Critical race theory is a revolution in search of supporters. A recent Fox News poll found that roughly half of Americans aren’t aware of what critical race theory is and of those who are aware, a plurality opposes teaching it in schools. And when it comes to parents, more than half are opposed to teaching CRT in public schools while just 31 percent say schools should teach it.
What is critical race theory? Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, defines CRT in the Wall Street Journal as “a radical ideology that seeks to use race as a means of moral, social and political revolution.” It is not some benign way of teaching American history, as left-wing pundits and academics claim. It’s an insidious means of teaching that white children are worthless, unredeemable racists, and black kids are perpetual and eternal victims.
Twenty-four states have either passed or are considering laws banning the teaching of CRT in schools. Herein lies the danger of battling CRT: some of these state laws go too far in limiting what teachers can teach. And some of the laws are so badly written that teachers may run afoul of the law for mentioning concepts like “white supremacy.”
The problem lies with the idea that lawmakers are trying to keep teachers from teaching anything that promotes “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people.” This is a noble goal in theory but not so much at the practical level of teaching.
How is a civics teacher supposed to operate within those limits? Can she have her students watch a modern presidential debate? Evaluate a partisan campaign ad? Engage with virtually any polemical work of journalism or political philosophy? I don’t see how.
Similar bills recently became law in Oklahoma and Texas. Both prohibit K-12 public school teachers from requiring or “mak[ing] part of a course” one of the proscribed concepts. Not “promoting” or “teaching as true” or “compelling students to affirm.” Just “make part of a course.”
This is not an impediment to banning the teaching of CRT in the classroom, but it should raise a caution flag. There is a historical precedent for state legislators proscribing the teaching of many subjects, but that doesn’t mean that something as fraught as the history of blacks in America, or Native Americans, should come with a list of instructional “do’s” and “don’ts” that would stifle academic freedom and free speech.
The Left claims to be worried that teachers will be prevented from teaching about the evils of slavery, the white supremacy doctrine of the Ku Klux Klan, or the context of racism in recent history. That’s a strawman argument because no one anywhere who opposes teaching CRT has tried to do that or has proposed doing that.
In fact, opposition to teaching CRT is broad and multi-racial.
Second, the grassroots movement against critical race theory is nonpartisan, multiracial and mainstream. Parents have revolted against critical race theory training at high schools in liberal cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The most successful campaigns have been led by racial minorities who oppose the manipulative and harmful practices of critical race theory in the classroom. Asian-Americans in particular have argued that critical race theory will undermine merit-based admissions, advanced learning programs and academic standards.
Teachers are rightly concerned about too much government interference in lesson planning. But teachers should always be aware of parents’ concerns about indoctrination and propagandizing the children. Parents have a unique and vital lens through which they see what their children are being taught. CRT crosses a line for many parents which is why opposition to it is so passionate.
There should be nothing wrong, for instance, with teaching critical race theory concepts in comparison to other academic theories about American history. Teaching children to think is a vital part of education and keeping them from learning about rancid ideologies like CRT, fascism, or communism does a disservice to them, their parents, and the country.