A new report examined how newspapers and education journals covered the debate about teaching critical race theory (CRT) in schools.
Surprise, surprise, surprise: The study showed that articles about CRT ignored some of the basic premises of the ideology; rarely mentioned school practices based on CRT; and falsely caricatured those opposing CRT as not wanting school children to discuss slavery and racism.
When discussing legislation to ban or restrict concepts from CRT in public schools, outlets rarely quoted from the legislation to explain the controversy.
The report, by Frederic Hess from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is titled, “Media’s misleading portrayal of the fight over critical race theory.” It gives the results of his examination of articles published between September 1, 2020 and August 31, 2021, from four major newspapers: The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. He also examined articles from three education outlets, Education Week, Chalkbeat, and The 74.
Hess, a senior fellow and the director of education policy at AEI, analyzed a total of 91 articles which dealt primarily with CRT, excluding broader articles that just mention the controversial ideology.
The report quotes Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, written by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, who helped start the movement in the 70’s and 80’s. They write, “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”
Hess says, “Coverage largely ignored bedrock assumptions of CRT, including its explicit rejection of rationality and objectivity. This was mentioned in fewer than 10 percent of articles.” He added, “Given that this admittedly revolutionary worldview is what motivates many objections to CRT-influenced pedagogy, one would expect news accounts to routinely address it.”
The study notes that just two articles “mentioned CRT’s skepticism of rational thought” and that only one story “mentioned that CRT is skeptical of universal values or objective knowledge.”
This raises some questions: Did reporters deliberately hide the foundations of CRT from their readers? Or did they not do any research to find out the “bedrock assumptions of CRT”?
A second area of concern for Hess was whether journalists reported on “controversial CRT-influenced practices.” These include schools introducing segregated race-based groups; schools telling students to reject color-blindness and view everything through the lens of race; and teaching, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination,” as Ibram X. Kendi instructs in How to Be an Anti-Racist.
The study showed that race-based affinity groups were mentioned in just five stories, while “The push for ‘anti-racist discrimination’ and the rejection of color blindness were each mentioned in fewer than a dozen articles.”
Hess writes, “Even the dramatic, foundational assertion that the US is a racist country was mentioned in barely half of articles—and many of those mentions merely described state laws intended to circumscribe CRT without examining what it entails or explaining the concerns it raises.”
As far as quoting from proposed state legislation to restrict CRT, “news accounts spent a lot of time digging into the dangers of these efforts,” but “nearly half never directly quoted a single state law or legislative proposal.”
“Meanwhile, 42 percent of education press news accounts included not a single quote, and another 8 percent quoted 10 words or fewer,” Hess added.
So what was mentioned in the articles? The report says, “The mainstream and education press have consistently downplayed serious and understandable concerns, failed to clarify what CRT legislation does and doesn’t say, and given the misleading impression that the debate is about parents objecting to teaching slavery.”
Rather than explaining extremist concepts from CRT and quoting from root sources, reporters pretend that parents don’t want their children taught about America’s past and our history of slavery, racism and Jim Crow laws. Every article surveyed mentioned discussing racism with students, as if that was the real conflict.
Hess also notes, “Two-thirds of mainstream press news accounts – and 50 of 57 in the education press – mentioned the history of race or how history is taught in schools.”
He concludes that the press has abdicated its responsibility to report accurately, saying, “Only a tiny sliver of news accounts even mentioned the substantive concerns about CRT or sought to explore the actual tensions. This is a grave disservice to parents, communities, and educators interested in finding productive ways to debate these heated issues.”
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From the American Enterprise Institute: “Media’s misleading portrayal of the fight over critical race theory”
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