For as long as it could, major mainstream media organs like the New York Times and the Washington Post ignored the debate over the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) to school children. But now, having correctly determined that the left is taking a big hit as a result of this debate, the Times and the Post have decided to enter the fight on behalf of CRT.
The Post’s approach has been to equate attacks on CRT with advocacy of “unlearning history.” (the title of its article in the paper edition). But CRT isn’t history, it’s a theory of history — as those who founded the movement decades ago were honest enough to admit in the very name they gave it. (I doubt they would be this honest today.)
Marxism is also a theory of history. No rational person would claim that, by not teaching Marxism to school children, we are preventing them from learning history.
The New York Times weighs in on the CRT debate with this op-ed — a collaborative effort by a group of four whose views span much of the political spectrum. The one conservative is David French, the NeverTrumper.
This group takes a less crude approach to the debate than has the Washington Post. The authors don’t defend CRT on its merits, in fact they acknowledge that the theory is highly debatable.
Instead, they object on free expression grounds to the legislation some states have passed and others are considering to prevent CRT from being taught to school children. In doing so, they raise problems with some of the language in some of the bills.
Stanley Kurtz, who has been leading the charge against CRT in state legislatures, responds to the Times op-ed in this article for NRO. Stanley’s article consists basically of three parts.
First, he deals with objections to the language of certain legislation. Stanley agrees that some of that language is problematic. But the language can be, and is being, fixed.
In Texas, for example:
The original House version held that the various illiberal concepts listed (e.g., collective guilt by race or sex) should not be made “part of a course.” This phrasing could potentially prevent even discussion of the various concepts, which would indeed run afoul of our culture of free expression, despite being legally permissible.
This problem was fixed when the bill reached the Texas Senate.
Model legislation Stanley developed avoids the concern just discussed:
[It] merely says that teachers should not teach the various illiberal concepts in such a way as to inculcate them. Anything can be discussed. The core concepts of critical race theory, however, should not be presented as worthy of assent and belief. In other words, students should not be indoctrinated with CRT.
More generally, Stanley writes:
While I can agree with many of the specific concerns itemized by [the op-ed authors], their objections in no way cut to the heart of the issue. In fact, in my recent piece advocating for state-level legislation against CRT, I noted that a bill currently being considered in Ohio avoids the sort of concerns raised by [them].
Next, Stanley considers the alternatives the authors suggest as means of combatting the problematic aspects of teaching CRT to school children. They recommend lodging complaints with the Biden Department of Education (I kid you not) and filing lawsuits.
As to lawsuits, Stanley writes:
Lawsuits against campus-speech codes and so-called free-speech zones almost invariably succeed. Nevertheless, we’ve had restrictive speech codes and speech zones on our college campuses for decades. In practice, the legal strategy fails because colleges tweak their codes, write off penalties as a cost of doing business, and find other ways to suppress speech. Resort to that failed strategy will do little or nothing to hold back the tide of CRT. This is especially so since the combination of several federal “civics” bills with the new Biden rule promoting the 1619 Project and CRT is likely to nationalize CRT-based curricula in the near future.
I would add that, to my knowledge, it’s not illegal to teach school children that the U.S. is an evil, inherently racist country or that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery. I don’t know how one would challenge such indoctrination in court.
Similarly, I don’t know how one would present a legal challenge to teaching, for example, that Blacks were treated well for the most part by slaveowners. If this view were being pushed on school children, I wonder whether all four authors of the Times op-ed would advocate eschewing a legislative fix in favor of going to court.
The authors also suggest as another alternative to legislation “propos[ing] better curriculums.” But they already exist — the ones that were used until recently, before the CRT weed sprouted. These curriculums didn’t obscure America’s history of racism. They merely declined to make it the central organizing principle of our history.
And to whom are we supposed to propose better curriculums? CRT is being imposed by left-wing education bureaucrats who, themselves, were indoctrinated in college and at ed schools. For them, there is no better curriculum than one that emphasizes CRT.
But why should they have the final say? No one elected them. We did elect our state legislators. If they feel the bureaucrats are failing, they should intervene.
I’m all for the battle of ideas, and that’s what we’re having now. No one I know wants to censor those who propound CRT in the public square. But the arbiters of that battle in the K-12 context shouldn’t be unelected left-wing bureaucrats.
Stanley makes this point, among others, in the final portion of his piece, which looks at the big picture:
K–12 students are minors. They are vulnerable to a teacher’s authority in a way that college students are not. Telling minors that they should feel guilt or responsibility because of their skin color is a line that should not be crossed by any school district in these United States. Sadly, while some states will surely allow this to occur, it is well within the authority of other states to prevent this abuse if they see fit, for every good reason.
The education of children is rightly a matter for democratic decision-making in a way that the college classroom is not. With indoctrination slipping its campus redoubt to strike at America’s schoolchildren, the game has rightly changed. The acolytes of CRT have traveled a bridge too far.
That’s why, although legislating against CRT isn’t ideal, it’s the way to go. Legislatures should fix the language of the bills they are considering and then enact them.