Parents, grandparents and other concerned citizens have become deeply concerned about their children being taught Critical Race Theory (CRT) in K-12 schools. But now, politicians, journalists and educators are claiming that CRT isn’t being used in public education.
Is what they’re saying true? Is this a serious concern, that radical ideology is taught in schools across the country, and we should legislate against it? Or are complaints about CRT a “dog whistle” – a covert political message – used by Christians and conservatives to dupe unwitting parents, frighten people, and rally the troops?
Strangely enough, as they dismiss CRT as a non-issue in schools, the CRT deniers are all using similar language – as if they were following the same playbook.
NPR recently ran a headline, “False Claims of Critical Race Theory in Virginia Schools Spark Resistance.” The article, says, “Critical race theory is a framework for understanding systemic racism and privilege, first developed at Harvard Law School in the 1970s” and quotes a Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) board member who said the fight against it is an “ill-informed misinformation campaign designed to poke and inflame white fragility through fear mongering,”
The article quoted Loudoun Superintendent Scott Ziegler, who said, “LCPS has not adopted Critical Race Theory as a framework for staff to adhere to. Social media rumors that staff members have been disciplined or fired for not adhering to the tenets of Critical Race Theory or for refusing to teach this theory are not true.”
NPR also cited Joshua Cole, executive director of the Office of Strategic Engagement at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, who said that CRT is “a lens for viewing the world” and isn’t “a specific topic that’s being taught.”
Over at Politifact, an article quoted LaGarrett King who “said the problem is blown out of proportion.” King added, “The majority of teachers are not even familiar with what critical race theory is, nor do they teach it in their classrooms.”
NBC anchor Chuck Todd was dismissive of the controversy over CRT at LCPS. He said, “Let’s take this so-called controversy over critical race theory. And I say ‘so-called controversy’ because it’s sort of- it’s a creation… It’s a faux controversy that’s being ginned up. And I guess it just gets attention. It keeps people watching or it keeps people clicking or, you know, all of that. That’s the concern.”
The very next week, Todd again insisted that the brouhaha over CRT was fabricated, saying, “It’s manufactured and then sort of – it seems to have been lit, the fire was lit.”
On Fox News’ The Faulkner Focus, anchor Harris Faulkner spoke with political strategic advisor Kristal Knight about CRT. Knight said, “What we already know is that this is not an actual, you know, class, this is an academic term. And so, this is just a Republican talking point, that they are using to really just decide that they don’t want to talk about race in America and the ugly past and the ugly history of this country.”
“And so I find it funny that we continue to have this conversation around CRT … when this isn’t even a subject,” Knight added. Later she said, “If school districts don’t want to talk about racism, they should just say, ‘We don’t want to talk about racism in our respective districts.’” Faulkner questioned whether this was even true – that schools don’t want to talk about slavery and racism.
Liberal cable television host Joy Reid, over at MSNBC, interviewed Christopher Rufo, who has written extensively about tenets of CRT being taught to school children. Well, it would have been an interview if she’d allowed Rufo to answer questions.
Rufo protested, “Let me respond at least once! I haven’t even gotten a full sentence out!” Reid replied, “Because I’m not going to let you. … I don’t allow people to just make up insane lies on this show. It’s just not really right to do that.”
Among other claims, Reid said that CRT is only taught in law schools, not public schools; that CRT does not claim that white Americans are inherently racist; that critical whiteness studies is not part of CRT; and that intersectionality is not part of CRT.
So are these folks right? Are parents upset about something that isn’t really happening in schools?
Let’s look at how CRT developed and some of its tenets – and see if this is being taught in schools.
In 2001, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic published the book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. Now in its third edition, the book explains that CRT began in the 1970s, “as a number of lawyers, activists, and legal scholars across the country realized, more or less simultaneously, that the heady advances of the civil rights era of the 1960s had stalled and, in many cases, were being rolled back.” Early leaders in the movement included Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman and Richard Delgado. Joined by others, the group held its first workshop in 1989.
The authors explain that CRT developed from two other movements, critical legal studies and radical feminism. What they don’t mention is that those movements grew out of Critical Theory (CT), a movement that began in Germany, before coming to the U.S. in the 1930s, that relied heavily on Marxist and Freudian ideologies. CT was trying to critique society and to understand why communist ideology had not spread to the West to create a utopia for workers.
Delgado and Stefancic also explain that the CRT “movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.” The movement splintered, spun off other movements and spread to LGBT interest groups, Latino-critical studies, Asian American legal studies, American Indian scholars, Critical Whiteness studies, and more. Beyond that, it has spread to other academic disciplines, such as the field of education, literature studies, political science, ethnic studies, and beyond.
And yes, when CRT is taught to educators, as it has been for years in many teacher-training programs, diversity trainings and classes, it trickles down to elementary and secondary schools.
When CRT-deniers like Joy Reid and Chuck Todd say CRT isn’t being taught in schools, they define the term narrowly, referring to the origins of the term in graduate legal studies at schools like Harvard Law School, where Bell taught, and the University or Alabama School of Law, where Richard Delgado teaches.
CRT-deniers seem to mean that elementary schools and high schools don’t teach a semester long unit called “Critical Race Theory.” But they either ignore, are ignorant of, or are being dishonest about some of the basic tenets of CRT and how those have spread to the field of education and into curriculums in K-12 schools. They also seem oblivious to the fact that CRT isn’t just “one thing” – it’s a collection of activists, scholars, ideas, books, articles and trainings.
It’s those ideas from CRT that are being used in numerous curriculums, in many schools. Here are just three basic beliefs that most of those involved in the CRT movement hold to, as well as how these are taught and used in schools.
Racism is systemic and deliberate: Delgado and Stefancic say CRT teaches that “racism is ordinary, not aberrational,” it is “the usual way society does business,” though unacknowledged by some. It is imbedded in all institutions and, especially, in the law – understood as “white supremacy,” “white privilege” or “whiteness as property.” Racism is deliberate, and whites only move to eliminate racism when it benefits them.
Think this isn’t taught in schools? In Maine, a school district sent a statement to parents on equity that read, “In a culture that continually reinforces white supremacy, justice can only be achieved when we confront and repair the anti-Blackness woven through every aspect of society—in our homes, schools, workplaces, communities, places of worship, and government.”
The San Diego Unified School District “announced mandatory diversity training for teachers, added a new ‘ethnic studies’ curriculum focused on racial grievance, and even abolished the requirement to turn in homework on time—all in the name of becoming, in the words of school board member Richard Barrera, “an anti-racist school district,” reported Christopher Rufo. One training featured Bettina Love, “who believes American schools are guilty of the “spirit murdering of Black children,” he wrote.
Intersectionality: Joy Reid smiled, shook her head and told Rufo, “Intersectionality is a separate thing,” claiming that it was not part of CRT. But Delgado and Stefancic explain that it’s a core tenet, explaining intersectionality as, “Everyone has potentially conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties, and allegiances.” Intersectionality looks at different identity aspects, such as race, sex, “gender identity,” language, ethnicity and faith.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, an early CRT activist, coined the term to describe how someone might be disadvantaged because of multiple aspects of their identity, such as being black, female and same-sex attracted. Various aspects of personality are seen as empowering or oppressed.
This manifests in schools, as when third graders in Cupertion were taught about intersectionality and asked “to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities, then rank themselves according to their ‘power and privilege.’”
In Ames, Iowa, students and teachers spent a week interacting with materials from the organization Black Lives Matter at School. The group, along with the larger Black Lives Matter movement, has been deeply influenced by CRT. So students learned about the intersection of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and they could pledge to be “queer affirming” and “trans affirming.”
BLM at School partners with national organizations like the National Education Association’s division of Education Justice, the Education for Liberation Network and the Racial Justice Organizing Committee. So yes, CRT is taught in schools across the country. Either Reid is uninformed and does not know what intersectionality is and that it is being taught in schools, or she’s lying.
Activism: CRT, like the Marxist CT it sprang from, is not just ideology, it’s an activist movement, seeking to demolish the culture. And critical race theorists mean all of culture: from religion to business, from family to education, and from media to government.
So when LCPS administration and board members say, “No CRT here!”, they’re not being honest about what the district is doing. The LCPS Division Superintendent announced, in June 2020, “LCPS calls for all students, staff, families, and other members of our community to engage in the disruption and dismantling of white supremacy, systemic racism, and hateful language and actions based on race, religion, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or ability.” That’s activism: disrupt and dismantle.
The district also paid $422,500 “on diversity training inspired by critical race theory, which claims racism is inherent in nearly every aspect of America,” reported the Washington Free Beacon. So the teachers are trained in this, but it doesn’t affect their teaching?
The district also announced that it would be teaching elementary students about “social justice.” The district partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) education program “Teaching Tolerance,” recently renamed, “Learning for Justice.” Kindergartners could now learn about “gender expression,” “gender identity,” and LGBT activist symbols like the pink triangle and the rainbow pride flag. In case you missed it, that’s more intersectionality, as well as activism.
Politicians, academics and journalists who say the package of activist ideas that make up CRT isn’t taught in schools are either ill-informed or deliberately lying. It’s as if they think parents are simpletons, unable to understand what’s happening in local schools.
We’ll trust the parents on this one.
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