Advocates of critical race theory scored an important victory last week when Gov.Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill mandating that students take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate from high school.
Recently, critics of critical race theory have been making their voices heard around the nation. A measure of just how successful that effort has been is the left’s mobilization of the Department of Justice to treat angry parents as if they were terrorists and The New York Times portraying CRT supporters as victims and martyrs.
California passed a law in 2016 mandating the creation of ethnic studies curricula. Advocates falsely represented ethnic studies as an effort to include and empower marginalized or underrepresented communities, especially blacks and Hispanics, in school curricula.
Few were willing to push back on the concept of enshrining racial differences as the core of high school civics, and the first draft of the proposed curricula generated outrage from California’s Jewish community. It included antisemitic and anti-Israel language. It effectively promoted the boycott of Israel, while praising the Black Lives Matter movement.
It referred to the establishment of the state of Israel by the term “nakba,” the Palestinian word for “catastrophe.” It spoke of Jews gaining race “privilege” because of their skin color, which makes them part of the oppressive majority. It even included a song lyric that spoke of Jews manipulating and controlling the press.
All of that was taken out of the final draft approved by the legislature and signed by Newsom, but many in the Jewish community were not satisfied because of concerns about the concept and how it would be implemented. The approved text discusses antisemitism, including material on antisemitism from the Anti-Defamation League and the definition of Jew hatred according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Association. That was more than enough to satisfy liberal Jewish organizations that had led the push to alter the program.
Dividing by Race and Replacing History
This material is now part of the ethnic studies curriculum required to graduate from high school in California, but the new law will lead to endless controversies as various ethnicities seek to be represented and demand that their preferred lesson plans be used.
The requirement will be implemented in 1,037 school districts around the state, where local boards of education will have considerable leeway in interpreting the curriculum. Fights over the emphases individual teachers and schools will choose are inevitable.
But the problems with this curriculum go much deeper than just a matter of implementation. For all of the talk about ethnic studies empowering marginalized minority populations and giving children positive role models, the concept at the core of this effort remains critical race theory. That’s an idea that views all Americans solely as members of racial and ethnic groups, not as individuals. As with other permutations of this toxic idea, the goal of the curriculum isn’t so much to fight racism as it is to enshrine race consciousness at the heart of every discussion and topic.
The Critical Ethnic Studies Association, which has driven this effort to require ethnic studies since it helped lead the push for the original bill in 2016, is not interested in celebrating diversity and adding the stories of different groups to the accepted narrative of American history. Their movement seeks to replace the old story of America as born in a fight for liberty and, despite the sins of slavery and racial discrimination, seeking to progress toward freedom for all. They view America as an irredeemably racist nation, as The New York Times’ fallacious “1619 Project” teaches.
The point of the curriculum they inspired, even in its revised form, focuses on “highlighting core ethnic studies concepts such as equality and equity, justice, race and racism, ethnicity and bigotry, indigeneity.” An outline of a course says that it aims to indoctrinate all students with the idea of “translating historical lessons and critical race theory into direct action for social justice.” Its purpose is to reinforce a leftist worldview that sees what earlier generations celebrated as the “American creed” of opportunity, meritocracy, and liberty as merely a “dominant narrative” that serves white privilege and racism.
The curriculum is a political catechism that is rooted in intersectional ideology about Third World nations and “people of color” locked in a never-ending struggle against white oppression. The subtext puts people who don’t fit into an approved category of intersectional victims into the unfortunate position of either denying their own “privilege” or being enlisted in a political struggle that has little to do with a celebration of diversity.
Defining Ourselves as Individuals and Americans
We should know the stories of all the groups that make up the mosaic of American life. But by enshrining an ethnic studies course into law, California has set up a destructive competition in which the primary way we define ourselves is by race rather than as individuals and Americans. It glorifies a struggle for “equity” in which some will get privilege and power based on their group identity, rather than demanding that all are given an equal chance and are judged on their own merits.
Some critics of the earlier curriculum were satisfied with getting their piece of the ethnic pie and watering down the core ideology of intersectionality that dismissed them as privileged whites. Instead, this deplorable curriculum must be rejected as something that will hurt all Americans.