From CRT to RCT: The Urgent Case for Raising Critical Thinkers

By Colin Seale

I am completely unmoved by the debate over the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools. I fully understand that CRT is an esoteric theory that’s used in law school and doctoral programs as one of many frameworks of analyzing historic and present policies and phenomena. But I understand what people really mean when they argue that CRT should not be present in schools: schools should not talk about things that make children feel uncomfortable, like antiracism. Schools should not indoctrinate children or make them feel bad about what they learn in school, especially if school is teaching them to feel guilty about being the big, bad, evil, privileged white oppressor.

Why am I so “meh” about this so-called CRT debate? Because I know that none of this hype would exist if we spent more time focusing on RCT: Raising Critical Thinkers. If we raised our children to be critical thinkers, we would not be so afraid of them being indoctrinated in school. If you’re a critical thinker, there’s nothing at school you hear or read or learn without questioning. It is critical that at home and in schools we instill skills that allow our kids to be able to look at problems and solutions from different perspectives, to be able to look at information and find ways to back it up with claims, and to understand that there are different ways of understanding.

If you are an educator or leader experiencing pushback around “CRT,” focus on what you’re really doing: Raising Critical Thinkers. You can continue to teach and learn about Alexander the Great from a very one-sided perspective: his accomplishments, achievements, and conquests. Or, you can ask the question Is Alexander the Great really all that great? And recognize that depending on where you stood as a stakeholder during those times, maybe Alexander wasn’t all that great. Maybe as someone from the perspective of being conquered or forced to be a warrior, you see things differently.

There is value in kids being able to see things from a different perspective, to question vigorously, to be emotionally intelligent enough to understand how fear and bias plays into their reasoning, and to understand the events and state of the world of today in isolation and in connection to history.

If you happen to have a decent memory of learning science in school, do me a favor: define mitochondria. If you immediately say “the powerhouse of the cell,” then you learned about the mitochondria the same way most students in our country always have and still do. But what does that really mean? Why is the mitochondria important? Not all cells have it. Does that matter? What if we discussed the scientific theory showing that fragments of the mitochondrial genome (which comes from mothers) in humans could be traced to a single woman ancestor living more than 150,000 years ago? Or what if we discussed that mitochondria dysfunction contributes to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease? No one would consider this multifaceted, complex line of questioning “indoctrination.” It actually has the opposite impact of helping children develop the habit of seeing multiple layers and complexities to things that appear simple.

I do not want my children to simply regurgitate “the powerhouse of the cell,” “Christopher Columbus discovered America,” or “MLK dreamed that his children will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” without context, without questioning, and without critical thinking. Children are not as fragile as we make them seem. But if we were truly concerned about children being harmed by whatever CRT you believe students may be getting in school, fear-based prohibitions are not the answer. RCT, Raising Critical Thinkers, is.

This is about building young people who can lead, who can innovate, who can break the things that need to be broken, who can question what needs to be questioned, who can fix what needs to be fixed, and who can create what needs to be created.

This is about Raising Critical Thinkers.

Colin Seale is president and founder of His passion for educational equity is informed by his childhood when he tracked early into gifted and talented programs. Colin was afforded opportunities that his neighborhood peers were not. Using lessons from his experience as a math teacher, attorney, speaker, and author, he founded thinkLaw. It is an award-winning organization to help educators leverage inquiry-based instructional strategies to close the critical thinking gap and ensure they teach and REACH all students, regardless of race, zip code, or economic background. He is the author of Thinking Like a Lawyer: A Framework for Teaching Critical Thinking to All Students (Prufrock Press, 2020).

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