Andrew Sullivan on why we shouldn’t ban the teaching of CRT, but why it’s bad to teach it

June 19, 2021 • 1:00 pm

In this week’s installment of The Weekly Dish, Andrew Sullivan has a very good piece on Critical Race Theory (CRT; click on screenshot below, though you may have to be a subscriber to read it). I’d urge you to subscribe, as it’s only $50 a year—less than a dollar a week.

In the piece, Sullivan has a number of theses (direct quotes are indented):

1.) The media’s characterization of opposition to CRT (and laws against it) as a Republican plot to discredit Democrats is partly wrong. Yes, the “laws” being passed to ban the teaching of CRT are mostly a Republican initiative, but opposition to teaching CRT goes across the political spectrum, including many liberals.

I’m sure the MSM will continue to push this narrative indefinitely. They are still insisting, after all, that “white supremacy” is behind hateful attacks on Asian-Americans, and that soaring murder rates are purely a function of Covid19. And you can see why: this dismissive take is extremely helpful in avoiding what is actually happening. It diverts attention from the stories and leaks and documents that keep popping up all over the place about extraordinary indoctrination sessions that have become mandatory for children as early as kindergarten.

2.) CRT as taught in schools is not the academic version, but is injurious nevertheless, as it simply dumbs down the theses of “big time CRT” as presented by scholars like Crenshaw and Kendi. It is more than just shining a light on American racism.

And no, 6-year-olds are not being taught Derrick Bell — or forced to read Judith Butler, or God help them, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Of course they aren’t — and I don’t know anyone who says they are.

But they are being taught popularized terms, new words, and a whole new epistemology that is directly downstream of academic critical theory. Ibram X. Kendi even has an AntiRacist Baby Picture Book so you can indoctrinate your child into the evil of whiteness as soon as she or he can gurgle. It’s a little hard to argue that CRT is not interested in indoctrinating kids when its chief proponent in the US has a kiddy book on the market.

The goal of education of children this young is to cement the notion at the most formative age that America is at its core an oppressive racist system uniquely designed to exploit, harm, abuse, and even kill the non-white. This can be conveyed in easy terms, by training kids to see themselves first and foremost as racial avatars, and by inculcating in them a sense of their destiny as members of the oppressed or oppressor classes in the zero-sum struggle for power that is American society in 2021.

Here’s the picture shown from Kendi’s AntiRacist Baby Book:

3.) There’s nothing wrong with beefing up school curricula to teach more about America’s odious history of racism.

The legacy of this country’s profound racism, the deep and abiding shame of its genocidal slavocracy, the atrocities, such as Tulsa, which have been white-washed, the appalling record of lynchings and beatings, the centrality of African-Americans to the story and success of this country: all this must be better explored and understood. There is nothing wrong and a huge amount right about black scholars taking the lead in shining light on what others might miss, building on past knowledge, helping us better account for it. White scholars, like the hundreds of thousands of white citizens who gave their lives to end slavery, have a crucial role to play as well.

4.) But there should not be laws either mandating or forbidding the teaching of CRT in the classroom. However, if taught, it should be presented as just one of several sociological theories. But mandating or banning its teaching is doing exactly what liberals don’t want: inhibiting free speech:

The question is: what can a liberal society do when almost all of its educational, media, business and cultural elites have adopted an ideology that believes that liberal society needs to be dismantled? And the answer is: not much. Liberalism assumes that bad and noxious ideas will eventually be driven out by better ones. Banning illiberal ideologies like CRT makes us indistinguishable from the woke — who would ban any speech they didn’t like if they could get rid of the First Amendment (just look at what “liberals” are doing in Canada or Britain, for example, where they lock people up for resisting this ideology). Replacing CRT with crude, jingoistic versions of history or society is no answer either.

Many of the bills attempting to ban CRT in public schools are well-intentioned and do not, in fact, ban CRT. But they contain wording to constrain the kind of teaching that is built on CRT that is far too vague, could constrain speech in countless unforeseen ways, and are pretty close to unenforceable. (When people are proposing body-cameras for teachers, you know they’ve gone off the edge.) Most of these bills, to make things worse, strike me as unconstitutional. And they cede the higher ground.

5.) CRT itself is bad for kids because it promotes authoritarianism rather than liberalism.

And it’s vital for the rest of us to understand that these kinds of lessons are directly downstream of an ideology that, according to an early Critical Race Theory text, “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of Constitutional law.” For these reasons, CRT insists that what we have always understood as liberal education is, in fact, a lie, because liberalism assumes that we are all individuals, capable of reasoning with each other as equals, where, in fact, we are mere representatives of racial constructs which are part of a permanent struggle between the oppressors (white) and oppressed (non-white).

This is not teaching about critical race theory; it is teaching in critical race theory. And it is compulsory and often hidden from parents. It contradicts the core foundations of our liberal society; and is presented not as one truth to be contrasted with others, but as the truth, the basis on which all other truths are built. That’s why teaching based on CRT will make children see themselves racially from the get-go, why it will separate them into different racial groups, why it will compel white kids to internalize their complicity in evil, tell black kids that all their troubles are a function of white people, banish objective measurements of success to avoid stigmatizing failure, and treat children of different races differently in a classically racist hierarchy.

And this is why — crucially — it will suppress any other way of seeing the world — because any other way, by definition, is merely perpetuating oppression. As Kendi constantly reminds us, it is either/or. An antiracist cannot exist with a liberalism that perpetuates racism. And it’s always the liberalism that has to go.

6.) Rather than trying to pass Trumpian laws and dictates banning the teaching of CRT, Sullivan recommends that we must fight the theory because it defies liberalism, for CRT “is committed in its foundational texts to the overthrow of liberalism.”

It’s not just a culture war gambit. It’s a deep defense of our liberal inheritance. Once a generation grows up believing that there is no such thing as reason — just “white thinking” and “black thinking”; once it grows up believing that free speech is a device for oppression not liberation; once it sees our founding documents as cynical lies to perpetuate slavery and “white supremacy”; once it believes that no progress has ever been made in race relations, because the “systems” sustain unaltered “white supremacy” for ever, then we have detonated the foundations of a free society.

And we should remember that CRT is adhered to by only a minority of Americans: Sullivan quotes a YouGov poll showing that Americans oppose CRT by 58% to 38%, with 53% having a “very unfavorable view of it.”

Overall, this is a measured, well written, and convincing piece. We all know that CRT is far more than just a way to call attention to past and present racism, which is an admirable effort. Instead, it is a divisive ideology—John McWhorter would call it a theology—that tears America apart rather bringing it together, and is explicitly designed to be not only untestable, but also to stifle all discussion about it.

20 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan on why we shouldn’t ban the teaching of CRT, but why it’s bad to teach it

  1. We are all used to the illiterately nonsensical claim that evolution is only a theory. The trouble with CRT is that it ISNT a scientific theory To quote the Oxford English Dictionary “An explanation of a phenomenon arrived at through examination and contemplation of the relevant facts; a statement of one or more laws or principles which are generally held as describing an essential property of something.” In order for it to have gone through the process described in that definition it would have had to have been constructed in a manner which proves it and which as a consequence would reveal how to disprove it. It isn’t disprovable having been designed to be so. It is just an assertion or ideology. It has no basis in proper facts.

    1. The trouble with CRT is that it ISNT a scientific theory

      It never pretended to be. Any general dictionary or encyclopaedia will show many different definitions of “theory”. In particular, capital-T “Theory” is often (pretentiously?) used for “Critical Theory” and its children such as CRT.

      In sociology and political philosophy, “Critical Theory” means the Western-Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, developed in Germany in the 1930s and drawing on the ideas of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Though a “critical theory” or a “critical social theory” may have similar elements of thought, capitalizing Critical Theory as if it were a proper noun stresses the intellectual lineage specific to the Frankfurt School.


  2. Excellent pieces as expected


    The intention of “teaching” matters. Of course, I dread it actually means “indoctrination”.

    The baby book is beyond outrageous – it is stupefying – flabbergasting. Make no mistake, the audience is the parents – adults. Not children. As such, the adults will feel compelled by the George Floyd story to indoctrinate their kids as part of “doing the work”.

  3. I think that banning CRT, as such, is probably a mistake. I think that it is perfectly appropriate to ban the teaching that one race or sex is inferior to another. Here is the language used in one such case :

    (a) “Divisive concepts” means the concepts that (1) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (2) the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist; (3) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (4) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; (5) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; (6) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (7) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (8) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or (9) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race. The term “divisive concepts” also includes any other form of race or sex stereotyping or any other form of race or sex scapegoating.

    As I’ve seen it, CRT is not being taught as one way to look at the world, but as the only correct way. If we cannot as a nation say that teaching racism can be banned, then the Constitution really is a suicide pact.

  4. As Sullivan puts it concisely: “they are being taught popularized terms, new words, and a whole new epistemology that is directly downstream of academic critical theory.”
    I suggest it is a little misleading to even use the term CRT as short for the now conventional goulash of words, slogans, and poses thrown around by communicants of the Church of DEI. Academic CRT is to the latter as “sophisticated” ground-of-being theology is to the braying of televangelists.

    1. I basically agree with you, except I find it hard to believe that schoolchildren are being taught “a whole new epistemology”. Really? I’ll believe it when I see it.

      1. Like anything else some on the Left do these days, it is bound to be exaggerated into something purely evil by the Right. Still, considering that college education administration are the heart of the CRT movement and capable of doing much harm, it is not hard to believe they would try to push it in grade school too. They probably get much less pushback from teachers at that level than from college faculty who have a stronger hand in determining curricula.

  5. Sullivan: “Banning illiberal ideologies like CRT makes us indistinguishable from the woke”

    I don’t agree that it is “illiberal” to ban the promotion of CRT in schools. School teachers are not acting as private individuals, complete with rights to free speech, they are acting as agents of the state and so their speech is government speech.

    A school teacher should no more have the right to promote CRT in the classroom than the right to promote a religion or one political party or Holocaust denial or creationism or wacky views about vaccines.

    And the comparison to the woke is not appropriate — the woke are seeking to censor in society in general, not just school curricula.

  6. The most amazing part of this story, reported elsewhere as well, is the proposal that teachers wear body cameras so that parents and politicians can find out what the teachers are actually teaching. Even though this sounds like a ridiculous idea, it indicates that the educational establishment has been caught saying one thing to parents at PTA and school board meetings and another to students in classrooms. I have no idea how prevalent this is but it seems likely. If I was a parent, this would really piss me off.

  7. 4.) But there should not be laws either mandating or forbidding the teaching of CRT in the classroom.

    The Alabama journalist Kyle Whitmire wrote a pair of good articles this week about the bills pending in the Yellowhammer state to ban the teaching of CRT, even though no schools in Alabama currently teach critical race theory and despite the bills’ sponsors inability to say what the hell CRT actually is, except that it’s bad.

    The right-wing opponents of critical race theory in the US have become as demagogic as CRT’s proponents, primarily in an effort to distract from the Republican Party’s ongoing efforts to undermine majority-rule democracy and its utter failure to promote anything that resembles coherent public policy.

    1. “…have become as demagogic as CRT’s proponents…”

      It’s a pretty damning indictment of CRT proponents when their f#%kwittery can be seen as a bar that the red-hatter’s strive to reach. It suggests to me that the whole “nones” generation may just evolve their own equally ludicrous substitutes for religion.

  8. A reason not to teach CRT that may not have been mentioned is that it encourages young people to see the world as racially divided instead of working directly toward wider fraternity. It’s premise is that there are good black and brown people and bad white people. That’s not a good foundation for progress.

    1. Is WP blocking the link to the YT video. Here it is again. If it’s blocked again this time, go to the channel AwakenWithJP and find the video titled “The Horror of Teaching Critical Race Theory to Kids.”

  9. John McWhorter has also covered this, his words are also worth reading.

    “The early writings by people like Regina Austin, Richard Delgado, Kimberlé Crenshaw are simply hard-leftist legal analysis, proposing a revised conception of justice that takes oppression into account, including a collective sense of subordinate group identity. These are hardly calls to turn schools into Maoist re-education camps fostering star chambers and struggle sessions.

    In language, terms evolve, and quickly — witness, of late, how this has happened with cancel culture and even woke. To insist that “CRT” must properly refer only to the contents of obscure law review articles from decades ago is a debate team stunt, not serious engagement with a dynamic and distressing reality.”

  10. Critical theory views the student as someone to be turned into good little foot soldiers for the cause. They are empty vessels to be filled with the Critical Theory (Cultural Marxist) professors teachings and then sent out into the world as his/hers flying monkeys. It is from the ground up the far-left ideologization of our children. It is for the far-left what colleges like Oral Roberts University is for the far-right.

    I consider all of it child abuse.

  11. Can’t (un)Critical Race Theory be taught as part of comparative religion?

    “Here’s what christians claim, here’s what moslems claim, here’s what wokeists claim etc etc, note how mutually contradictory and lacking in evidence they all are.”

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