August 9, 2021
By Jonathan Butcher
Typically, as summer draws to a close, students wish the holiday would last forever and parents can’t wait to send the kids back to their classrooms. Recently, however, concerns over the inroads of a racially discriminatory idea called Critical Race Theory in schools have parents looking closer at their child’s lessons. And this in a year when state lawmakers around the U.S. created a record number of new learning options for children apart from assigned schools. Curriculum, COVID, and choice policies will intersect in August. Parents deserve a map.
Critical Race Theory is a philosophy, a worldview, that believes all aspects of public and private life must be considered in terms of racial identities. Given the devastating episodes in America’s past in which Americans failed to live up to our national promise of freedom and opportunity for all, critical race theorists relied on Marxism to devise theoretical and policy responses to political and cultural questions.
Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi, who coined the term “antiracism,” says Critical Race Theory “inspired” his ideas and provides the “structure” for antiracism. So when Kendi says the “only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination” and it is a “racial crime to be yourself if you are not White in America,” this should disturb anyone who believes that what’s on the inside matters more than what’s on the outside. These statements also reveal “antiracism” to be the opposite of what it claims to be.
Kendi regularly presents these ideas to public school educators. Meanwhile, investigative journalists have uncovered email and video evidence from North Carolina and Missouri demonstrating that some educators are hiding politically charged, racially prejudicial ideas in their lesson plans. One Missouri educator was recorded saying she considers herself an “anti-U.S. history” teacher.
California district officials have launched a new math curriculum that uses the phrase “white supremacy” 54 times in a teaching guide—again, this is for math. Teachers are to create homework policies based on the needs of students of color, making us wonder where a student’s understanding of equations and performance on school assignments fit in these policies. A lawsuit in Illinois charges that school officials created student affinity groups, where children were separated by race for school activities.
Some 18 states this year have either created or expanded laws allowing education savings accounts, private school scholarship options and public charter schools. We should celebrate the learning options available for the first time to families in West Virginia and Kentucky and to more children in states such as Ohio and Arizona. Parents who responded to nationally representative surveys saying they do not want their children taught that America is irredeemably racist will welcome having new options in how and where their children are educated.
Yet private and public charter school options are not necessarily beyond the reach of critical race theorists. A lawsuit in Nevada involves a student who says his charter school tried to compel him to “confess his privilege.” Earlier this year, former New York Times writer Bari Weiss wrote a scathing report about how competitive private schools were applying Critical Race Theory’s prejudicial ideas in class. Starting with a set of executive orders signed shortly after inauguration day, President Joe Biden’s administration has supported the use of Critical Race Theory’s discriminatory ideas in schools.
In 1949, E. B. White wrote, “The pesky nature of democratic life is that it has no comfortable rigidity; it always hangs by a thread, never quite submits to consolidation or solidification, is always being challenged, always being defended.” This is still true today, especially with regards to schools—public and private. Cultural tensions in the classroom are to be expected because schools are democratic institutions standing at the aforementioned intersection of public policy and culture. But parents should not be spectators.
Allowing parents to choose how and where their children learn is an education policy that respects our rights and allows competing ideas to flourish. We must still defend those rights, though, from pernicious ideas such as racial prejudice. So to parents and policymakers: Embrace the new choices in education, and do not retreat from condemning racial prejudice. The former is our hope for the future. The latter is required in the meantime.
Jonathan Butcher is a Senior Fellow at the Goldwater Institute and the Will Skillman Fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy and is writing a book for Post Hill Press on Critical Race Theory in schools and America’s national identity.