1619 Project, Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, Disparate impact, Food Deserts, Jim Crow, Living Wage, New York Times, racism, Systemic Racism, Unconscious Bias, Zinn Education Project
Suddenly it’s dawned on many people of good faith that our educational, business, and other institutions have been commandeered by adherents to critical race theory (CRT), which teaches that all social interactions and outcomes must be viewed through the lens of racial identity and exploitation. In fact, it teaches that racism is endemic, whether conscious or unconscious, among people deemed to have privilege. They are labeled as oppressors, especially anyone with white skin. Furthermore, CRT holds that racism is systemic, and therefore the “system”, meaning all of our institutions and social arrangements, must be radically transformed. Some or all of these tenets are taught to our children in public and private schools, and they are embedded in anti-bias and diversity training delivered to employees of government, non-profits, and private companies.
Standing Up To It
It’s easy to see why many have come to view CRT as a racist philosophy in its own right. Teaching children that they are either “oppressors” or “victims” based on the color of their skin, is a deeply flawed and dangerous practice. The revelation of CRT’s cultural inroads has prompted an angry counter-revolution by parents who hope to purge CRT from the curricula in their children’s schools… schools that they PAY FOR as taxpayers. Many other fair-minded people are offended by the sweeping racism and identity politics inherent in CRT. And yet its proponents continue in attempts to gaslight the public. More on that below.
The groundswell of opposition to CRT is evident in explosive meetings of school boards across the country, as well as recent school board elections in which slates of candidates opposed to the teaching of CRT have been victorious (see here, here, and here).
In addition, we’ve seen a number of recent legislative or administrative initiatives at the state level. There are now, or recently have been, efforts in 22 states to ban or restrict the instruction of CRT. In some cases, institutions found to be in violation of the new laws are subject to deadlines to remedy the situation. Otherwise, funding dispersed by their state’s Department of Education may be cut by ten percent, for example.
But It’s Speech
As happy as I am to witness the pushback, it’s fair to ask whether the most severe restrictions are reasonable from an educational point of view. For example, as a social philosophy, and as wrong-headed as I believe it to be, there is no reason CRT can’t be discussed alongside other social philosophies, failed and otherwise, without endorsement. For that matter, we should not insist that schools shield children from the fact that racism exists, and CRT certainly has its place along the spectrum of racism.
For my own part, I believe elective classes covering CRT as one philosophical position among others should be defended, as should instruction in the history of American slavery and Jim Crow laws, for example. However, mandatory training in CRT is unacceptable and, to the extent that students or employees are required to accept its tenets, it constitutes compelled speech. To the extent that certain groups of students are identified as inherently biased, it is a form of defamation and a personal attack.
Some states are attempting to ban CRT outright. Others have imposed strictures on certain messages arising from the CRT curriculum. The Florida Department of Education just passed an extremely brief rule stating:
“Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
The Florida rule prohibits teaching the 1619 Project as part of the history curriculum. This revised “history” of our nation’s founding was sponsored by the New York Times. It insists that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve American slavery, an assertion that has been condemned as false by many historians (see here and here), though the Left still desperately clings to it. I have no problem with a prohibition on false histories, though again, it’s important for students to learn that slavery was the subject of much debate at the nation’s founding and that it persisted beyond that time. No one kept those facts from us when I was a child. And they didn’t brand white students as oppressors.
While a rulemaking by a state Department of Education is better than nothing, it’s a far cry from an actual piece of legislation. A bill signed into law in Idaho in late March contained substantially the same provisions as the rule promulgated in Florida, but it didn’t proscribe the 1619 Project. The same is true of the bill signed into law in Oklahoma in early May.
In Texas, the state senate passed a bill in May that would ban instruction in any public school or state agency of any of the following:
“… one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex
an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by … members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”
A new law in Iowa and abill signed by the governor of Tennessee in late May contained similar provisions, essentially banning instruction of some highly objectionable tenets of CRT. However, the Iowa and Tennessee laws are careful to spell out what the law should not be construed to do. For example, these laws do not:
“—Inhibit or violate the first amendment rights of students or faculty, or undermine a school district’s duty to protect to the fullest degree intellectual freedom and free expression.
—Prohibit discussing specific defined concepts as part of a larger course of academic instruction.
—Prohibit the use of curriculum that teaches the topics of sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, or racial discrimination, including topics relating to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in sexism, racial oppression, segregation, and discrimination.“
A bill in the Missouri House mentions a few such protections. However, the Missouri bill is general in the sense that it explicitly bans the instruction of CRT by name, rather than simply blocking a few unsavory messages of CRT, as detailed by Texas and a few other states. Utah’s legislation, which is awaiting the governor’s signature, is also quite brief and explicit in its prohibition of CRT. I greatly prefer the Texas approach, however, as it makes clear that discussions of CRT in the classroom are not precluded, as might be inferred from the language of the Missouri bill.
But, But… You Just Don’t Get It!
PProtests against these legislative actions have shown a certain tone-deaf belligerence. According to an organization called Black Lives Matter at School and the Zinn Education Project, all the protesters want is a curriculum that illuminates:
“… full and accurate U.S. history and current events … rais[ing] awareness of the dangers of lying to students about systemic racism and other forms of oppression.”
One advocate says they must be free to teach the “truth” of our nation’s foundational and ongoing structural racism. The Missouri bill, they say, “fails to note ‘a single lesson’ which is ‘inaccurate’ or ‘misleads’ students.” It’s not as if it’s necessary for legislation to provide a series of examples, but be that as it may, these CRT advocates know exactly what many find objectionable. Essentially, their response is, “You don’t understand CRT! WE are the experts on systemic, institutional racism.” What they believe is somehow, every negative outcome is actuated by racism of one kind or another, past or present.
Divining the “Fault” Line
Are you below the poverty line? Earning less than a “living wage”? Are you unemployed? Is your credit score lousy? Do you live in a high crime area? In a “food desert”? Are you a single parent? Did you receive a failing grade? Is your rent going up? Did someone fail to defer to you? Did they “disrespect” you, whatever your definition? Were you scolded for being late?
Of course, none of those “outcomes” is exclusive to people of color or minorities. But wait! Someone else is earning a decent income. They got good grades. They have a high credit score. They drive a nice car. They have skills.
Does any of that make them guilty of oppression? Does this have something to do with YOU?
Well, you see, CRT teaches us that every unequal outcome must be the consequence of unjust, “disparate impacts” inherent to the social and economic order. To be clear, outcomes are a legitimate subject of policy debate, and we should aim for improved well-being across the board. The point that defenders of CRT miss is that unequal outcomes are seldom diabolic in and of themselves. Real indications of injustice, past or present, do not imply that any one class of individuals is inherently racist or behaves in a discriminatory manner.
Critical Theory Is a Fraud
Critical race “theory” is nothing but blame in fraudulent “search” of perpetrators. It is fraudulent because the perps are already identified in advance. It is “critical” because someone or something deserves blame. The real exercise is to spin a tale of misused privilege and biased conduct by the privileged perps against a set of oppressed victims.
CRT is not just one theory, but a whole slew of theories of blame. The very attitudes of the purveyors of CRT show they do not believe their “theories” are falsifiable. And indeed, allegations of unconscious bias are impossible to falsify. Thus, CRT is not a theory, as such. It amounts to a polemic, and it should only be discussed as such. It certainly shouldn’t be taught as “truth” to children, university students, or employees. More states should jump on-board to restrict the CRT putsch to propagandize.