Critical race theory (CRT)—the idea that systemic racism permeates American life and American institutions despite all our civil-rights advances—has moved from the academic journals where it began life three decades ago into public-school classrooms and business training programs.
Schoolchildren and corporate employees alike sit through sessions in which they learn that racism is America’s defining feature and that our nation’s “true founding” occurred when a slave ship bearing a cargo of black Africans docked at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619.
And while there may be little that employees can do when their bosses sponsor “diversity” consultants who tell them that white people sail through life on a sea of “unearned privilege,” or that white oppression is the source of most social problems, there’s one group that has been resisting vociferously: parents.
Angry at what looks to them like Marxist indoctrination of their children (with racial antagonism standing in for Karl Marx’s class antagonism), parents are the grassroots force behind bills in about 15 states (signed into law in about four of them) that forbid teaching, for example, that any individual can be “inherently” or “unconsciously” racist or sexist just because of that individual’s race or sex, or that it’s racist to value such character traits as self-discipline and hard work.
On May 14, several Republican members of Congress introduced a bill that would ban the teaching of CRT in federal institutions. But the most intense battles against CRT are being fought at the local level, in the races for local school boards that set education policy in public schools. Those battles have been taking place not just in such conservative and Republican-voting strongholds as Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, but in localities in true-blue New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington.
The affluent Washington, D.C., suburb of Loudoun County, Virginia, whose voters went 61 percent for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in November 2020, is a paradigm. A parents’ group is working to recall six of the county school board’s nine members for pushing CRT onto Loudoun schools.
In 2019, the board paid nearly a half-million dollars to a consulting group, the Equity Collaborative, which issued a 23-page “equity assessment” (pdf) recommending the creation of what looked like race-based “affinity groups” for students, criticized teachers who said they did not “see color” in judging students, and quoted faculty who urged that the school district explicitly hire teachers “if they are Black.” The group also recommended that the district offer teacher training in “color consciousness and implicit bias.”
One Loudoun County father complained that the report “actually increases racial tensions as opposed to bringing people together and treating everyone the same and treating people the way they themselves should be treated.”
In March, a school board advisory committee recommended firing Loudoun teachers who criticized the mandated equity training. Other self-described “anti-racism” advocates allegedly began compiling lists of parents who oppose race-based classroom programs.
Perhaps not surprisingly, liberals and minority-group members have joined conservative Republican voters in fighting what they view as CRT totalitarianism in Loudoun County. On June 2, a group of parents filed a federal lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of a school-district program, implemented in the wake of the Equity Collaborative assessment, that allows students specially selected for their commitment to “social justice” to share with top school administrators anonymous complaints from their fellow students about supposed racial harassment by teachers.
The backlash has generated its own backlash among educators and sympathetic members of the press. One of the most obvious counter-strategies has been simply to deny that what the school systems are engaging in is really CRT. That has been the strategy in Loudoun County, whose school Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler has described the district’s program as mere “racial equity work,” according to The Washington Post. At a school board meeting, Ziegler said that CRT was a “subject for academics” that had no bearing on Loudoun’s anti-racist measures. Calling them “critical race theory” is merely a paranoid fantasy of arch-conservatives, in the view of Ziegler and many other commentators and liberal politicians.
The other strategy is to assert that the opponents of CRT are actually trying either to censor the content of what teachers are allowed to say in classrooms or to make them hesitant to discuss historical topics such as slavery or Jim Crow that relate to racism for fear that they might break a law by making their white students feel uncomfortable. One teacher complained to the media that she would hesitate to assign the slave narratives that she typically had her American history classes read.
Other teachers have maintained that banning the teaching of CRT means that students won’t be taught how to think critically, to examine and assess varying points of view in approaching historical events. They accuse their opponents of wanting children to absorb a rose-tinted-glasses view of history in which Americans can do no wrong.
Defenders of the anti-CRT legislation insist that the proposed laws ban teachers neither from pointing out problematic aspects of American history nor discouraging critical thinking. What they do ban is the imposition on young minds of a particular leftist ideology.
Those opponents have a tough road ahead of them in our era in which it’s all too easy to lodge accusations of racism or white supremacy against one’s political opponents—and make them stick, in the minds of the media. But those parents who are fighting the fight against CRT are doing the crucial work of defending freedom of thought.
Charlotte Allen is the executive editor of Catholic Arts Today and a frequent contributor to Quillette. She has a doctorate in medieval studies from the Catholic University of America.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.