Less weird curriculum stuff and more focus on material issues would be nice
When I was in high school they put stickers on my biology textbook telling me that evolution was just a theory. Teachers often chose to skip teaching evolution because either they didn't believe in it or wanted to avoid being political. This was still true a few years later when I returned to teach in that same district.
When I was in high school, 9/11 happened. The school took every measure that day to pretend that it didn't happen. The front office turned off the TV and internet to the whole building. They cut off outside phone lines. For a brief time they even stopped parents from picking their kids up, but backed down after the line of parents got pretty big. In the pre-smartphone era, we students didn't know much at all about what was happening that day. And on subsequent days nobody discussed the terrorist attacks *in class*. Teachers were forging ahead with their curricula but in the spaces and times between classes and after school, kids talked and came to their own conclusions.
What we're concerned about here is schools using their power to present one specific view of the world as fact. While this is largely unobjectionable in a math or a science class where the systems of thought are meant to rigorously contest and evaluate knowledge, classes about history or literature have to deal with much more latitude. There's not a single correct way to read a book. Historical events, though they may be concrete facts in the abstract sense, take on different meanings depending on how you look at them. (I'd make a side note that sometimes we don't present math and science as anything other than a collection of facts, which is also a disservice to students!)
Matt covers this idea in his post when he discusses how an economic historian might view the Regan era different from a how Delgado and Stefancic viewed it. To me, teaching into these differences is the key to teaching students how to think. It is precisely the disputes and controversies and messy political stuff that makes us come to an understanding of the present moment. This doesn't mean we should force children to accept the ideas of CRT or American Exceptionalism but that we should let them make their own analyses and decisions about what to believe and why. Denying them that chance is every bit as political and, I'd argue, teaches students NOT to think and just to accept what's presented.
I was taught not to think about evolution and learned only later that it is the lynchpin on which all of modern biology turns. I was taught not to ask about current events in school and ended up spending a lot of time believing America was in a war of civilizations with Islam. As I grew up, I learned that I was taught not to ask a lot of questions but to, instead, focus on my work and learn quietly. While that made me a successful student, it did very little to prepare me to encounter people who thought and acted differently from myself. It made me confused, easily offended, offensive, and close-minded. Now, I can't lay this 100% at my school's feet as my family and community often played a large role here, too. But school could have offered a constructive counterpoint to a very different "totalizing vision" and it did not.
Choosing to avoid teaching controversial, political topics is still a political act informed by an ideology of false neutrality. It is a disservice to our students and does not help them learn to think so much as shuts down inquiry and tells them that school has nothing to do with the real world.
A different summation of today's post:
Matt argues that the Great Awokening should be less Protestant and more Catholic.
Less emphasis on faith, purity of heart and public declarations of sinfulness; more emphasis on good works, "for faith without works is dead."
So, so many thoughts on this topic. I will try to keep it brief as I am supposed to, like, work for a living doing other things.
I'm one of the people who started proselytizing about anti-racism last year in my place of work (not a school). My core motivation was that systemic racism was perpetuated by too many white people not caring enough about fixing it, and therefore it was a hearts & minds campaign so that they would choose to support more compassionate policies, which in my mind, were obviously the ones proposed by the Democratic Party. In retrospect, part of the subconscious appeal of this worldview was feeding my prior bias that the only reason someone would support Trump is they were unacceptably racist, and morally inferior. So while I find the businessman-passing-the-homeless-guy story very interesting, it's not out of whack with my prior thinking--I thought, once he sees the homeless person as his equal, he would certainly support effective policies to help the homeless, which are obviously the left-leaning ideas. In retrospect, one of the many flaws in my thinking was that Democratic policies are "obviously" better at addressing structural inequality. I think Dems are genuinely motivated by that goal, yes, but I don't think they're automatically more effective, nor do I think Republican policies are motivated by oppressing people. Anyway, in my mind, if you weren't investing energy in ending racism, you were perpetuating it. And there was only one way to end structural racism: 1. Convince all white people that they are biased against minorities and benefit from everyone else's biases 2. Convince those white people to vote for progressive policies to address structural inequality 3. Wait until enough of the stubborn white people die off and we can have eternal Democratic majorities that turn the country into a multicultural Scandinavian-like paradise for all. 4. Continue to call out white racism wherever we see it to keep stamping out fires, and teach kids early not to be racists.
I had never even heard of CRT until conservative co-workers started sending me Chris Rufo and James Lindsay articles telling me what I was preaching was evil. CR and JL obviously seemed like bigoted white guys to me, but were clearly super upset about something, so these articles just confused me to be honest. The Trump EO was an eye-opener though. Banning racial stereotypes... well shit. I'm not promoting stereotypes, I'm trying to fight them!! My conservative colleagues would say, "but if you suggest all white people are racist, that's a stereotype!" to which I thought quietly, *it's not a stereotype if it's true!* But I had a really hard friggin time explaining to myself why this "truth" was ok to proclaim at work but it was horribly offensive if a colleague brought up "black on black crime rates." The first felt like a necessary step to achieve steps 1-4 above, and the latter felt like it would be perpetuating harmful stereotypes about minorities. It was only when I realized that stereotypes about white people were harmful to the people who hold those stereotypes that I could even entertain the possibility that maybe someone could be racist about white people, and that maybe it was part of the problem.
I now see CRT as something like a powerful microscope used in cancer research. It is a tool, one of many, that can be used to help collect evidence about problems you care about, and possibly highlight which treatments are helping and which are not. The problem is not CRT itself--it's that people have naively assumed that "if everyone could just look through the microscope all the time, we would cure cancer!!" If everyone walked around only using a microscope to see, they'd constantly be confused, obsessed with the little shit, and unable to enjoy life. It is, as they call it, a "lens"- brings some things into focus that were not in focus before. Its power comes from being a complement to other ways of observing. CRT itself rejects the idea of a single objective truth, so why do so many people think that it itself is truth? (Side note, even though I'd never heard of CRT, one of my closest friends teaches in the humanities in a prestigious university system. I asked her, are there any people in your circle who have alternative perspectives on these issues? She said no, 100% of them use CRT. I asked if she thought that was a problem, she said no, we prefer to deal in reality. So, yeah.)
I do think skeptics like Rufo overstate the extent to which CRT is the root of the phenomenon he's opposing. For me, in retrospect, the phenomenon is rooted in the widespread idea that racial disparities are caused/perpetuated by white attitudes, and that if white people could just stop being so racist, things would even out. That stereotypes about white people cause no real harm to society and are even necessary to reduce other harms. That the only reason a white person would be skeptical of the ideas being shared by a person of color is due to the white person's unconscious biases. I am hopeful that others like me who deeply care about addressing racial disparities will come to learn, as I did, hopefully less painfully, that perpetuating biases associated with race does enormous harm to everyone, most especially the people holding those biases.
Final note: I keep trying to get myself to start writing on my own Substack. I will put it out here and if people are interested, maybe that will get me kick-started. postwoke.substack.com
Has there been any reporting on how the black families in these suburban schools/private schools feel about all of this? I think we’d all benefit from a better understanding of how much of this is a real overreach vs how much is white parents in particular being really uncomfortable when the school talks to their kids about race.
N of 1 from this black parent in a very white liberal suburb: I find the emails from the school about the curriculum to be super woke, overbearing, and generally annoying. But when I talk to my 9 and 7 year old daughters about what they talked about it always seems quite age appropriate and inoffensive, but I still hear some white parents complain about it. So at least in my case it really does seem like they just want to shelter their kids and have the school not talk about race at all.
It is interesting to me to read all of the reactions from parents here and from those who recall what they learned in 4th grade. My kids have recently gone through elementary, middle school and HS curriculum in 2 very red states and I was pleasantly surprised about how much emphasis on race and racism appeared in those curricula. It was age appropriate, of course, but it was at times pretty harsh. Columbus was not portrayed as some genius explorer nor the Pilgrims as poor souls who just wanted to practice religion in their own way and had this great party with the locals after a long winter. What was being presented was much, much better than the education I got as a kid and led to a lot of good questions around the dinner table. I think a lot of folks in bluer states think red states are just teaching from the same textbooks that were around in the 60s and 70s. I'm just pointing out that that is not the experience of this red-state dad. I'm sure it could be better, but be careful you aren't making stick figures on both sides of this debate.
I probably won't articulate this very well, but so much of the CRT controversy exists among the Very Online. To a person, the loudest advocates for the boogeyman CRT stuff in classrooms are also the people who are aggressive Twitter users, posting long Kendi-esque anti-racist screeds on facebook, sharing boilerplant defund the police stuff, etc. They're loud, they know how to organize an online mob, and they love a good clapback.
While the Very Online have a loud megaphone, I think it's becoming more obvious that they are still outnumbered politically by the Not Very Online, as evidenced by the convincing Biden primary win, and even Trump gains among hispanics and Blacks in 2020. It jives with the divergence of what Very Online racial justice activists want and what actual people who are Black or other racial groups want.
All of which is to say, delete your social media accounts, and write an email to your school administrators, your school board members, your town councilors. You can't get cancelled if you aren't online *taps forehead meme*
Activists that subscribe to CRT ideology never debate ideas. Does Ibram Kendi ever debate? Does he really believe ? It’s hard to tell when he is charging schools five figures for zoom calls. It’s hard to take said school administrators serious when they have five figures lying around and could donate it to another school in need. Seems to be a get rich ploy for the woke.
The people who support IK and Robin Diangelo would be outraged if schools were paying Ben Shapiro 20k for zoom calls.
This post sort of weirdly dances around the object level issue, and I kind of don't understand why. It's true that real CRT has a lot of genuine insight to offer. It's also true that conservatives straw-man CRT as "that woke stuff that's happening in our kids schools and on twitter".
However, that doesn't change the fact that there is a thing happening in schools and on Twitter that is extremely toxic and dangerous, even if that thing is only loosely related to genuine academic CRT. While I think any article on this subject should call out the fact that conservatives are getting it wrong, and lots of aspects of CRT are valuable and revelatory, it seems weird to focus on those aspects at the expense of the very harmful ideologies that are permeating elementary schools.
I'd love to see a world where we can all sip lattes and discuss the real ideas of merit underlying intersectionality theory, or the nuances of more consequentialist speech regulation. However, it seems like priority number one pretty clearly ought to be removing the people promoting this bastardized version of CRT from positions of power, especially over the developmental process of young children, as quickly as humanly possible.
It's really weird to note that the main immediate impact of CRT is a wave of advanced classes getting shut down, then to just skip right over that. That's a really important thing! I probably won't change schools based on CRT per se, but if CRT means that they get rid of AP classes then it's off to catholic school for my little ones.
This seems a bit beside the point. Even if we change CRT back from these virgin middle class minority grievances to chad materialist critiques either way it’s not a suitable fourth grade curriculum.
Matt says kids are curious and race is a part of their lives. True! School is also a place where kids learn to be quiet and focus on something they are not currently interested in.
How much time in the classroom is being spent on this topics and at what age? That seems much more important to me than what nuance of college and post graduate level thought is being lost in these discussions.
a common pattern is that there are these nuanced, interesting ideas about race. but then consultants take them, squash them into bullet points and slide decks, and by the time they reach schools and institutions they no longer make any sense.
Consider that stupid Smithsonian "white culture" chart. There's a reasonable discussion about WASP values in America, how this culture promotes some virtues, suppresses other virtues, also pretends that some arbitrary aesthetic preferences are virtues, and gets more credit than it should for positive characteristics that show up across many cultures.
That could be an interesting essay, but by the time the ideas are boiled down to bullet points listing "facts about whiteness" and sold as a product to an educational institution, it's become quite offensive.
I think this kind of thing must be happening a lot and would explain some of the more bizarre and garbled attempts to address racism in the classroom.
I think CRT is a menace and it is ripping our overwhelmingly white town apart as the woke whites attack the non woke whites as racist. But this anti-CRT legislation and Matt's reaction to it brings up a broader point, and that is the role of politics in public education. I went to school a long time ago, but it was absolutely not done to talk about any policy topic. Foreign policy, social policy, economics, none of it was discussed. The focus instead was on history, which stopped at the last uncontroversial war, WWII, and civics. Matt's criticism of these anti CRT bills seems to be that a lot of CRT is good and we should just not teach the bad stuff. I disagree and think it's almost all bad but more importantly under no circumstances should stuff like that be taught in a public school to young kids. They will get indoctrinated with CRT in college and in their working careers, when they are at least old enough to reflect on it, and it won't be on the taxpayers' dime. Public school should teach kids how to think about things, not what to think about them.
Here’s an idea: we should have philosophy classes in middle and high school education.
We need to educate kids on ethics, politics, and a variety of other controversial ideas somehow. When I was in school, this was done through English and History classes (moreso English, since there were many more hours of English than History, and the class material leaves more room for exploration). But English and History classes are ill equipped for these topics. Most English and History teachers aren’t well versed in the broad range of thought on these things, and rigorous theoretical exploration just isn’t the point of English and History classes.
I know a philosophy class for kids would be controversial! But I actually think it would prove less controversial than critical theory-lite shoehorned into English class. A philosophy teacher has the time (and hopefully training) to present a range of ideas without explicitly endorsing one. Ie, no one will be brainwashed into supporting Marxism, but they should know who Marx was and what ideas he presented.
Great post overall. Only quibble is this:
> I would sincerely suggest that if something is bugging you enough about your kid’s school to tell a journalist about it, that you ought to share this concern with your local elected officials. Politicians are not perfect, but they are pretty responsive to constituent complaints.
School officials are naming-and-shaming the parents who complain in Facebook groups. One county had teachers maintaining lists of racist parents, including based on inference from "neutral" statements. It's a war out there, Matt.
Was anyone else a little confused by what Matt's bottom line is? Here's what I got out of the article: (1) There''s stuff that is pernicious in CRT but also some that is not and is actively worth teaching (2) For the most part the school laws ban only objectionable things (some of which are not core parts of CRT) although some there are a few places where a couple of easily removed words step over the line. I'm not a huge fan of legislating curriculum, and I agree that there are parts of CRT worth thinking about, but given the profound danger to civil society that the worst parts of CRT pose I finished the article more sympathetic to this legislation that I started.
Critical Race Theory as a strawman is just the latest in a long line of dogwhistle attacks on diversity and honesty in the education system. It joins ebonics, common core curriculum, and whole language learning as something for Very Angry People to get worked up about and do Tucker Carlson segments on no matter how innocuously or beneficially it is being introduced into the actual classroom as opposed the Maoist re-education camps being imagined.
I will give CRT advocates their due in that these drummed up outrages almost always have a racist, nationalistic, or xenophobic core to them even if lots of people deny it or are blind to it. That said, they do make it easy for their theories to be nut-picked and exaggerated.
My one take-away from AP American History which I never even got in college level courses is that theories about history are just as important as the historical facts themselves. The distance from Manifest Destiny to CRT is not all that far, just a matter of perspective. We do need to keep re-examining how we are interpreting the past to better understand our current circumstances.