An emphasis on defining America’s history in terms of “social justice,” and Critical Race Theory (CRT) in particular, is popping up in our local public schools. For instance, the capstone assignment in a current ninth-grade English course at Newbury Park High School is aimed squarely at “an in-depth exploration of a topic that has something to do with prejudice, intolerance, and injustice (just like the majority of the literature in this course).” The assignment, which requires a parent’s signature of approval, guides students to explore a variety of “wrongdoing, attitudes of prejudice and intolerance” in America’s history, through the study of groups including Black Lives Matter, criminals who received minimum sentences, women in science, LGBTQ and more. The assignment’s goal is to give students a “perspective of dealing with wrongdoing and recognizing the need for lasting and comprehensive reconciliation” to “help students to develop a more mindful approach in a variety of real-world environments, including school, home, and community.”
What is Critical Race Theory, and how is it affecting the nation’s public and private schools? Let’s take those questions in reverse order, starting with an example of how the conflict is playing out in real-time at a prestigious school not far from the Conejo Valley.
In an expose article called “The Miseducation of American Elites,” which ran on March 9, 2021, in City Journal, Bari Weiss wrote about how affluent parents were meeting in secret for fear of the tyranny of the new orthodoxy in their children’s private schools.
The parents invited Weiss to attend this secret meeting of Los Angeles parents who send their children to Harvard-Westlake, one of the most prestigious private schools in the city. Parents found it ironic that a school that costs more than $40,000 per year and has Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and Sarah Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch’s wife, on its board, would teach that capitalism is evil.
Parents told Weiss that their children are afraid to speak up in class since the school released a new plan in July 2020. The plan’s goal is to become an “anti-racist institution.” The parents said the plan “is making their kids fixate on race and attach importance to it in ways that strike them as grotesque.”
One of the fathers stated that he has no problem with the school redressing past wrongs by bringing minority voices into the curriculum. He does, however, have a problem with telling his children that America is a bad country and that they bear collective guilt. Weiss’ article looked at the brewing conflict in-depth, but the reaction of Harvard-Westlake parents may be a leading indicator as groups quietly organize around the country to fight ideological movements attempting to take over their schools.
The Federalist online magazine published an article titled “California’s ‘Ethnic Studies’ Opens Door to Critical Race Theory Indoctrination Throughout Public Schools” on April 4, 2021. Author Anna Mussman encouraged parents to realize that “behind the waterfall of vocabulary is a militant ideology … When kids are taught to subject all of life to ‘critical consciousness’ in order to find the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘oppressed’ everywhere and at all times, they are taught that the ultimate meaning of life is power.”
Mussman concluded that “Critical Race theorists want students to accept the assumption that anyone who fails to swallow these rules wholeheartedly is a tool of oppression. Ultimately, it’s a highly effective way of preventing dialogue and pitting students against students.”
California Adopts CRT-Influenced Curriculum
California, too, is beginning to embrace CRT’s values and approach to educating children.
The Stanford-area’s Hoover Institution published an online article in March titled “California’s Education Department Chooses Critical Race Theory Over 100,000 Objections” (March 23, 2021). Lee Ohanian, a senior fellow at The Hoover Institution and professor of economics and director of the Ettinger Family Program in Macroeconomics Research at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote about how the California Department of Education (CDE) voted to adopt the fourth version of an ethnic studies curriculum when three previous versions were vetoed with more than 100,000 objections. The curriculum is founded on Critical Race Theory and the premise that America’s economic, legal and social institutions are inherently racist.
“The focus on Critical Race Theory has been severely denounced, including by the editorial staff at the Los Angeles Times and implicitly by California governor Gavin Newsom, who refused the second version of the curriculum,” Ohanian wrote. “The CRT-focused curriculum will foster divisions among students and will almost certainly not improve learning outcomes, as advertised by its proponents.”
He quoted the education department’s opening paragraph, which reads, “This coursework, through its overarching study of process and impact of the marginalization resulting from systems of power, is relevant and important for students of all backgrounds.” Some of the major principles of the curriculum are “critiquing empire-building and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, and other forms of power and oppression,” and “challenging racist, bigoted, discriminatory, imperialist/colonial beliefs and practices on multiple levels.”
The curriculum encourages teachers of ethnic studies to utilize the New York Times 1619 Project, whose arguments and historical accuracy have been widely discredited, including by the New York Times’ own fact-checker.
The good news is that, because of the more than 100,000 objections, some of the more inappropriate material in the first three versions of the ethnic model curriculum was removed. Ohanian gives much of the credit to Elina Kaplan of the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies, Lori Meyers of Educators for Excellence in Ethnic Studies, and Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of AMCHA. All of them put forth perspectives that don’t divide students but rather improve learning outcomes and mutual appreciation.
Digging Deeper Into CRT
CRT asserts that race is a social construct created to maintain white supremacy and white privilege. It is an ideology that claims the United States is a fundamentally racist country, and American institutions such as the Constitution, “color blindness,” equal protection under the law, and property rights are visible evidence of white supremacy, capitalist oppression and patriarchy. The end goal of CRT is to dismantle these institutions in the name of “antiracism.”
Christopher Rufo, a visiting fellow for Domestic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation and the director of the Center on Wealth & Poverty at Discovery Institute, spent the first ten years of his career directing documentaries primarily for PBS. He slowly began to see theories like CRT creep into the documentary and art worlds. This led him to delve into a study of CRT — and begin reporting on it.
Ultimately, Rufo’s investigative reporting led President Trump to issue an executive order banning CRT training from the federal government. The subsequent administration immediately revoked this order. In a recent article for The Heritage Foundation titled, “Critical Race Theory Would Not Solve Racial Inequality: It Would Deepen It,” Rufo wrote that CRT policies will not solve racial inequality. Rather, “Policymakers concerned about these issues should reject critical race theory and orient policy toward rebuilding the institutions of family, work, and education, which have proven to lift Americans of all racial backgrounds out of poverty.”
He further writes, “Ultimately, critical race theory and ‘antiracism’ policies would deepen racial divisions and undermine the very institutions that are essential to addressing poverty and inequality across all racial groups.”
Rufo gives three key takeaways on CRT:
- Critical Race theorists falsely accuse the United States of being a fundamentally racist nation. They condemn capitalism, individual rights and the Constitution.
- Critical Race Theory ignores evidence that shows that family structures, educational attainment and workforce participation are the primary drivers of inequality.
- Critical Race Theory seeks to undermine the foundations of American society and replace the constitutional system with a “near-totalitarian antiracist bureaucracy.”
The ascent of CRT in recent years has been breathtaking. In the last decade, CRT has moved into near-ubiquity in academic, corporate and government institutions. Many schools, universities and local governments have adopted “inclusion and diversity” policies based on CRT. Diversity training is one of the mainstream manifestations of CRT.
Rufo has assembled a coalition named “Stop Critical Race Theory,” which has filed three lawsuits against institutions that conduct CRT-based programs. The goal of his coalition, he says, is “to show not only that critical race theory is a bankrupt ideology, but actually these programs that are based on critical race theory that traffic in racial stereotypes, that harass people based on the protected categories of race and gender are actually illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and unconstitutional.”
The coalition’s ultimate goal is to get a case to the Supreme Court “to permanently abolish these programs from American life.”
At the local level, concerned parents should look at their schools’ curricula to make sure teachers are teaching American history in line with American values — and with the truth.