New article in Phi Delta Kappan - How to respond to community concerns about critical race theory


With Emily A. Hodge and Francesca A. López, I am proud to share an article that involved looking at some district communication in the wake of last summer’s contentious discussions about the contents of the school curriculum. Specifically, we examined the posts on Facebook by school districts, detailing some ways these messages could potentially be strengthened.

The core of the article draws on research about political messaging that points out that messages that are effective for achieving political means have the following features (drawing on work primarily by [Haney López]

  1. Opening by describing a shared value.
  2. Using active voice to name an antagonist (e.g., the people who are trying to divide us) and calling out divide-and-conquer tactics.
  3. Ending with a strong, positive call to action that affirms common values.

This strategy has two over-arching features. First, instead of being race-neutral or colorblind, they highlight making education better for students of different racial and ethnic groups. Second, this strategy avoids messaging a topic that may have an unclear meaning to some members of the community, risking having the reader perceive something like critical race theory as the antagonist.

It was great to work on this project; Emily and Francesca are fantastic scholars and I had the chance to learn more about research on political messaging and communication. As soon as I encountered the three features that we highlighted in this piece, they resonated. I was feeling stuck in conversations about critical race theory, not wanting to plainly state that it was not being taught and feeling trapped in a conversation that didn’t seem to be about an important problem. I think this article goes some of the way to offering educational leaders, educators, and researchers tools to respond to questions about critical race theory and other topics that raise the public’s attention.