education Minnesota’s definition of Critical Race Theory, it’s easy to see how CRT influenced the writing of the standards and their accompanying benchmarks. Education Minnesota, the state teachers’ union, defines Critical Race Theory this way:

Critical Race Theory is an understanding that who we are, the laws we have in place, the histories that have been handed down to us, have been shaped by race. It’s an academic framework that is more than 40 years old and is centered on the idea that racism is systemic, not just a product of individual bias or prejudice, and embedded in our policies and legal structures. Critical race theorists shift the focus away from individual people’s actions and toward how systems uphold racial disparities.

Critical Race Theory has three fundamental tenets:

  1. America’s institutions — political, legal and culture — are permeated by “systemic racism”;
  2. Race determines identity (“who we are”); we are members of racial groups first, and individual human beings only secondarily; and
  3. Life is a relentless, zero-sum power struggle between racial groups — oppressors and victims, “dominant” and “non-dominant” groups.

Exhibit A for Critical Race Theory permeating the draft social studies standards is the entire Ethnic Studies strand. Compare the underlined text below with any definition of CRT, and you cannot deny the heavy influence of this philosophy on the standards.

22. Use historical methods and sources, inclusive of ethnic and Indigenous studies methods and sources, to understand and reflect upon the roots of contemporary social systems and environmental systems of oppressions and apply lessons from the past to eliminate injustice and work toward an equitable future.

23. Develop an understanding of the ways power and language construct the social identities of race, geography, ethnicity, gender etc. Apply these understandings to one’s own social identities other groups living in Minnesota, especially those whose stories and histories have been marginalized, erased or ignored.

24. Describe how individuals and communities have fought for freedom and liberation against systemic and coordinated exercises of power locally and globally; identify strategies or times that have resulted in lasting change; and organize with others to engage in activities that could further the human rights and dignity of all.

Critical Race Theory also permeates the second draft’s history standards. These standards focus on dividing Americans into racial groups with “dominant and non-dominant narratives,” and highlighting “marginalized narratives” and “absent voices” (systemic racism and power analysis). For example:

18. Evaluate dominant and non-dominant narratives about change and continuity over time, taking into account historical context, i.e., a) how and why individuals and communities created those narratives; and b) why some narratives have been marginalized while others have not.

19. Recognize diverse points of view and develop an informed awareness of how our positionality (i.e., gender, race, religion, culture, class, geography, etc.) influences historical perspective.

Students will also study geography through the “lens” of Critical Race Theory. Under the proposed standards, our young people will not acquire basic geographical knowledge such as the names of continents, oceans, rivers and nations. Instead, they will be compelled to focus on how power and race (“identity” and “ways of knowing”) allegedly shape the world geographically. For example:

14. Describe places and regions, explaining how they are influenced by power structures.

17. Explain sense of place through ways of knowing (culture) and ways of being (identity) from different perspectives, centering indigenous voices.

The CRT framework also shapes benchmarks across all grades and all strands. Indoctrination begins in kindergarten. (The first letter/number of each benchmark indicates what grade level it is meant for, with benchmarks beginning with a “9” representing 9th-12th grade.)

K.1.6.1 List groups you belong to and name your role in each of those groups. Examine one of the groups you belong to and describe how the group makes decisions.

K.5.22.2 Tell a story about a fair and unfair experience that illustrates power balances and imbalances.

K.5.23.1 Describe personal identity including, but not limited to, region, race, language, gender, family, ethnicity, culture, religion and ability.

The process continues throughout elementary school. For example: Construct meaning of the terms ethnicity, equality, liberation and systems of power and identify examples. Use historical sources to describe how people’s lives have changed over time; consider whose voices and perspectives are represented in the sources, and whose are absent. Explore how a community may consist of multiple cultures, identifying how power is shared among cultural communities. Explore power and conflict in multicultural communities. Identify possible short- and long-term consequences of different choices, while highlighting that not all individuals have access to the same choices. Explain the role that stereotypes and images, including those that are racist, play in the construction of an individual/group’s identity, identify the implications associated with them and how and why stereotypes have changed over time. Examine how identity shapes our perspectives about a local issue and describe ways particular community problems are addressed. Identify the processes and impacts of colonization and examine how discrimination and the oppression of various racial and ethnic groups have produced resistance movements. Analyze anti-colonial and anti-racist resistance movements of culturally, racially and ethnically diverse people throughout the world Explain how physical and human characteristics and power structures are used to create regions on the land. Identify conflicting narratives about a historical event and investigate how and why those narratives were created. Compare the impact of the American Revolution on different groups within the 13 colonies that made up the new United States and identify what narratives are absent. Describe the purposes of the founding documents and explain the basic principles of democracy that were set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Identify who was included and excluded in the founding documents of the United States. Evaluate who benefitted or did not benefit from colonists’ goals for independence, desire for self-government, and liberty. Evaluate primary sources related to Indigenous history, trade, and settler colonialism, and consider what perspectives and narratives are absent from the available sources. (Era 2: Trade & Settler Colonialism) Evaluate primary and secondary sources about the process by which Minnesota became a territory and state; consider what perspectives and narratives are absent from the available sources. (Era 3: US Expansion, Native Dispossession, and Statehood, 1803-1875) Evaluate primary and secondary sources about slavery and abolition in Minnesota, and consider what perspectives and narratives are absent from the available sources. (Era 4: Slavery, Civil War & Reconstruction, 1850-1900) Evaluate primary sources about Hmong, East African, Hispanic, Asian Indian and other immigrants and refugees to Minnesota, and consider what perspectives and narratives are absent from the available sources. (Era 7: Civil Rights to the Present, 1960-present) Assess how the establishment of the Minnesota government impacted the freedom, equality and justice for individuals and groups. Identify and explain how discrimination based on race, gender, economic, and social group identity created and continues to affect the history, health, growth, and current experience of residents of Minnesota. Analyze resistance and community building efforts by racialized and marginalized groups/individuals in Minnesota.

The influence of CRT continues in middle school and is used to shape students’ attitudes toward specific historical events. Describe how physical and human characteristics and power structures influence the function of places over time. Ask and answer questions to make connections to one’s own ways of being (identities) and others’ ways of knowing (cultures). Analyze multiple primary sources from the founding era and/or early republic, considering what perspectives and narratives are absent from the available sources. (Era 1: Founding Era, U.S. Expansion and Native Dispossession) Analyze multiple historical sources related to slavery, the Civil War, and/or Reconstruction, considering what perspectives and narratives are absent from the available sources. (Era 2: Slavery, Civil War & Reconstruction) Use historical sources to describe the strategies used by suffragists in their campaigns to secure the right to vote; determine whose voices are represented and whose voices are absent in the sources; identify the 19th Amendment. (Era 3: Progressive Era) Define freedom and democracy, and examine how different groups have been included or excluded from these ideals in American history. Examine the benefits and consequences of power and privilege on issues associated with poverty, income, and the accumulation of wealth. Explain how physical and human characteristics and power structures influence how people live in different places. Describe regions according to specific criteria and identify the role of power structures constructing regions. Assess the influence of television, the internet and other media on cultural identity, gender identity, and social and political movements.

In high school, CRT’s influence is pervasive. For example: Apply geographic models to explain the location of economics activities, land use patterns, and resources from a local to a global perspective; critique these models to investigate (understand) how they were influenced by power or analyze the models through a critical lens. Analyze how global capital and technologies were used to shape the global wealth distribution and the legacies of subordinate and dominant powers that have existed in the world for the last 70 years. Investigate one’s own intersecting ways of being (multiple identities) based on location, place, culture, and in relation to others. Explain the social construction of race and how it was used to oppress people of color and assess how social policies and economic forces offer privilege or systematic oppressions for racial/ethnic groups related to accessing social, political, economic and spatial opportunities. Evaluate the impact of spatial decisions on policies affecting historically marginalized communities of color and Indigenous nations and take action to affect policy. Evaluate the origins of the long civil rights movement, for example African American, Native American, women, Latinx American, Asian American, and Queer American; identify obstacles to the success of the various civil rights movements, and explain tactics used to overcome the obstacles and the role of key leaders and groups. (Era 8: Civil Rights to the Present, 1960- present) Investigate and interpret multiple primary sources to understand and analyze the perspectives of individuals and communities who have traditionally been underrepresented in historical narratives about the first global age. (Era 4: The First Global Age, 1400-1800) Investigate and interpret multiple primary sources from the Age of Revolutions, analyzing why they were written or created, and considering what perspectives and narratives are absent from these sources. (Era 5: Revolutions, Empires and Nations, 1750-1900) Investigate historical sources about colonialism and slavery, asking who created them, whose voices are absent, and whose interests were articulated or excluded. (Era 2: Colonial History, 1492-1775) Interpret the founding documents of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as historical sources, asking who created them, whose voices were absent, and what interests were articulated or excluded. (Era 3: Age of Revolutions, 1750-1815) Analyze how hierarchies based upon race, social class and religion have been used to justify imperialism, colonization and chattel slavery; how those hierarchies and justifications have changed over time; and how they influence our society today. Develop a respectful awareness about how ideas and norms about gender have changed over time, and how members of the LGBTQ+ community have responded to persecution or marginalization by building coalitions to promote gender equality/equity. Examine the construction of racialized hierarchies based on colorism and dominant European beauty standards and values. Investigate the connection between language and power, and how it has been used for and against various racialized and ethnic groups. Investigate how the establishment of the U.S. government upheld or violated ideas of freedom, equality and justice for individuals and groups. Compare the liberation struggles of people in different regions of the world that have fought for self-determination, liberation, and the empowerment of disenfranchised and/or marginalized groups. Examine the characteristics of freedom movements; develop an analysis of racial capitalism, political economy, anti-Blackness, Indigenous sovereignty, illegality and indigeneity.

Without Critical Race Theory being specifically mentioned in the draft standards, the tenets of CRT dominate the document. The evidence is overwhelming that, unless the draft social studies standards are radically altered, Critical Race Theory will be the “lens” through which Minnesota’s young people will learn about social studies going forward.