Suffer the children: Critical race theory in the classroom
I spent many years in the classroom with a roomful of students looking to me for knowledge, instruction, and guidance. I can’t imagine looking back into their eyes and telling them that they’re irredeemably bad, that their nation is built on a lie, and that some of them are worth more than others — depending on the color of their skin.
Yet if I were a public school teacher today, that’s exactly what a new rule issued by the Biden administration would force me to do. The proposed rule enshrines critical race theory in the nation’s K-12 curriculum for history and civics. New guidelines will promote “racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically responsive teaching and learning practices” designed to incorporate “anti-racism.” The rule cites (and praises) radical scholar Ibram X. Kendi and the New York Times’s debunked 1619 Project.
Neither are worthy of the praise. Kendi claims in his book How to be an Antiracist (also cited in the proposed rule), “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
What makes the proposed rule dangerous is that it co-opts conservatives’ call for more and better civics education. But by prioritizing angry and uninformed wokeness, the effort won’t achieve what conservatives hope. Instead, “action civics” will ensure that students are steeped in anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, and the new segregation of safe spaces and racial favoritism.
As a historian, I know that the premises of anti-racism and the 1619 Project are factually inaccurate; this in itself is bad enough for America’s students. What’s worse (even destructive) is critical race theory’s insistence on objectifying us based on immutable characteristics. It holds that the colorblind society that Martin Luther King Jr. called for is, in fact, racist — even more so than what we have today.
“The most threatening racist movement is not the alt right’s unlikely drive for a White ethnostate but the regular American’s drive for a ‘race-neutral’ one,” Kendi declares.
Yet equality under God is exactly what unites Americans, from our founding to this very day. Remember what President Barack Obama said in the aftermath of riots in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014: “Let us remember we are all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law, basic respect for public order, and the right of peaceful protest.”
Critical race theory holds that Obama was hopelessly naive in that view. Calls for unity are a cover for racism, it contends; “public order” is oppression, and violent protest is a weapon to be wielded.
Who does critical race theory harm? Everyone — not just the white kids who are categorized as oppressors, but children of color, who, like every child, deserve a civil, harmonious society where our immutable characteristics complement, not divide, one another.
And that’s the real aim of critical race theory — and the reason we can’t allow it to seep further into our school curricula. It’s disturbing to me that the Biden administration’s proposed rule comes at the behest of the “uniter in chief” himself. Enshrining critical race theory as law would be far more divisive and destructive than anything former President Donald Trump was said to have done.
What’s more, the proposed rule appears to be in direct violation of the Civil Rights Act, an example of actual progress on race, which clearly states, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
When we teach history, we’re teaching our children who they are and where they came from. When we teach them civics, we teach them who they can become. If we allow critical race theory to corrupt this, we will teach them the soul-crushing lesson that they’re nothing more than the color of their skin — and that’s all they’ll ever be.
Kevin Roberts, Ph.D., is the chief executive officer of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a lifelong educator.