Theme Panel: Pluralism and Critical Race Theory: Dialogue in Search of Middle Ground

Pluralism and Critical Race Theory: Dialogue in Search of Middle Ground


(Chair) Robert Maranto, University of Arkansas; (Presenter) Stephen Macedo, Princeton University; (Presenter) Jonathan Collins, Brown University; (Presenter) Will Reilly, Kentucky State University; (Presenter) Jonathan Zimmerman, University of Pennsylvania

Session Description:
Pluralism dominated late 20th century U.S. political science (Merelman, 2003), and arguably politics, for better (Maranto, 2005; Truman, 1951) or worse (Lowi, 1979). In the 21st Century, academic fields and broader politics in western societies face serious challenges from both the partially populist right (Applebaum, 2021; Galston, 2018) and the postmodern left (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018; Pluckrose & Lindsay, 2020). Here, we seek to model pluralistic dialogue in examining Critical Race Theory and related intellectual movements including the Pulitzer Prize Winning 1619 Project, and, as well as partially populist (though perhaps elite led) efforts in at least 28 states to restrict teaching of these approaches and their integration into k-12 public school curricula (Stout & LeMar-LeMee, 2021).

In many respects these sorts of education curricular controversies are nothing new, and arguably represent a healthy democratic system in which interest groups clash, ideas are debated, and in which federalism sometimes defuses conflict by permitting adjustment to local norms and values (Zimmerman, 2002, 2022). Arguably, what is new is the tendency for political activists on the left and right to simplify and intensify issues on social media, precluding negotiation and compromise, which center healthy democratic processes (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018). These tendencies have no doubt been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced interpersonal contact in schools and other mediating institutions (works in Marshall, forthcoming 2022).

Here, we propose a roundtable to explore the 2021-22 debate over CRT, how it fits into our broader education policy traditions, and how to develop norms of dialogue and negotiation going forward. This fits with the broader meeting theme of attempting to rethink, restructure, and reconnect political discourse post-COVID.

We have assembled an outstanding, ideologically diverse collection of thinkers to discuss these issues. Richard Delgado is widely considered among the founders of CRT, and with Jean Stefancic recently authored the third edition of the acclaimed Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (NYU Press, 2017). Jonathan Zimmerman has written widely on the history of culture wars in public education, most notably Whose America: Culture Wars in the Public Schools (second edition, 2022 Chicago). Jonathan Collins has written widely on race and public education, including works in APSR and Political Behavior, and is a columnist for Education Week. Stephen Macedo has written widely on education, ethics, public policy, and law, and is the President of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy. Jeffrey Henig has written numerous books and articles on education policy and been elected a fellow of the American Educational Research Association. Wilfred Reilly has written for both scholarly and popular audiences on a range of race and public policy related issues, emphasizing the importance of empirical approaches.

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