After critical race theory dissertation, DJJ Secretary Eric Hall explains pivot

HALL ART
'Even for my own kids, even though my dissertation may have been on CRT, my kids can't tell you anything about CRT.'

The new Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary is shedding light onto academic writings he authored more than half a decade ago.

As a doctoral student at the University of South Florida, Eric Hall wrote a 272-page dissertation that involved an emerging study: critical race theory. Then, he says, CRT was simply a theoretical lens on the issue of race. Today, however, it is among the most controversial topics in American politics and a top target of his boss, Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

In the writings first reported about by POLITICO Florida, Hall in 2014 described CRT as “beliefs that seek to uncover and expose racism and its related impact on those who are often without power, in the case of this study, minority students.” He also lamented his inherent privilege as a White male in the report, writing the focus of his “advantaged life” will shift to expose racial “inequity and its effects.”

In speaking to Florida Politics, Hall insists he underwent a years-long renaissance on the issue after the dissertation. In fact, he laments the theory as both a harmful and “divisive” means of indoctrination. 

It’s a subject, the lifelong educator adds, that has no place in the classroom — a view point that now aligns Hall with DeSantis and the bulk of Florida’s Republican lawmakers. 

No train of thought should strong-arm students or young people into a frame of thinking, he asserts.

“Even for my own kids, even though my dissertation may have been on CRT, my kids can’t tell you anything about CRT because we don’t talk about that,” said Hall, a Pasco County native and father of two.

In defense of himself, Hall says his program at USF included two subjects: CRT and Gender in Education. At the time, he notes, CRT best aligned with his field of study and students including himself found themselves exploring national narratives such as the “school to prison pipeline” and other race-centric theories. 

Research of CRT, at the time, he adds, was “pretty limited.” What’s more, no one had yet to see the theory in motion, and his thesis — he claims — focused more on improving the lives of students facing various hardships and challenges, albeit through the lens of CRT.

That context, he suggests, is key.

“The more that I’ve learned over this past decade about CRT and the divisive nature that it brings… (the) Governor’s absolutely correct, it has absolutely no place in our K-12 system,” Hall said.

He also has pivoted on the issue of White privilege, saying privilege is more a factor of socioeconomic conditions than strictly race.

“I think there’s multiple factors that sometimes create these challenges and these hurdles,” Hall explained. “Our job then is how do we leverage the resources that we have to mitigate and knock down those barriers.”

Hall’s take on the theory matters. DeSantis and friends are on a mission to rid the state of its teachings. Last week, the Republican Governor rolled out legislation to stomp the theory. 

Dubbed the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” the measure would enshrine in statute a ban on CRT and give parents a “private right of action” to file suits against districts that implement CRT policies. The bill would also empower employees against corporations. 

A possible 2024 GOP presidential contender, DeSantis is fundraising off of the proposal. The Governor’s Board of Education previously banned CRT classroom instruction over the summer.

“From schools to corporations, Democrats are working to indoctrinate our nation’s youth with hatred — hatred towards one another and towards America. If they’re successful, it will rot our nation to the core,” the Governor warned in a fundraising email.

Meanwhile, schooling is among the cornerstones of Hall’s agenda at the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). A former teacher turned education executive at the Florida Department of Education, Hall maintains the educational path of young people under DJJ’s care is paramount.

Most youth in the juvenile justice system, he notes, read two to three grade levels below their peers.

“It’s hard to talk about long term opportunity and access if we’re having academic gaps and barriers that we’re having to address right now,” Hall said. “And so really looking at how do we accelerate learning, education is going to be a top priority for me.”

Higher education and workforce training opportunities are another bullet point in Hall’s agenda. Pathways to opportunity, he believes, thwart recidivism. 

“If we want our youth to have long term opportunities, we’ve got to put them on a path that’s going to put them in a career and a job that helps them to meet their goals, as well as the long term goals for their families,” Hall added.

Hall has spent the majority of his career operating in the intersection of juvenile justice and education, calling the appointment to the Juvenile Justice Department a “full circle” moment in his career.

The son of former high school teachers, Hall began his own teaching career as a college student teaching GED classes to those enrolled in a Tampa Bay-area treatment program. He is married to a social worker and is the father of children enrolled in state public schools. 

Calling the appointment an “exciting opportunity,” Hall is eager to harmonize his network of school leaders and law enforcement partners to further support youth involved with DJJ. Among other motives, Hall said he is fueled by a passion to do good things for kids.

“You can look me up any way you want,” Hall said. “I (can) tell you that people that know me, know where my heart’s at, they know where my passion is at. And I approach this work with an unyielding commitment to making sure that we do everything we can for kids.”

DeSantis appointed Hall to lead DJJ in November. In 2019, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran tapped Hall to serve as the first Chancellor for Innovation and Senior Chancellor. 

The role oversaw a slew of divisions including K-12 Public Schools, the Florida College System, Career and Adult Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Services, the Office of Safe Schools and the Office of Early Learning.

Hall is also involved on many boards and committees. He’s served as a board member of Special Olympics Florida and as Chair of the Florida State Advisory Council on Early Learning.

Hall holds a doctorate in Education Leadership and Policy Studies.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.


22 comments

  • Alex

    December 22, 2021 at 6:33 am

    It’s funny how one of the talking points against CRT is it makes white kids feel guilty, when in reality you are the only person who can make you feel guilty.

    It’s the racists who feel the guilt.

    • Evan

      December 22, 2021 at 3:22 pm

      I feel sorry for you. You never left junior high.

  • Ron Ogden

    December 22, 2021 at 6:46 am

    “. . .when in reality you are the only person who can make you feel guilty.”
    Do you really believe this? Good, I do, too, and very firmly. You are the only person who can make you feel guilty, you are the only person who can make you feel oppressed, you are the only person who can make you feel ANYTHING. You and only you are personally responsible for your emotions and your life. Tell the bullies to go to hell, whether they are trying to bully you about race, gender, history, privilege, vaccines or anything else. Welcome to the Republican Party.

    • Alex

      December 22, 2021 at 7:44 am

      Thanks for agreeing only someone who thinks they’re a racist feels guilty when the facts are pointed out to them.

      You just outed yourself and your party.

      • zhombre

        December 22, 2021 at 8:26 am

        Cicada buzzes:: racist racist racist. Don’t bother listening to an insect mind.

        • Alex

          December 22, 2021 at 8:33 am

          You’re very good at having nothing of substance in any of your comments, most likely because they come from an empty head.

          • Evan

            December 22, 2021 at 3:24 pm

            How much are you paying for a gallon of gas compared to a year ago?

          • zhombre

            December 22, 2021 at 7:40 pm

            Your ‘substance’ is nothing but snark and shit.

      • Ron Ogden

        December 22, 2021 at 11:38 am

        My point was, nobody who thinks through the issues of race ought ever to feel guilty. When the young are force fed race-based hate, as is the point of CRT, many are not strong enough in their youth to resist it. CRT exists to make young people feel guilty about race. That’s why you support it.

        • Alex

          December 22, 2021 at 12:53 pm

          Which is the big lie I pointed out below, and you still insist on believing it.

          No child is taught CRT in school, it simply doesn’t happen, and you can produce zero evidence of it.

          The racists here are the parents/family who invented/believe the lie, because they feel the guilt.

          It’s quite simple when you stop imagining everyone is out to get you and you accept the facts.

  • Ron Ogden

    December 22, 2021 at 6:49 am

    What this story is really about is how an independent mind, in this care Eric Hall’s, advances from state-sponsored indoctrination into social science dogma to a dawning awareness of the reality of human relations. Congratulations to Hall for being able to throw off the shackles.

    • Alex

      December 22, 2021 at 7:50 am

      See there’s the big lie in the GOP’s claims about CRT.

      It is not state sponsored because it’s really only a subject in higher learning, ie college level and above.

      Another good job of outing the GOP.

      Congratulations.

      • Ron Ogden

        December 22, 2021 at 11:39 am

        USF is a state-sponsored school. Didn’t you know that?

        • Alex

          December 22, 2021 at 12:56 pm

          It’s not taught to kids, only in some college and higher level courses as I stated above, and you just agreed with me.

          USF is higher education.

          • Ron Ogden

            December 23, 2021 at 9:20 am

            They are teaching students who in turn become teachers of the very young in public schools. And, yes, CRT is taught in public schools under different names. Regardless of the name, the lesson is the same: that people are evil because of the color of their skin–white– and the world they created is only for them and others are excluded. This is a lie.

        • Alex

          December 23, 2021 at 12:50 pm

          Prove it.

  • Bob

    December 22, 2021 at 1:13 pm

    They are not teaching CRT. They are teach WITH CRT. There’s a difference.

    • Alex

      December 22, 2021 at 1:26 pm

      ..and the goal posts start moving.

      They’ll move a very long way until Republicans quietly accept the fact they were wrong like they always end up doing.

  • Alex

    December 22, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    Next you’ll tell us it’s only the far left radicals, then it’ll be just the black ones, then you’ll quietly realize it never was true and stop talking about CRT anymore.

    Kinda like gay marriage that was supposed to “destroy the fabric of society” and evolution that removed morals.

  • Mr. Suede

    December 23, 2021 at 10:11 am

    I read the dissertation with hope but nope. Like we don’t have enough to deal with, now, we’re racist too.

    “One of the greatest impacts documented from the implementation of many school reforms has been the elevated displacement of minority students, particularly Black males, from the traditional educational settings of our public school systems (Advancement Project, 2010). This displacement of students of color, which is often attributed to student suspension and expulsion practices, is also enhanced by a student’s ability to adequately access the school’s curriculum, depending on their academic performance or as some might argue, depending on the embedded perceptions associated with those that have the power to provide full access to the school’s curriculum (Downey, Von Hippel, & Broh, 2004; Leone et. al, 2005). This access is often controlled by teachers, who represent a field that is occupied predominantly by White, middle-class women, and who sometimes bring with them attitudes and perceptions that further marginalize children of color, thus impeding their ability to participate fully in a school’s curriculum (Gardiner, Canfield-Davis & LeMar, 2009).”

    • ScienceBLVR

      December 23, 2021 at 10:49 am

      Unless you are an educator, or in a field that gives you access to actual classrooms and students, quoting research just doesn’t change the outcome for children of any race. The key is to reduce intergenerational poverty and ‘elevate educational opportunities- especially in early childhood. I taught for 20 years in an extremely high poverty neighborhood school – mainly White, Hispanic and recent immigrants. Introducing literacy in ages 0 – 3 helps somewhat level the playing field. The system we have now, half a day of VPK at age 4 is fine for middle class kids, but children in poverty need much more exposure to the components of reading and much earlier in their lives
      Look up some research on the differences in exposure to vocabulary in homes of poverty- again, race is a meaningless discussion here. Career opportunities and training for parent to lift the family to a living wage while providing early literacy experiences for children works! I’ve seen and participated in the process and know how powerful it is. This CRT bullshit is a distraction from what really needs to be done if you want significant change. Its not about making children feel guilty; its about helping children and parents see that not everyone gets the same pie on their plate and working to change the dynamic.

      • Alex

        December 23, 2021 at 8:58 pm

        Focus on what actually works instead of divides.

        Yes, thank you.

Comments are closed.


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