Several decades ago, the following true story about teaching in a small, conservative Southern town, seemed like a once-in-a-career experience: A new social studies teacher at my high school was challenged by a parent because this new teacher covered Middle East geography by detailing the regional tensions correlated with religion among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
Ultimately, the parent wanted their child removed from the class because, as the parent announced to the principal, “I don’t want my son knowing religions other than Christianity exist.”
Fast forward about three decades—passing through several rounds of school choice movements (which I will connect later)—and now public school teachers and college professors across the U.S. find themselves challenged in a similar but far more extensive and organized way concerning Critical Race Theory (CRT).
Mike Gonzalez, for example, at the Heritage Foundation, has constructed Try This “Critical Race Theory” Checklist for conservative and Christian parents who, like the parent above, want to opt their children out of knowledge.
Along with explosive and even violent school board meetings about mask mandates, Covid, and, yes, CRT, parents are now organizing to opt their children out of education; for example, the Orwellian-named Families for Educational Freedom offer a CRT Lessons Letter and a Intrusive Survey Letter; the former outlines what parents want their children to have freedom from :
We/I,________________________________, the parent(s) of _______________________________, grade ________, are/is exercising our/my fundamental parental rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, and/or any other state and federal laws to opt our/my child out of any instruction in Critical Race Theory (CRT), including but not limited to the following ideas or principles —
• That any race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and/or socioeconomic status is inherently superior or inferior to any other race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin and/or socioeconomic status.
• That any race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or national origin is privileged or oppressed.
• That race-based stereotyping and labeling are acceptable as part of “anti-racism” education.
• That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race.
• That an individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race.
• That America and its institutions are fundamentally racist.
• That the values, principles, and/or ideals of one’s own family or religion are fundamentally incorrect, racist, and/or preventing them from social and emotional growth.
These teachings of CRT foster discrimination and harassment on the basis of race and are a violation of our family’s values and religious beliefs. It is well-established that parents have a fundamental right to direct the religious upbringing and education of their children. Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972). You are not to instruct or inculcate my child on the aforementioned or following subjects, without providing me at least fifteen (15) days prior written notice and providing me with the intended materials and lesson plans.
The prohibition extends to any promotion, legitimization, or normalization of CRT, no matter how your program or approach is defined or packaged, including but not limited to any instruction, materials, or conversations related to “equity,” “privilege,” “intersectionality,” “diversity, tolerance and inclusion,” “anti-racism,” “microaggressions,” “white privilege,” “white adjacency,” “hate speech,” “hate crimes,” “critical social justice,” “postcolonial theory,” “postcolonialism,” “sensitivity education,” or the like.CRT Lessons Letter
The bullet points may look familiar since they are occurring, often verbatim, in state legislation attacking CRT directly and indirectly as well as banning the use of the 1619 Project.
These misleading but purposeful strategies parents are using to censor curriculum in public schools is a logical evolution from how a minority of parents have been leveraging control over public education for decades—opting students out of sex education, book challenges and banning, a revolving door of school choice schemes that pander to what parents want their children to learn (without the price tag of private schools that are often appealing because there parents can and do monitor and control what is and isn’t taught), periodic challenges to the teaching of evolution, etc.
If polls are even remotely good indicators, the current Republican Party remains about 40% loyal to Trump, suggesting about 10-15% of Americans constitute this movement against CRT (likely a similar percentage to the Moral Majority movement coinciding with the Reagan presidency).
While this is a significant minority, the U.S. has long had a powerful and very vocal conservative and Christian influence that is solidly anti-education.
One of the great ironies (similar to the organization’s name noted above, Families for Educational Freedom) of the backlash against CRT (beyond that CRT doesn’t really exist in K-12 education) is that it rests on an old and tired argument that leftist teachers are indoctrinating students; this is projection from conservatives who are, in fact, seeking to indoctrinate students.
While leftists are extremely rare in K-12 education, marginalized in higher education, and nearly powerless in the economic/political system of the U.S., as I have noted often, true leftists, critical educators, are adamantly opposed to indoctrination and recent efforts by Republicans mirror commitments to indoctrination found in China.
Ultimately, this CRT mania isn’t about CRT, but is part of the steady and determined effort by an anti-education minority to dismantle universal public education and academic freedom because at their core, as William Ayers concludes:
Education will unfit anyone to be a slave. That is because education is bold, adventurous, creative, vivid, illuminating — in other words education is for self-activating explorers of life, for those who would challenge fate, for doers and activists, for citizens. Training is for slaves, for loyal subjects, for tractable employees, for willing consumers, for obedient soldiers. Education tears down walls; training is all barbed wire.excerpt from To Teach, William Ayers
Conservatives and Christians embrace education as training, indoctrination, as mere preparation for work or passive compliance with the dogma of religion.
The attacks on CRT and efforts by parents to opt out of curriculum deemed “indoctrination” or claimed to cause “racial discomfort” are poised to turn education into a buffet of ignorance leaving our children and teens intellectually starved and the status quo safely protected.
There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. in the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it….
We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice. (pp. 24, 25)Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale