By Jonathan Butcher
April 27, 2022
School curricula are not the only resources that critical theorists have used to introduce their warped worldview into the classroom. K–12 school officials are also hiring diversity “experts” to “train” teachers and staff against bias.
Although we should obviously reject and condemn bias and discrimination any place we find it, these training programs are assigned regardless of whether discriminatory incidents have occurred. This is exactly in line with Critical Race Theory’s contention that racism and oppression are omnipresent.
Around the country, companies spend some $8 billion on diversity training every year, according to McKinsey & Company. In recent years, “antiracist” founder Ibram X. Kendi has trained faculty in K–12 public school districts and on college campuses, receiving $20,000 or more for his services.
In 2020, the California Department of Education required all agency employees to undergo training to address “implicit bias and racism.” In Jacksonville, Florida, the Duval school district offered “unconscious bias” training for families. In 2020, the Montgomery County School Board in Maryland spent nearly $500,000 on an “anti-racist audit.” (Local media pointed out that this expense was occurring at the same time as district officials prepared to cut $155 million from the school district budget.) Washington, D.C. public schools have an equity strategy and programming team that has trained teachers, telling educators that they “must acknowledge their own biases,” regardless of what teachers think about themselves.
According to Harvard University researchers, these training programs are found around the country, at both the K–12 and postsecondary levels. Researchers Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev surveyed 670 colleges in 2016 and found that two-thirds had diversity or bias training programs for faculty, 43 percent of which were mandatory. Overall, Dobbin and Kalev estimate that 29 percent of all universities require faculty to participate in similar trainings.
There is a problem with such training, though. It’s not just that these trainers tell employees and educators to assume omnipresent discrimination, and to dismiss America’s foundational promises, which is bad enough. It’s that research finds again and again that there is no evidence that antibias training has made any biased people less biased.
Dobbin and Kalev explain that educators and public officials have used diversity and antibias training for decades, and it “is likely the most expensive, and least effective diversity program around.” They write that “two-thirds of human resources specialists report that diversity training does not have positive effects, and several field studies have found no effect of diversity training on women’s or minorities’ careers or on managerial diversity.”
Another meta-analysis (a study combining the results of other studies in the same research area), looking at nearly 500 papers reviewing different attempts to change implicit bias, found that measurements of changes to “implicit” bias “are possible,” but “those changes do not necessarily translate into changes in explicit measures or behavior” and “effects are often relatively weak.”
Remarkably, Dobbin and Kalev find that a message focused on colorblindness—a term explicitly rejected by Critical Race Theorists—can be more effective. They write that the “message of multiculturalism, which is common in training, makes whites feel excluded and reduces their support for diversity, relative to the message of colorblindness, which is rare these days.” Trainers, in fact, have reported animosity from participants after training sessions.
Based on the research evidence alone, then, public officials should not use taxpayer resources to require the application of Critical Race Theory through mandatory diversity trainings.
Instead educators should look for ways to include a shared appreciation of our commonalities, the ideas that unite us, such as America’s promise of freedom for everyone, regardless of background and ethnicity. School officials should teach about slavery, the failure of the period of reconstruction after the Civil War, the discrimination inherent in Jim Crow laws. But the rejection of such racism helps bind our communities together today. Policymakers, educators, and parents should contribute to a sense of a shared national history, not to look for ways to inject racial conflict in the classrooms or any other school activity.
Jonathan Butcher is a Senior Fellow at the Goldwater Institute and the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation. This commentary is an excerpt from his latest book Splintered: Critical Race Theory and the Progressive War on Truth (Post Hill Press/Bombardier Books, 2022).