Americans are up in arms about the proliferation of critical race theory, or CRT, in our nation’s schools and public institutions. Protestors are disrupting school board meetings in Virginia. Parents are pulling their children out of elite schools in New York City. Yet if you listen to corporate media and leftist politicians, the story on CRT keeps changing.
First was the claim that there is no CRT in grade school curricula, and that calls to remove it were a conservative ploy to rile the base for the 2022 elections. Now the story has shifted to asserting that CRT is simply true history. Why the left keeps pushing (and changing) the narrative may expose the real vulnerabilities of the “antiracism” CRT crowd.
But first, let’s consider what the sources are saying. “Critical race theory [is] a decades-old academic framework that most people had never heard of,” asserts a June 21 Washington Post story. It’s “a decades-old academic framework that examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism,” says another May 3 article.
“Much scholarship on CRT is written in academic language or published in journals not easily accessible to K-12 teachers,” notes a May 18 report in EducationWeek. It’s a “complex critique that wouldn’t fit easily into a K-12 curriculum,” declares Georgetown University Law professor Gary Peller at Politico.
One finds similar statements from various liberal commentators. CRT is “the dry and arcane stuff of graduate school seminars,” says WaPo columnist Eugene Robinson in a 28 June op-ed, waving off conservative concerns about the theory as polemical fear-mongering. Opinion writer Colbert King in turn asserts: “D.C. schools don’t teach critical race theory but do provide anti-racist training for educators and classroom discussions of systemic racism.” Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times declares: “teachers aren’t instructing young kids in law school scholarship about structural racism.”
In other words, it’s not simply that the critics of CRT are wrong. It’s that they’ve manufactured a crisis that bears little, if any, resemblence to facts on the ground. Truckloads of articles and op-eds by reporters and columnists in establishment media assure faithful readers that CRT is definitely not being taught in schools.
CRT is arcane and esoteric, an obscure, ivory-tower, academic subject confined to grade school discussion groups at elite universities. Students, and perhaps even teachers, aren’t even capable of understanding the nuances of CRT, they tell us.
Then on July 3 the National Education Association — the largest teachers union in the country — announced a six-figure campaign to “have a team of staffers for members who want to learn more and fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric” and an official position that “in teaching these topics, it is reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.”
This was followed by a July 9 statement by White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki in answering a question about CRT and anti-racist curriculum, in which she implied that both should be taught in schools. She explained: “There is not just slavery and racism in our history, there is systemic racism that is still impacting society today.”
The brazenness of this about-face is remarkable but perhaps expected. Consider simply how these same media organizations define CRT. Reporter Valerie Strauss calls it an “academic framework that holds that racism is systemic, embedded in government policies and laws that are evident in any serious examination of American history.”
Columnist Christine Emba at the Washington Post similarly explains: “[CRT] suggests that our nation’s history of race and racism is embedded in law and public policy, [and] still plays a role in shaping outcomes for Black Americans and other people of color.” Michael Schwalbe at the Charlotte Observer says CRT examines “racial gaps in wealth, power, and status persist … because of unconscious biases and the routine ways that institutions operate to benefit some groups at the expense of others.”
Those descriptions certainly sound like what is increasingly being taught in American schools. There are faculty meetings where teachers are purposefully segregated based on color as part of a seminar to teach about systemic racism in school curricula. There are prestigious New York schools in which there have been “racist cop” reenactments in science, “decentering whiteness” instruction in art class, and lessons on white supremacy and sexuality in health class.
Or how about the simple fact that school systems across the country are incorporating the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Hard History” curriculum and the 1619 Project curriculum? Both of these explicitly expose students to the realities of systemic racism in American history and contemporary society, and examine the ways white supremacy still defines American institutions and results in negative outcomes for “persons of color.”
Assertions that CRT is not being taught in American schools and undergraduate courses are deeply disingenuous, and thus the campaign to argue otherwise is unraveling. Even if teachers do not explicitly cite the phrase “critical race theory” to their students, it doesn’t mean they aren’t teaching principles based on or in agreement with CRT.
To argue otherwise is a bit like claiming that just because secular schools don’t cite by name Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, they aren’t teaching utilitarian ethics; or just because schools don’t cite Betty Friedan and Shulamith Firestone by name they aren’t teaching the principles of radical feminism. As I’ve argued elsewhere for The Federalist, all educational curricula are informed by certain philosophical premises and underlying ideological visions that guide what is taught and how it’s taught.
Yet at another level, one must wonder why so many of the voices representing our elite media and academic institutions have been so insistent that CRT is not present in American education. One explanation might be that such persons (and the woke organizations they represent) are concerned about the rising backlash against anti-racism, wokeism, and CRT.
American parents are increasingly alarmed that their children are being indoctrinated to view the world primarily through lenses of race, sex, sexual identity, and power structures. They fear that American youth are being told that group identity markers — many of which they can’t control — are the primary way to understand themselves, rather than as unique individuals with inherent self-dignity and worth, and who are ultimately responsible for their own decisions.
These parents are showing up in large numbers at school board meetings. Their angry emails are filling up school administrators’ email inboxes. It seems likely they will be showing up at the polls in 2022 to express their displeasure with politicians who have either encouraged the indoctrination of these ideologies or have sat idly by while an entire generation of students is groomed to be anti-American activists who want to burn sh-t down.
Given this trend, our culture’s self-important panjandrums first sought to pull the wool over our eyes. “You’ve all misunderstood CRT,” they have told us. “CRT is an obscure thing not present in American schools,” they have pronounced. “Conservative critiques of CRT reflect chicken-little demagoguery and polemical manipulation,” they have warned.
Such assertions were so unconvincing— and so obviously driven by political calculation — that CRT advocates have shifted to claiming CRT is the “real history.” The irony and hypocrisy would be more risible if it wasn’t our children’s education and our nation’s future that are on the line.