Andrew Sullivan on the election and CRT

November 6, 2021 • 11:45 am

It seems that much of the gubernatorial election in Virginia turned on the issue of Critical Race Theory (CRT) being taught in schools. Youngkin denounced it while McAuliffe deprecated parents’ “rights” to have a say in their kids’ schooling.  After McAuliffe’s loss, upset Democrats accused the Republicans of “dog whistling”: using CRT as a cover for their racism and white supremacy.  In this week’s main article on Andrew Sullivan’s website, he notes that this criticism may have held a wee bit of truth, but in general was wrong.  His thesis:

What has happened this past week, I suspect, is that the woke revolution has finally met its match: educated parents. People can tolerate sitting through compulsory “social justice” seminars, struggle sessions, pronoun rituals, and the rest as adults, if they have to as a condition of employment. But when they see this ideology being foisted on their children as young as six, they draw a line.

I believe you can read his piece for free by clicking on the screenshot below.  But again, I urge you to subscribe if you read him frequently.

The one bit of Sullivan’s column I disagree with is the almost palpable joy with which he greets Youngkin’s victory.  Who can be happy that a Republican, particularly one who may have a covert agenda that may jibe with many Republican stands? But you could argue as well that this is a necessary wake-up call for the Democrats to reorganize, listen to the electorate, and thereby promote future victories. Only a major loss—or, in this case, the repudiation of several Woke initiatives throughout the U.S., could do that.

Dems have also argued that CRT was not being taught in Virginia schools. Well, not in the academic form, but Sullivan dispels that with some data. I’m giving a long excerpt here, for it contains links you can consult. Emphasis below is mine:

Look at recent polling. A big survey from the Manhattan Institute of the 20 biggest metropolitan areas found that the public, 54-29, wants to remove CRT concepts such as “white privilege” or “systemic racism” from K-12 education. That includes black parents by a margin of 54-38. And that’s in big cities. A new Harris poll asked, “Do you think the schools should promote the idea that people are victims and oppressors based on their race or should they teach children to ignore race in all decisions to judge people by their character?” Americans favored the latter 63-37.

And when the Democrats and the mainstream media insist that CRT is not being taught in high schools, they’re being way too cute. Of course K-12 kids in Virginia’s public schools are not explicitly reading the collected works of Derrick Bell or Richard Delgado — no more than Catholic school kids in third grade are studying critiques of Aquinas. But they are being taught in a school system now thoroughly committed to the ideology and worldview of CRT, by teachers who have been marinated in it, and whose unions have championed it.

And in Virginia, this is very much the case. The state’s Department of Education embraced CRT in 2015, arguing for the need to “re-engineer attitudes and belief systems” in education. In 2019, the department sent out a memo that explicitly endorsed critical race and queer theory as essential tools for teaching high school. Check out the VA DOE’s “Road Map to Equity,” where it argues that “courageous conversation” on “social justice, systemic inequity, disparate student outcomes and racism in our school communities is our responsibility and professional obligation. Now is the time to double down on equity strategies.” (My itals.) Check out the Youtube site for Virginia’s virtual 2020 summit on equity in education, where Governor Northam endorsed “antiracist school communities,” using Kendi’s language.

Matt Taibbi found Virginia voters miffed by “the existence of a closed Facebook group — the ‘Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County’ — that contains six school board members and apparently compiled a list of parents deemed insufficiently supportive of ‘racial equity efforts.’” He found Indian and South Asian parents worried about the abolition of testing standards, as well they might be. And at school board meetings, in a fraught Covid era of kids-at-home, parents have been treated with, at best, condescension; and at worst, contempt. Remember how the National School Boards Association wanted the feds to designate some protests from these angry parents as “a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” — and then withdrew that request?

The argument continues in the piece, but I’ve given the gist. So long as teachers and schools are pushing stuff that divides the children, so long as they repudiate Dr. King’s emphasis on character rather than color, then for that long the Democrats will continue to lose. Every time a kid comes home saying that she’s learned she’s bad because she’s white, the Democrats let a vote slip away.  As Sullivan says:

. . .  if the culture war is fought explicitly on the terms laid out by the Kendi left and the Youngkin right, and the culture war is what determines political outcomes, then the GOP will always win.

Nobody here, least of all me, claims that we should soft-pedal America’s history taught in full honesty: not only its glories but its abysmal failures, including its racism and the genocide of Native Americans. The textbooks and history lesson do need to be honest. But this is America, the “gumbo of diverse ingredients” that Carville describes, and in the end kids need to see it as it is—and was.  What should be taught are the facts, leaving out the ideology of CRT.

At the end Sullivan embraces the “Youngkin version of Republicanism”, saying that “he hopes it lasts.” I don’t, for I think Youngkin, while savvy about parents and schools, has a raft of Republican horrors up his sleeve. Get set for Virginia to pass a Texas-style anti-abortion bill.

40 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan on the election and CRT

  1. Every time a kid comes home saying that she’s learned she’s bad because she’s white,

    I have to admit, I’m as skeptical of these stories as I am of Trump’s ‘sir’ stories. And as someone pointed out, it’s rather rich that parents are decrying the above when they are likely taking them to church on Sunday where they are taught that they are born sinners. Okay for Sunday school, apparently.

    But the veracity doesn’t matter I suppose. It is what people perceive and are persuaded by.

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Woke leftism is a religion. It doesn’t belong in public schools any more than Christianity does.
      As far as being “skeptical” about these stories- I’m guessing you didn’t sit through zoom school with your kids last year. No one can convince me that something I’ve seen with my own eyes is not happening in public schools.

      1. I’m guessing you didn’t sit through zoom school with your kids last year. No one can convince me that something I’ve seen with my own eyes is not happening in public schools.

        Oh, I very much did. With a middle schooler. And I saw nothing of the sort.

        1. Congrats, your child’s school has yet to succumb to the infection. Let’s hope its immune system continues to resist.

    2. I’m in Canada and the social justice/CRT/Intersectionality etc movement has breached our schooling and organizations. Memos and meetings going around my wife’s work for the last few years, on how to think right about race and other things. Some of the stuff in my kid’s books and classes, particularly history, seem lifted right out of the White Fragility/Kendi agenda – emphasizing power structures, white privilege etc.

      I don’t mean that people shouldn’t be enlightened to any existing social power structures, racism or privilege, but the flavor is definitely of the dogmatic/post-modernist take and I feel like I almost have to deprogram my kid when I see what he’s learning.

    3. Kids are not always great on nuance. If they get lectured on a bunch of the woke crap, assuming they absorb any of it, they are going to draw simple conclusions.
      Even so, what they are being taught is not particularly nuanced. All White people are racist, the US was founded as a system of oppression. There is nothing in what they believe that is likely to lead a kid to believe anything other than White bad.
      And the non-White kids are being taught that they are helpless victims.

      If you look for ways that CRT makes kids into smart,independent, literate adults with a strong work ethic and good critical reasoning skills, you will be looking for a very long time.

      In my humble estimation, one of the key weaknesses of woke ideology is their inability to self reflect. They have no humility. So they will always take everything too far. With statues, they might have been fine with getting rid of Jeff Davis. But they cannot regulate themselves. So unless they meet some strong resistance, they will end up blowing up Mount Rushmore and dismantling the Lincoln Memorial.
      There is no reason I have seen that they won’t do the same with education, except that parents tend to have fairly strong reactions when they believe their kids are threatened. When I am holding my tongue and fake smiling at a diversity seminar, I am only doing so because the welfare of my kids is more important than any personal objections I might have. When my kids are the target, the rules change.

        1. It is a political party, not your family. Their positions on issues tend to shift over time, and will sometimes line up with yours, and sometimes not. Nobody owes them, or any other party, any kind of permanent allegiance. If you feel that one of their candidates represents your interests, you vote for them.
          Any party, at any time, can turn out to be the ones with skulls on their caps. Certainly both current parties have on occasion, been in that position. Sometimes both of them simultaneously, and we have to try to guess which will do the least damage to us personally.

          If a party strays too far from the proper path, it is good that they get spanked a bit at the ballot box. It gives them a chance to reconsider their priorities, and to promote better candidates. It can be a symbiotic relationship, where we get decent representation, and they get enough money and power to sate their greed and narcissism for a while. It would be great if our representatives were all patriots and statesmen (statespersons?). Such people would do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do. But we can work with what we have, as long as we have the power to make them do the right thing, lest they get voted out and lose their sweet gig.

    4. If Woke parents teach their kids that being white is bad, or take them on Sundays on woke seminars where a lecturer explains the same thing, it would be totally different. Not great parenting, but within their rights.

      The same way, many parents would be up in arms if their children were forced to attend church on Sundays to be told they are sinners.

      In these sensitive matters the build the worldview and personality of the child, parents – and people authorized by them – are the ones having the prerogacy. Not government, except in totalitarian dictatorship.

      I am surprised that this distinction isn’t more obvious.

  2. The “we’re not teaching CRT” line is just misinformation. For example, Christopher Rufo’s Twitter feed is stuffed full of documentation that implementing CRT ideology in K-12 schools is exactly what large numbers of teachers and teacher superintendents are doing.

    (I get that people will have reasons for being wary of Rufo, but on this he is right.)

  3. I’m glad that Sullivan is pointing out that teachers, administrators, and unions are pushing CRT’s worst aspects and not just better teaching of racial history. It seemed obvious to me that this would happen as it is administrators and education specialists that are pushing these things in colleges. Their analogs at the public school level come from the same poisoned pool. Here, as in many areas, Dems need a reality check.

  4. “People can tolerate sitting through compulsory “social justice” seminars, struggle sessions, pronoun rituals, and the rest as adults, if they have to as a condition of employment.”

    This is scary. This is what we had before 1989 behind the Iron Curtain.

  5. In the past, I have commented on the nature of understanding history. I will not repeat myself, but will deal with the question of limiting the teaching of history to just the facts. There are several problems with this approach. I will use the Merriam-Webster definition of fact as “a true piece of information.”

    The first is that a supposed fact may not be a fact. It is not unheard of historians accepting as true pieces of information that did not actually happen or happened not quite in the way as the source would assert. For example, much of what we supposedly know about Lincoln’s youth is based on the recollections of people that knew him 30 years earlier.

    The second problem is that in describing an event the historian or a teacher has to choose what facts are important to include in the narrative and which aren’t. For example, in teaching the Battle of Gettysburg there are thousands of facts an historian could choose to describe the battle. This is a subjective act. Even almanac writers that compile chronologies of historical events, subjectively determine what events to include or leave out.

    The third problem and the most important is the meaning or interpretation that an historian or teacher ascribes to the facts of an historical event. For example, during the period of dominance of the “Lost Cause” ideology, slavery was described by many of the leading historians as an essentially benign institution. They would have said that this was correct conclusion based on their understanding of the past. Historians today, looking at the same universe of facts, have come to a very different conclusion.

    All this means that historical writing and understanding, even done by those that are doing their best to avoid intentional distortion of events, are subjective acts. In this sense, there is no “true” history because it is always understood in the context of what I described above. And this is why our understanding of the past is always under continuous revision and contention among historians.

    1. True enough, but what we can teach is exactly what you’re saying, that we’re not positive of what happened at a given time or event, but these are the sources that we have, and based on them this is what likely happened.

      We should teach history in the same manner that we should teach science, that based on the evidence this appears to be the best conclusion, but new evidence might change that.

    2. I agree with all you said, but still beg to differ. I try to explain what I mean by giving an example : As a German, most of my history lessons at school were about the Third Reich and the Holocaust. And while historians may debate many details, I do think some basic facts can easily be discerned. If you choose not to mention the Shoa, or teach that Poland started the war, that is not a matter of interpretation, but simply a distortion or a lie.

      At school level, this is mostly what history is about. You can, of course, cherry-pick your facts. You can interpret them differently: If the Nazis had won, mass murder would now, no doubt, be taught as a glorious deed. But the facts still remain.

      We may debate the details of Lincolns youth, but we do know millions of Native Americans perished as a consequence of European settlement . We may debate the exact causes of WW1, but not that many young men died horrible deaths.

      You are of course right inasmuch as we always bring our own moral judgement to the table, for why would we even teach history to our kids, if not to instill some basic lessons? But the lesson “never again”, a conclusion most people visiting a former concentration camp, as we did as students, come to without any prodding, is vastly different from the lesson “you are guilty because you were born white”.

  6. All this means that historical writing and understanding, even done by those that are doing their best to avoid intentional distortion of events, are subjective acts. In this sense, there is no “true” history because it is always understood in the context of what I described above. And this is why our understanding of the past is always under continuous revision and contention among historians.

    I try to approach history as I approach recipes. I read a bunch of them – figure out what the common denominators are across the varieties – and that gives me an idea of the bones. From there, the rest is subjective. Do you think this is a useful approach?

    1. Your approach is really the best that we can do. When I was young and starting out in my study of my history, I believed naively that to learn about an historical topic all I had to do was read one or two books randomly selected from my library bookshelf. It was only in my junior year in college as a history major that I had my first inkling that this was not the way to study history. Only then did I begin to realize that historians, acting in good faith, could argue for very different interpretations of historical events. So, yes, read widely in your topic of interest – books, articles, book reviews – by people that have actually some expertise in the area. Avoid talking heads and television documentaries – they invariably oversimplify the topic. You will then come to your conclusion as to what is the best understanding of an historical event while acknowledging that your conclusion is necessarily subjective.

    2. I would say that is one way to do it but enough is known about our history today that you don’t just get the idea and subjectively add the rest. It is like going out to buy yourself a mobile trailer. You know, one you pull around and even live in. The first question is – do you buy a north built trailer or a south built trailer. If you prefer insulation and being warm in winter, you would select north built. Does that help you out? If you or your kids got American history in a southern school you might want to go back and review what they told you because they probably talked a lot about the lost cause and what great generals they had during the invasion by the north. It was not a war about slavery but about states rights and they were protecting their states.

  7. The textbooks and history lesson do need to be honest.

    Really? That is what these battles are about, one side wants primary and secondary school students to get “honest” history and the other side doesn’t?

    History and language studies form the cultural basis for civic nationalism, and building national identity. There is a lot of huff about national identity, but it comes down to whether young people will put their lives on the line to defend their nation-state. We talk a lot about “nation-building” but that is its essence: whether soldiers will die to defend their nation and their state.

    If you look at Afghanistan, we can say all these great things about women’s rights, but if the Army isn’t willing to defend their state, the state gets replaced by a regime with an army that would fight, that is, the Taliban.

    If the U.S. government failed, what would the regime with the army that could still fight look like? Would they be warriors for social justice, or would they be goose-stepping? How would they view the problem of race in American society?

    The educational question goes back to these questions, you are either teaching children that their system is fundamentally worth fighting for, or you are demoralizing them, and weakening the state so you can replace it. My guess is that if the federal government collapses, all these people who think they hate America now are not going to like their new regime very much, assuming they survive the purge.

    Granted, the people pushing this stuff don’t seem to have any understanding of politics, history, or anything else except their own ideology and short-term interests, so just because it seems like a concerted effort to undermine faith in the central government and to provoke a white backlash that could easily go in dangerous directions, that doesn’t actually mean they intend to accomplish that goal.

    A lot of Left history mid-20th Century was written by people involved in or sympathetic to the Communist Party, and it was intended to promote state collapse as a means of accomplishing communist revolution. Because of inertia or stupidity, the same tropes continue even after the Soviet Union collapsed, meaning there is no viable communist party or infrastructure to take over if the goal happens now. The geopolitical forces are very different from the 50’s and 60’s, and any new regime, whether influenced by Russia or China is not going to make the baizu’s happy.

    1. This point has been made before, but if whites are unconsciously biased against non-whites, and American society (with its white majority) is structured in a way that systematically keeps down all non-whites, then the only solution for non-whites that allows them to live as free persons not under the oppression of whites is for non-whites to separate from whites and form ethnic homelands. Not incidentally, most of this CRT rhetoric came from Black Nationalist movements, who sought separation from white society.

      On the flip-side, white allies would help non-whites best by helping them to separate, which would, of course, result in a white ethnostate as a by product. This is why many of the Black Nationalist who have furnished CRT’s talking points would pal around with Nazi’s and Klansmen.

      That is the racial logic of what Kendi and D’Angelo are pushing. I get that the point of the DEI grifter, beyond the grift, is really virtue signaling, inculcating ritual displays of white guilt, and the rest of it, but if Kendi and D’Angelo are right, you don’t need an Anti-Racist Committee of Public Safety, you need ethnostates. [I would further note our anti-racists are very good on process recommendations, and performative displays, and very thin on actually policies that actually can demonstrably work to eliminate unconscious bias or systematic racism.]

      The way the CRT and anti-racist movement is being sold, it is clear that public discussion of the talking points is not going to be permitted, nor is anyone going to be allowed to go on CNN and explain why CRT and explain why CRT is a logical bee-line to legitimating white nationalism.

    2. Yes to all of that.

      Nations that endure need shared ideas about what they are about. The miracle of 20th C America was essentially that this worked out. That, for instance, German-Americans “decided” they were more American than German. One part of this was lots of history lessons about settling the midwest, and about the great melting pot, and fewer about the pilgrims and their little protestant theocracy. Neither of these need be dishonest but they are choices.

      Marking something similar happen in 21st C America seems like the principal challenge. But much more exciting to imagine yourself igniting revolution against the evil reactionaries keeping you down. And much more fun to play at tribal warfare with the ethnic group next door, we’ve evolved for that to feel great.

      1. I don’t see anything wrong teaching children about slavery, or about ethnic cleansing with respect to the Indians, but where is the history lesson on the State that fought a war to eradicate slavery? What about all the dead Union soldiers fighting to maintain the Union and break slave power? How many instances in the historical record are their of 200,000+ people dying to free members of another race from slavery? What about the US soldiers who liberated victims at Auschwitz? How about the all-male legislative bodies who voted to give women the vote? What about the 90+% evil white male Congress that voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Amendment and the Voting Rights bill? Objectively speaking, America has a lot to be proud of without lying or suppressing negative events.

        1. Right. It would be dishonest to omit slavery, of course, and hope nobody seriously suggests that today. But it’s much more dishonest too to pretend that this is what America is or was about.

          And in addition to being dishonest, it’s highly destructive. Ethnic groups are the most obvious default basis for nations, and if you want to balkanize the country into separate nations fighting each other, then this is the path. Make education all about how much you should despise your neighbors because of their skin, their ancestors, their language, their religion. This will, of course, leave no room to teach anything about how well things went for all the other large multi-ethnic multi-lingual political entities which entered the last century.

  8. A case might be made that “Critical Race Theory” is the Sophisticated Theology (TM) of the woke left.

  9. I do acknowledge that I cheered Youngkin too. And I know there may be consequences. But this was perhaps the first major election around CRT, and this outcome was absolutely crucial, to show that you can campaign around rejection of CRT lies and win.
    On the other hand, if anyone thought that was going to be a “wakeup call”, they are going to be disappointed-badly. This is an example of the hard left telling freaking NY Times! to get lost for suggesting there is anything to learn here.

    1. Talk about doubling down. If you read that article and the comments, there is no hope for the Democrats in 2022 and 2024.
      Heed the advice of Reich (previous WEIT post) and go for paid family leave, medical care, medicine prices, minimum wage and other traditional leftist points.
      And ditch the CRT religion, attacks on meriticracy.and the like.
      Come with a good plan for reforming (not defunding) the police and a good plan for the Southern border.
      If that can be done in time, they still can win.

  10. And for those of us remembering 16 years ago, the claim that CRT is not taught in schools is no different than the school board in Devon, Pennsylvania, protesting in 2005: OF COURSE we are not teaching creationism! We are teaching Intelligent Design!

  11. When McAuliffe said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” he committed political suicide.

    On a literal level he was correct—parents should not dictate the curriculum—but many parents interpreted his remark as dimissive. To them he was saying “parents should have no say in what gets taught,” at a time when school boards have gained notoriety. Parents were already frustrated after a year of kids learning at home and their slow return to the classroom. McAuliffe’s remark was a straw that broke the camel’s back. He alienated the sort of suburban voter the Democrats cannot afford to lose.

    1. It sounds like a fundamental disagreement on the function of the government. McAuliffe seems to think of it in terms of rulers/subjects, or at least gives that impression.
      A lot of the parents still think in terms of representation/consent of the governed.

    1. Boy talk about spin.
      “Yay, we won in the safety of our own safest districts”! Except they didn’t-even in super blue Seattle they ended up with Republican district attorney. Of course the Gaurdian would never mention that.

  12. The historian Yuval Noah Harari said last week in 60 Minutes, “History is the study of change, not just the history of the past, but it covers the future as well”. Study of change, I think we should work with that.

  13. I am a high school teacher (science, math and Spanish ) in Norway and here, at least in most high school and higher education, still no mandatory CRT. Haven’t seen that teachers union are pushing the agenda either. There’s some activity in some departments (art, humanities) in the universities where some students are pushing the CRT agenda, but there’s a lot of pushback from other students and most of faculty

    In fact, I have a young student (18 years), a girl that self identifies as a boy and I have been surprised how open this kid has been to my criticism of the more radical Trans movement. Hey, the kid is even listening to Jordan Peterson on youtube and I, in fact, recommended him (yes, I respect his chosen pronoun) to see the discussion between Peterson and Abigail Shrier

    When teaching genetics I am clear that biological sex is binary in virtually all organism and this kid seem to be very tolerant to my (and most biologists) clear opinion on the matter.

    I am also teaching Spanish and when discussing the various n-words (as you may know, the use of negro/a or negrito in Spanish is mostly seen as neutral). I even explicitly utter the various n-words in class (in a didactic setting of course) and I am still not been exposed to any twitter craze. I am actually surprised to see how little woke my students are.

    I would probably been fired a long time ago if I was working as a teacher in the US, but can’t see that I am been trying silenced here in Norway. I am going to retire in June 2022 and maybe that’s the reason why I am not afraid to be anti-woke. I suspect many younger teacher are more concerned

  14. “Every time a kid comes home saying that she’s learned she’s bad because she’s white, the Democrats let a vote slip away.”

    And what if that narrative won votes for the democrats …?

    One would have thought that decent democrats would also make a big fuss about CRT because it is basically immoral.
    (Unlike this blog and Mcwhorter I do not see much pushback from intellectuals, leftwing media or politicans like Obama)

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