Critical Race Theory casebooks (and course structure) question

This fall, I’m going to be teaching a seminar on Critical Race Theory. It looks to be a fun topic to teach, and I’m excited about the class. I’m less excited about the pedantic task of selecting a book. However, with the bookstore breathing down my neck, book selection must take place. This requires me to nail down some underlying questions about course structure that I hadn’t really resolved yet.

I’m of two minds.

Option one is to assign one or both of the two essay collections that seem most suited for a seminar. (Delgado’s Cutting Edge, and Crenshaw et al’s Key Writings.) The class will hit several essays, and students will ultimately write a major paper on one essay (and probably a few minor paper responses to others). This sounds like fun. It also sounds quite a bit more unstructured than any other class I’ve ever taught.

Option two is to go a more structured route. West has a CRT casebook, by Dorothy Brown, that situates some of the ideas of CRT in a coherent outline format. If I use this one, I’ll probably drop one of the two essay collections, and go for a more structured, outlined sort of class.

I do like the idea of just essay-hopping and tying it all together loosely. But I don’t want to frighten the students, and I worry that a completely unstructured outline might do that. So — what do other professors (or Co-Op readers in general) think? In particular, has anyone here taught CRT using either of the methods I’ve mentioned — and if so, how did it go?

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4 Responses

  1. Belle Lettre says:

    I think the Cutting Edge is _terrible_–it is too heavily redacted, and it’s no longer cutting edge–it’s over 10 years old! The Key Writings is a necessary starting point, but always flag how much has changed since it was written.

    Go for structure. Too much of CRT is unstructured in its approach. It would help the students for you to give an outline of the movement from inception to critical responses to re-responses. E.g. Farber and Sherry; critiques of the black-white paradigm by Bob Chang; Yamamoto’s Critical Race Praxis, etc.

    I recommend creating a good syllabus with your own edits (if possible) of important law review articles.

    I like these books to take the discussion from the 1980s and 90s to today: Juan Perea’s Race and Races; Critical Race Feminism by A.K. Wing.

  2. Jason says:

    You might go for structure, but don’t do so out of a fear that you’ll “frighten” students – they’re taking a Critical Race Theory class most likely expecting things to be a little more free-wheeling and interesting than they’re used to.

    One of the challenges (and joys; and points) of learning things is figuring out the structure, seeing how things connect, having “Aha” moments when you see connections. Too much of law school already comes pre-packaged, pre-structured.

  3. Matt says:

    I think that a nice supplement to whatever you might want to do would be to have the students read Raymond Geuss’s wonderful little book _The Idea of a Critical Theory_. It’s not about law in particular, not about critical race theory at all, and spends a lot of time on Habermas. But, it’s the best thing around to get a quick introduction to what a “critical theory” is supposed to be and why one might want one. It’s short (less than 100pp) so could fairly easily be assigned as extra reading or pre-course reading. Students will have a _much_ better idea of what a critical theory is supposed to be after reading it, though. It is a philosophy book, but not an _especially_ hard one- certainly easier than trying to read Adorno or even Habermas!

  4. M. Simon says:

    I’m going to counter with – how do you account for fundamental inequality?

    Like the fact that for the most part the fastest sprinters in the world are blacks from a certain part of Africa. Or the fact that Ashkenazi Jews on average punch far above their weight when it comes to intellect.


    In other words suppose on the group level there is a basis for discrimination.

    I would counter that the only way to overcome that is exactly what our Constitution aimed at: treat people as individuals. How well it succeeded is another question.

    The group theory of social relations is a dead end.