Why both Left and Right distort CRT for political ends

January 28, 2022 • 11:00 am

I’ve written several posts trying to explain Critical Race Theory (CRT) as it is understood by scholars (see here and here, and here, for instance), and I won’t reiterate the definitions, which, of course differs from scholar to scholar. There is no “approved” definition.  But the variants all have certain things in common, including the concept of “white privilege,” intersectionality, systemic racism, and, usually, reparations and the complicity of oppressors (in this case, white people) in oppressing minorities. CRT is identity-centered rather than individual-centered.

I was going to write a corrective to the misconceptions of the Left about CRT, which are actually distortions because anybody who cares to can find out what CRT really is.  Likewise, the Right distorts CRT in an attempt to minimize the extent of racism. Both ends of the political spectrum, in fact, tailor their own definitions of CRT to meet their goals

Mona Charen at the Bulwark (see first article below) has written a sensible article on CRT (click on screenshot) which makes these points. It turns out that the Right-wing concept is closer to the real CRT than is the Left-wing version, but both sides distort what happens when an dumbed-down version of CRT is taught in schools.

Like me, Charen, doesn’t think there should be any laws against CRT on the books (most of them have been confected  by Republicans). In my case, given the various conceptions of CRT, telling schools what’s legal and not legal to teach infringes the freedom of teachers to teach what they think is best. (Note to creationists and IDers who will use my last sentence to justify the teaching of their nonsense: CRT is not evolution, which is a “theory” that happens to be a true theory as well, and, unlike CRT, one can’t with any rationality debate the truth of evolution.)

So, as Charen notes, the Left (including, recently, Paul Krugman) characterizes CRT simply as the idea, which is true, that there was slavery and oppression of black people for centuries, and that there is still racism, and both the history and current racism injures minorities and violates the tenets of our democracy. As we see below, most Americans agree with these claims. But they are not CRT!

.Charen (my emphasis below):

The laws some Republican-dominated states are passing to curtail CRT and its progeny are bad ideas for many reasons. But the depictions of those laws in big outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post are frequently wrong or incomplete. A recent CNN report about Florida’s new law that would prohibit teaching methods that make people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin” mangles the facts. The law, CNN claims, is a response to critical race theory, which the network defines as “a concept that seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US. The term also has become politicized and been attacked by its critics as a Marxist ideology that’s a threat to the American way of life.”

Not quite, though CNN is hardly alone in describing CRT in such an anodyne fashion. Paul Krugman argues that most people don’t know what CRT is (which is true), but goes off the deep end claiming that Republican “denunciations of C.R.T. are basically a cover for a much bigger agenda: an attempt to stop schools from teaching anything that makes right-wingers uncomfortable.” [JAC: I think there’s some truth in what Krugman says!] One news outlet suggested that anti-CRT bills “may make it even harder to discuss African American history,” and it is common to see anti-CRT bills described as “efforts to restrict what teachers can say about race, racism and American history in the classroom.”

If you were judging by much of the mainstream press coverage, you would think that CRT is just a movement to ensure that the history of slavery, racism, and Jim Crow is not neglected in America’s classrooms. But 1) large percentages of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching those things, and 2) that’s not what CRT is.

So what does Charen see as the “real” CRT? Here:

In their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic state forthrightly that “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, rejects the notion that racism is a character flaw in some individuals, declaring instead that “White identity is inherently racist.” That marks a dramatic departure from the traditional understanding of racism.

Critical race theory adherents favor teaching techniques that most Americans believe violate our commitment to colorblindness, such as “affinity groups” wherein people are segregated by race to discuss certain issues. In Massachusetts, the Wellesley public schools hosted a “Healing Space for Asian and Asian American students and others in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.” An official email explained that, “This is a safe space for our Asian/Asian American and Students of Color, *not* for students who identify only as White.”

And, contra Krugman and Scientific American, this kind of stuff, and not just the history of racism and slavery is actually taught in some schools.

In Virginia’s Loudoun County, teacher training materials encouraged educators to reject “color blindness” and to “address their whiteness (white privilege).” Each teacher was exhorted to become a “culturally competent professional who acknowledges and is aware of his or her own racist, sexist, heterosexist or other detrimental attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and feelings.” The training strayed into racial essentialism like this: “To the African, the entire universe is vitalistic as opposed to mechanistic. . . . This precept suggests that African Americans have a psychological affinity for stimulus change, often exhibit an increased behavioral vibrancy and have a rich and sometimes spontaneous movement repertoire.”

Democrats often object that CRT is “not taught in K-12 schools,” which is evasive. It’s true that third graders are not being assigned the works of Kimberly Crenshaw or Ibram X. Kendi, but affinity groups, “anti-racism” (in the sense of rejecting the ideal of color blindness), and other CRT-adjacent ideas are making their way into classrooms. New York City has spent millions on training materials that disdain “worship of the written word,” “individualism,” and “objectivity” as aspects of “white-supremacy culture.”

I’ve given other examples, such as the Smithsonian’s ill-advised (and now removed) characterization of white and black “culture”, and explicit demonizing of whiteness in classrooms, which is divisive and sometimes traumatic, and the recounting by students and parents in New York’s fancy prep schools about the divisive propaganda those schools purvey. There is no shortage of examples.

Republicans and righties aren’t immune, either, attacking perfectly warranted and sensible school units on racism. Charen gives the example of Republicans attacking a school district in Tennesee because on grade had a “Civil Rights Heroes” module that the plaintiffs said was “Anti-American, Anti-White, and Anti-Mexican [sic]”. There’s little doubt that their attempts to ban teaching CRT in schools is motivated at least in part by racism and a continuing attempt to efface American history.

So a pox on both ideological houses, especially because both Republicans and Democrats agree (as do I) that the nature, history, and damage of racism need to be taught.

It’s so easy—and remunerative—for progressives to characterize opposition to CRT as straight-up racism, and for conservatives to reach for heavy-handed, overbroad laws to restrict teaching they resent. But it is possible to oppose CRT for non-racist reasons, in fact for pro-national unity reasons, and even if Republicans are not making the case well or at all, it still needs to be made.

Large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching about slavery, racism, and other sins of American history. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favor teaching that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Ninety percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Republicans believe textbooks should say that many Founding Fathers owned slaves. Nearly identical percentages of Democrats (87) and Republicans (85) say textbooks should include the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and slightly higher percentages want children to learn about the theft of Native American land.

That is not the picture of a nation (or even one party) that is refusing to grapple with the history of racism. Where you do get partisan divergence is on whether schools should teach the concept of “white privilege.” Seventy-one percent of Democrats say yes, but only 22 percent of Republicans agree.

This is getting long, so I’ll refer you to Eric Kaufman’s long survey of the divisions in America about CRT (click on screenshot below). A lot of it is age-related, with young people approving the teaching of “dictionary CRT” while older people oppose it.  Kaufman draws a distinction between “cultural liberalis” (those “classical liberals” who oppose the strict construal of CRT, and “cultural socialists” (those who stress the importance of identity groups over individual rights and favor the teaching of CRT). The ratio of the former to the latter in the U.S. is now 2:1, but Kaufman thinks as the young people of today age, they’re going to remain cultural socialists.

(You can see Kaufman’s full data and analysis here—in a much longer article.)

The cultural socialists on the Left apparently include the editors of Scientific American. A comment the other day on my post “The inanities of Scientific American—almost all within just one year,” went as follows.

The commenter:

This aways confuses me. I have been reading Scientific American in magazine form for years, and I haven’t seen ANY of this offensive stuff. Indeed, the February 2022 issue has an editorial by the Board of Editors basically blasting “wokeness” in American History curricula, and recommending more material covering the treatment of minority groups both historically and currently.
It would really help me if all these critiques of the “failing Scientific American” could cite issues and pages, so I could see for myself.

I have the article below, which I’ll send to anyone who wants it (it’s in the paper edition). Scientific American makes the mistake of conflating CRT with “reality”, using the construal that CRT is simply teaching about racism and its history in the classroom. The article (no link):

Here’s the abstract:


The authors emphasize the importance of critical race theory (CRT) to a fact-based education in the U.S. They cite the implication of the election of officials who opposed CRT and enactment of legislation banning CRT from school curricula in some states for children’s education. They mention the significance of lessons about equity and social justice to young people. They point out that truth and reality will be removed from education if conversations around race and society are eliminated.

I won’t go on except to say that the editorial flirts with the classical definition of CRT, but then says that that all it does is teach us our “true history” and that it “teaches children about reality.”  This is a good example of how the Left deliberately misconstrues CRT so that they can call people who oppose the theory “racists.” But that’s not true.

The title tells all.

91 thoughts on “Why both Left and Right distort CRT for political ends

  1. ‘when a dumbed-down version of CRT is taught in schools.’

    CRT is not being taught in schools. This is a right-wing talking point which is simply not true.

    1. Logic tells us that if CRT rules the higher education world, it is well on its way into grade school. Of course, how much it is taught and which parts varies among schools and school districts.

      1. That CRT is indeed being widely implemented in K-12 across the country is an undeniable fact (frequently in “lessons” about current events or under the guise of “ethnic studies”). The attempt to deny what is irrefutably true, by means of semantic games or on purely ideological grounds, will not persuade any truly intelligent and rational person.

      1. Please accept my apology; my criticism was not in any directed at your post (which I have read), but at those in the media who are attempting to obfuscate the issue. I should have been more clear, and I am sorry for the misunderstanding.

    2. this is barely different from saying new math isn’t taught in schools, plate tectonics isn’t taught in schools — what do you think teacher schools are teaching teachers and what teachers then go out and do?

    3. CRT is not being taught in public schools. It may be that CRT is a flawed theory (it is). It may be that there is legitimate debate about CRT in the halls of academia (there should be). But it is just not a “thing” in K-12 public education. Fears that CRT, which sounds mysterious and threatening to many parents, will be taught in schools is being used as propaganda by the right to gin up their base. It is along the same lines as lies coming from the right and now being published in letters to the editor in local papers around the nation that school classrooms have litter boxes to accommodate children who identify as “furries.” Total nonsense, but for parents who are worried that transgender kids are somehow a threat, the idea that a kid can identify not only as a different gender but as a different species entirely is alarming. It is all scare tactics. For what it’s worth (and I realize nobody asked what I think) I would argue that 1.CRT should be legitimately debated in academia 2.Anybody has a right to say whatever they want, whenever they want, about CRT, although this doesn’t protect them from having their views criticized 3.There are consequences when it comes to discussing CRT at present, like it or not. The primary consequence is that it aids the right in keeping naive parents stirred up and voting for Republicans. That’s how propaganda is often designed to work. It’s kind of like evolution deniers trying to make it look like there is a legitimate debate over the reality of evolution, when there is not.

      1. “CRT is not being taught in public schools.”

        Maybe not officially but certainly there are educators that want to. And we’re not talking about the old law school version of CRT but the “if you’re white, you should feel guilty” version. I don’t base this opinion on some kind of survey of school teachers and administrators but simple logic. All readers of this website know that the pernicious version of CRT is rampant among college academics and, especially, administrators. Are public school administrators, curriculum specialists, etc. immune from their influence or disconnected from that environment? Of course not. Stands to reason that their are all kinds of people trying to push that agenda within schools, probably surreptitiously because they know how parents would react to it.

        Rather than denying the incipient incursion of bad CRT into public schools, Dems and liberals would be better off focusing on making small steps toward more thorough and accurate teaching of the role of slavery, human rights, etc. in US history. In other words, focus on things that have a chance of being supported in a bipartisan way.

        1. Whether CRT in whatever form is taught in public schools is not a matter of pure logic. Rather, it is an empirical question requiring evidence. The fact that some college educators might be pushing CRT is not evidence that this is happening in K-12. So, do you have evidence to back your claim? “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” (Hitchens). So, let’s hear your evidence.

          1. You declaring that it isn’t a matter of logic just means you don’t like my argument. A logical argument is applied to premises. You can question my premises or my logic but I don’t have to provide evidence for the conclusion. If I had statistics on what teachers actually say about CRT in the classroom, I wouldn’t need to make a logical argument.

              1. Detroit K12 schools superintendent said in a public meeting that Critical Race Theory is deeply imbedded in their curriculum and named the subjects where it is used. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt says intersectionality, a CRT principle, is being taught in a cult-like fashion in some high schools and at colleges. Black linguist John McWhorter says “CRT Lite” is being taught in grade schools. Etc. You are gaslighting or in denial if you say otherwise.

              2. And why should I care what Haidt and McWhorter say? Simply saying that “so-and-so says” is not evidence. Do they offer any evidence, or are you just assuming that they can speak with authority on this issue?

              3. Furthermore, I checked and the superintendent retracted his statement. Was he wrong/lying the first time, or was he wrong/lying the second time? Either way, it is hard to base an argument on his changing pronouncements. The only way to know would be to get beyond his statements and find out what is actually happening in Detroit schools. Do you have any actual knowledge of what happens on a daily basis in Detroit area schools? Or did you do a Google search for articles on crt and pick the ones you liked?

                Here’s what I would suggest: If you really want to engage with me on this year old thread, maybe start by providing a definition of what you mean by crt.

  2. I leave a comment while subscribing to this post :

    I think “-ism”, and “-ist” especially, in the context of “teaching CRT” are taken as tacit, while I think to understand what those … affixes?… mean is nontrivial. So “-ism” and “-ist” need a chapter, perhaps, where students would examine how they or others arrive at these labels….

    Am I a footballist? Is Joe a Pianist? Well, Ahmed thinks Mark is a Percussionist and Aubrey says you are just a naturalist.

    And so on. Actually sounds like a useful exercise as I think-write it out but what do I know….

        1. You mean to analyze how “-ism”/”-ist” suffixes are put on words?

          It would generate thought as to how one person perceives themselves while another perceives them likely differently – of course the point being to become comfortable and know how to navigate when “racism” and “racist” start getting used.

          If one is comfortable identifying with a list of such isms, it should be easier to know what racism/racist means, and what do do about it.

  3. To go off on a tangent again: When, in the scientific process, can the Theory of Evolution become the Law of Evolution? Isn’t it past time? Jerry? Greg? Matthew? Anybody? (Bueller?)

    1. Neil DeGrasse Tyson said or (probably not) wrote about the words “theory” vs. “law” (I am looking for the source)… I might drop this…

      I recall “law” argued to be an old-fashioned term. Allow me a cherry-picking outline :

      Law of Gravity is 17th c.
      Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is 19th c.
      Theory of Relativity 20th c.

      … recently, he argued that global warming is “an emergent scientific truth” FWIW.

      Edited for 17th c. Newton… 17th! Wow!

      1. Thanks. Now you got me thinking, though, about those current scientific laws, e.g., motion, energy, gas, etc. Do their old-fashioned appellations carry no more weight? 🤔

        1. Which laws are you talking about? Biot-Savart law and Coulomb’s law, for example, are still a part of the theory of electromagnetism. Maxwell’s theory of electrodynamics subsumed it, but the old electromagnetism is still useful and is taught in schools. There are no precise definitions for terms like ‘theory and ‘law’, but the consensus is reasonable.

    2. The word ‘law’ usually applies to statements like F=ma or V=IR. The word ‘theory’ applies to a broader framework. What you think think ‘theory’ should change to ‘law’ at all? The theory of evolution is a theory like atomic theory.

    3. Thanks for the clinic, my friends! You’ve given me good ideas to ponder. My purpose in going off on this is to follow through Jerry’s implication that creationists and IDers retreat to the position of “evolution is just a theory” in their attempts to weaken the arguments for the truth of evolution. For years we’ve been trying to explain to them the difference between the scientific definition of “theory” and the use of “theory” in common parlance in order to correct this equivocation fallacy, to little avail. I’ve taken to talking about the fact of evolution, so, Ken, I’m excited to read Gould on the matter, thanks for the reference!

      1. Yes, that’s a great essay, and I often quote from it when trying to explain to laypeople why evolution is not just a “theory” in the vernacular sense of being a “guess” or a “supposition.”

  4. To understand CRT it is helpful to start with “critical theory” being a mode of analysis that interprets societies in terms of power, and so it divides people into “oppressor” groups and “oppressed” groups, and analyses everything in those terms. If this were merely one of a dozen different perspectives used to analyse society, then it would have some merit, but it goes badly wrong when it becomes the only mode of analysis.

    Critical theory applied to race (“CRT”) then effectively says that the only thing you need to know about society is that everything is about oppressors (whites) oppressing everyone else (people “of color”), and that all systems in society are about consciously or unconsciously maintaining that power imbalance.

    CRT is then all about uncovering and awakening people to these ubiquitous systems of oppression (hence the term “woke”) and thence about overturning them as the overriding moral goal of education and everything else. Hence CRT is “justice-seeking” activism, which takes precedence over ideas of truth, knowledge and understanding and objectivity (since these also are merely social constructs, and indeed are part of the very systems of oppression promoted by whites to oppress people “of color”).

    1. Coel, thank you for your excellent, useful and succinct explanation of CRT. I hope you will permit me to copy and use your explanation when I’m asked by friends to explain the concept.

    2. That is one of the best explained understandings of this hard to understand issues I have seen. This is why it is disliked by all and instead of teaching history it is examining the person. It is busy finding guilt which is one thing nobody needs. Thanks for making this perfectly clear.

    3. Re “CRT is then all about uncovering and awakening people to these ubiquitous systems of oppression (hence the term ‘woke’)…”

      There is almost certainly no explicit connection between the notion of “awakening people” via critical theories and the Black English vernacular, “woke,” as I understand it. “Stay woke” is known to have been used (to mean something like “be aware to racial prejudice around you”) since at least the 1930s, long pre-dating the concept of critical theory.

      This is not intended to suggest your comment is incorrect, only to clarify for anyone who might not realize that the genesis of CRT and “woke” are separate.

  5. If only we could create a generator in which, under controlled conditions, we bring racists and “antiracists” together, upon which meeting they annihilate and all their mass turns into energetic photons and other particles, releasing enough energy (through E=mc^2) to power the rest of the Earth for millennia if not for eons, while getting rid of two odious groups at the same time!

  6. A meta-complaint I have about all such arguments and interactions is that I WISH people would stop speaking/writing as if they KNEW what was going in other people’s or group’s minds. Neuroscience suggests that humans in general probably don’t even know very well what’s going in in their own minds, yet they make declarations like “Republicans want to…” this or “Democrats want to…” that, or whatever. I’ve never seen any evidence that any humans are much better than chance at guessing the inner workings and motives of the minds of others, or indeed that many of them even really try, and yet this fact seems to do nothing to curtail their apparent confidence. Indeed, it’s possible that it encourages it, since no one else can disprove such mind-reading statements directly, and refutation by the person or people in question often seems to be taken as if it were an admission of guilt.

    The minute anyone, anywhere, speaks as if they KNOW the mind and motivation of another person (except with evidence, of course, such as the person’s own words, taken IN context), I instantly reduce the credence I give to whatever they say then and in their surrounding speech. And all sides of THIS issue seem positively to ooze presumption about the workings of the minds of others. Understandably enough, such pretend clairvoyance does nothing to persuade any reasonable person, let alone to change the minds of those on the “other side” of this or any other discussion.

    This has been somewhat tangential, but the CRT issue in particular is so very rife with the problem that I had to express my objections. Apologies if I’ve irritated PCC(E) by doing so in the wrong place or time.

    1. I think mind-reading is unavoidable in this controversy. On the Left, we have education types misrepresenting their intentions by implementing the bad parts of CRT while telling everyone they are just trying to improve the teaching of history. On the Right, we have politicians trying to implement laws that probably sound ok to most people (not to those of us whose ears are attuned to the sounds of free speech being suppressed) but their intentions are far from pure. Both sides don’t want to wait until the students have already been programmed or the curriculum suppression laws are on the books. The often unspoken intentions of both parties are too important to ignore.

      1. I understand what you mean, and I think I understand the tendency, but one could always just say words to the effect of, “Your behavior gives the impression of someone who is trying to…” It would carry just as much logical weight, and make one come across as less accusatory and self-righteous…and I THINK that would make other people occasionally more amenable to rethinking their approaches. Maybe. When one is accused of being reprehensible and immoral by someone who presumes to know one’s mind, one surely is less prone to feel well-disposed toward one’s interlocutor, but when someone is politely told that, perhaps, they are giving an impression they don’t mean to give…well, at least it allows one to reassess oneself without losing face. Again, maybe.

    2. Hear, hear, Robert! My thoughts exactly. I’ve said as much before, but not so nearly as eloquently as you.

      There’s just way too much unjustified certainty in political discourse today. I think Twitter’s old 140 character limit takes some blame here. To fit in a Tweet, statements like “It appears to me that Republican’s believe x, y, and z” got edited down to “Republicans believe x, y, and z.” Now what was obviously one person’s opinion has the patina of certainty.

      The language we use affects how we think. So you start writing your opinions as certainty and if you do it often enough you become certain of it!

      1. Well put. I agree that what one says doesn’t merely express one’s thought, but influences it. After all, the one person who always hears what you’re saying is you. So to speak.

      2. Words like that are the first to go in my tweets. Lopping off the hesitant “I think …” improves them greatly by making my case with the forthrightness (I think) they deserve. 😉

    3. You’ve not irritated me in the least. You’ve come as close as anyone has to articulating (however tangentially) what is driving me nuts about the whole subject. The arguments seem to have taken over the substance. I’m sick of it

    4. Such “mind reading,” to use the term I’ve learned in therapy, is not just a scourge, but also, it seems, virtually de rigueur among some wokerati. That’s at the very heart of the notion that “intent doesn’t matter,” it seems to me, and every flung insult when one person *decides* that another is X, Y or Z or thinking A, B or C on very little information.

      Indeed, much of the current “woke” fanatics’ (yes, yes, I know; but it’s an easy shorthand, as is, let’s not forget, CRT, for many people) behavior looks to me like the opposite of what many therapists teach we should learn to do in human relationships.

      Don’t mind read.
      Take responsibility for your own feelings.
      Don’t try to force others to think/believe/feel as you do — every human’s brain is different.

      Seriously, if we put Joe or Joanna Woke on the couch, I’m guessing they’d show a lot of traits of personality disorder.

      1. What you describe sounds more like stereotyping than mind reading. It’s the slotting of someone based on their perceived membership in a group. Mind reading is more of a one-on-one thing.

        Both mind reading and stereotyping are valid modes of thought. They are shortcuts that we use all the time to deal with limited information. They mostly work but, as with all shortcuts, they fail sometimes. A person may not be a member of the group you think they are or they may not have the thoughts you think they do. It is fair for someone to suggest that you are making a mistake with one of these shortcuts. Of course, they may be wrong.

        Back to Wokeness, I don’t really see how you can conclude they have a personality disorder. As I see it, they are simply holding on to a bad set of ideas. Our best shot at defeating their goals is to counter their ideas with our own clear thinking, not try to get them committed to a mental institution.

    5. Agree. I even would claim that we don’t know exactly what is going on in our own minds. Unfortunately it seems we use mind-reading automatically and effortlessly to create conspiracy theories to put all people we disagree with in an enemy camp.

      While mind reading is extremely useful in everyday life (f.i. the evidence that individuals with autism display deficits in mind-reading is robust) it is probably not suited to discover truth (facts in accord with reality). Unfortunately large parts of the social sciences depend on mind reading; certainly CRT.

      This is part of an old debate within the social sciences, whether social science should attempt to emulate the methods of natural science (the naturalism versus interpretivism debate).

  7. Note to creationists and IDers who will use my last sentence to justify the teaching of their nonsense …

    Whatever the merits of John McWhorter’s contention that so-called “electism” isn’t just “like” a religion but IS a religion, no way would CRT qualify as a “religion” for the purpose of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which is the basis upon which the teaching of creationism has been banned from US public schools.

    1. An excellent point. Although I like McWhorter’s writing and thinking for the most part, portraying Wokeness as religion always seemed like a stretch. My main objection is its ineffectiveness as a weapon against it. Calling them “the Elect” also does nothing for me. What were they elected to exactly? Given the current brouhaha over elections, the term serves only to mislead.

      1. Not in the US constitution or statutes or regulations, which delimit the US Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.

        SCOTUS does not sit as a super schoolboard to determine whether subjects taught are wise or prudent; it rules on whether the acts of public officials comport with or contravene federal law (such as the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause).

        1. “if my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them.”

          – Oliver Wendell Holmes (though I think a paraphrase, not a direct quote).

          1. Spot on! “I always say, as you know, that if my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them. It’s my job.”
            Letter to Harold Laski (4 March 1920)

        2. Because my earlier (longer) reply seems to have been eaten by WordPress, I’ll try a shorter one: if teachers decide to indoctrinate children with a political ideology that has nothing to do with religion, such as communism or nazism, will this also be OK under US federal law?

          1. Under the US system of “federalism”, the national government is one of limited powers, as delineated in the US constitution. All powers not delegated to the federal government are retained by the states.

            “Education” is not among the powers delegated to the federal government by the constitution, so control over it falls to the individual states. Not to get too far into the weeds on this, but the one variation is that, where the federal government provides funding for education, it may make receipt of those funds dependent upon the receiving entities’ compliance with federal laws and regulations. (This is the case, for example, with regard to university-level schools that receive federal aid and their required compliance with Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.)

            So, Maya, the short answer to your question is “no”; the United States federal government has very little authority over the curricula taught in public primary and secondary schools (and, of course, none at all over the curricula taught at private primary and secondary schools that receive no federal funds).

  8. The Republican attempts to ban what they imagine to be CRT coheres with other authoritarian trends in Republican politics—such as the anti-abortion tsunami, Trump’s cries of “lock her up!” in 2016, the 2020 Trumpista attacks on free elections, and even the otherwise baffling rightwing tenderness toward the police-state kleptocracy led by Vladimir Vladimirovich. And, in perfect symmetry, the authoritarian trend on the Left is blatant in the cancellation fashion trend, in the evolution of DEI offices and committees into arenas for star chamber procedures and Maoist struggle sessions, and in the increasing imposition of “Diversity Statements” and similar loyalty oaths in academia and even in private organizations.

    One interesting question is: how did this all come about? Another is: when the democratic experiment
    is all over in the US, what about the rest of the Anglosphere? And, even if this sort of thing spreads to
    other parts of the Anglosphere, will democratic norms remain in such bastions as France, Denmark,
    Estonia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Japan, Uruguay, Palau, and Tuvalu?

    1. Democracy requires a healthy dose of trust. As a culture, we’ve spent the better part of the last two decades or more savaging the perceived motives and beliefs of folks with whom we disagree culturally and politically. Now we are apparently moving to be closer to folks with whom we feel an affinity in these realms. Not a good sign for a healthy democracy.

      I have a Republican friend who voted for Trump and believes the election was unfair. While he will finally admit that Biden won the election, he thinks the D’s cheated. When asked how, he lists some of the talking points from the stolen election conspiracists. When we get past those canards though he can list the parts of the blue machine and its actions that set the table for an unfair election. In his mind, the blue machine never gave Trump a chance. And the resources of much of urban America were marshaled toward Trump’s defeat. These include: the resources of the academic, entertainment and technology worlds, and most of big finance and the country’s elite. To his way of thinking, those handicaps plus the court required voting accommodations adopted during the pandemic created a questionable result to the 2020 election. The actions of the tech oligarchs after January 6th cemented the notion. I’m unsure how to marshal arguments to help rebuild his trust in free and fair elections given that construct.

      1. I think you’ve put your finger on what will replace the Big Lie, should it ever be effectively quashed. Just like structural racism, anti-Trump sentiment is baked into the system. May it ever be so. (The latter, of course.)

        1. I did not vote for Trump.

          That said, his instincts (at least), seem valid in some areas, such as a distaste for the overweening use of American military might, the sense that the U.S. immigration regime is inadequate or perhaps broken and the (perhaps phony?) recognition that “average Americans” are uneasy and in fear of “losing out.”

          I also strenuously disagree with many of his “policies” (I’m not sure the man has enough patience of mind to develop or have such), including the vaunted “wall” — ineffective; doesn’t attack the problem systemically; mostly symbolic; most of all, a true completed wall would wreak havoc for wildlife.

          But the primary reason I would ***never*** vote for Donald Trump is his manifest personality disorder, which causes him to view nearly everything through the lens of his own insecurities and to act almost exclusively in defense of his perilously fragile ego. Every word that tumbles from his facial cloaca and every deed screams “narcissist,” and I wouldn’t hire a truly damaged narcissist to rake my lawn, much less run the nation.

          I’m not a “conservative” (I don’t actually think Trumpsters fit the label), but I once was. I was a long-time journalist and had a lot of respect for both sides of the aisle in state legislatures I covered, the instinct toward etiquette, debate and compromise, and willingness to settle for “good enough.” I believe that traditional conservatives, like liberals, come to their beliefs in good faith.

          I think Trump’s millions are more or less a cult, at this point. Anybody who cannot see how his damaged personality is a recipe for lack of political success and potential disaster is not being very discerning.

          Thus, when Trumpers complain that the other side “never game him a chance,” they are right. We did, no decent, thoughtful person should have.

          1. Trump’s instincts have not much to do with furthering the interests of the country or even his voters. His instinct is in detecting what gets people riled up and using it to his personal advantage. If he pursues a policy that you think is helpful to the country, it is merely by chance. And, because his motivation is only to take advantage of people’s sentiment, rather than pursue the goals implied by them, he will fail to deliver.

            Take immigration and the border, for example. He made that the center of his 2016 campaign because he knew it would resonate with a certain segment of American society. He didn’t come anywhere near actually fixing anything. It was all a performance. As everyone told him, a wall would do nothing. In the end, he didn’t even build the wall.

            1. Which segment of the American population would Trump’s plan of building a wall resonate with?
              The tiny minority who don’t want 2 million illegal immigrants crossing the border each year?

              Which segment of the American population does Biden’s policy of returning Cuban refugees to Cuba resonate with?

          2. … his [Trump’s] instincts (at least), seem valid in some areas, such as a distaste for the overweening use of American military might …

            I’m not so sure Donald Trump has particularly strong feelings (or has ever even given much thought to) the use of American military power (or any other matter of foreign or domestic policy).

            Trump’s criticism of “stupid wars” and foreign military entanglements during the early days of the campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination was more a way for him to brand himself the “non-Bush,” back when Jeb was leading the pack and bade fair to be the next nominee than it was any type of thought-through policy position.

            Trump understood that harping on Dubya’s by-then highly unpopular military adventurism in Iraq was a way to distinguish himself from the Republican establishment as personified by the Bushes — not to mention a way of getting under Jeb’s skin personally. Once it became part of Trump’s “brand” during the campaign, he continued to run with it, since it proved popular with his fanbase.

      2. Well, you could ask him if he’s proposing a limit on campaign financing and advertising as a solution. I mean if he really thinks that all these academic, entertainment, and tech groups making public claims about (against) Trump and (for) Biden counts as unfair, then the obvious solution is to not let them advertise.

        Does he think news services and newspapers unfairly promote Biden? Well plenty of countries do a news/advertisement blackout ahead of elections. We could do that.

        Traditionally, conservatives oppose all that stuff, but if Trump’s loss makes them rethink the whole “money IS free speech” malarky they were celebrating about when SCOTUS came up with it, I’m all for that rethink.

        1. Well plenty of countries do a news/advertisement blackout ahead of elections. We could do that.

          We could. In fact, we did, to an extent. The McCain-Feingold Act imposed a blackout on campaign advertising funded by corporations or unions within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election).

          SCOTUS struck this down, along with the campaign finance provisions of McCain-Feingold, in Citizens United v. FEC. (N.B. Even the dissenters in that case agreed that any news blackout applied to media organizations, as opposed to campaign advertising funded by corporations or unions, would violate First Amendment protections.)

          1. The levers of cultural, academic, legal, technological, and much of the monetary power centers and the federal government apparatus were all aligned against Trump and his team and supporters for the entire four years of the Trump presidency. The system worked to thwart his worst impulses. He had a few successes despite that alignment. A few weeks of restricted political advertising won’t come close to equalizing the vastly inequitable resources available for national politics in Blue and Red America. I’m not sure it should be balanced in a democracy or even in a democratic republic. But it sure burns hot for Red Americans who have figured out the political, financial and cultural resource imbalance between Blue and Red America.

    2. Excellent summary, Jonathan, excellent. I wish I had the answers except it seems NZ is well on the way, and Australia.

  9. If I can move just slightly off topic, I’d like to recommend a recent book, The Second, Race and Guns in a fatally Unequal America, byCarol Anderson. This book will be removed from many school libraries for language alone and that is too bad. It gives us more depth and understanding of that hard to explain second amendment. It also adds an additional side to the reason for the amendment that I had not heard from some pretty good historians. It finishes the argument that the second amendment is about Militia and not about guns.

  10. Regarding laws prohibiting CRT…

    K-12 has never had full 1A rights and for good reason. Schools that want to teach science cannot be viewpoint neutral – we don’t want them teaching, or a teacher teaching ID or even teach the controversy.

    Same with history.

    If teachers want to teach CRT as one theory of several to High School students that may be one thing.

    If teachers want to teach 1619, that may be okay as well, though I would ask them to provide sufficient documented support for that from phds, same as any topic

    But I absolutely think we should prohibit anything close to privilege walks or any speech or practice by any teacher that suggests one group of kids should feel guilt or attach blame to other groups of kids due to their color, religion, or any historical sins of their fathers.

    1. “If teachers want to teach 1619, that may be okay as well, though I would ask them to provide sufficient documented support for that from phds, same as any topic.”

      What about the topic of evolution? It is “any topic.” I suppose you would not object if a creationist parent demanded documentation to prove evolution is true. What if no amount of proof would satisfy the parent? Would you support paying teachers extra to do all the research on a multitude of topics or subjects that various parents may demand? What about the gym teacher? Is it all right for a parent to demand proof that exercise is good for the child? What if some parents demand that the 1619 Project not be taught while others demand that it should be taught? Who would decide? Should there be a vote of parents? Or as an alternative, would you prefer that one class would teach the 1619 Project while another class in the school would not? You’re asking teachers to go down a bottomless rabbit hole. Or perhaps you believe that all subjects except history should be exempt from the demands of parents based on the premise that parents are experts in history and can decide what is “true,” but not anything else.

      1. The teaching of 1619 should be denied simply on the basis of it not yet being accepted history. Do we really want to teach grade school kids a theory that’s only been around a couple of years and is, to put it mildly, controversial? Although it generally makes sense to teach controversy, this is one that is too recent and emotional, IMHO. While we definitely should teach kids about race and history, there’s no requirement to teach them everything that people come up with.

        1. History is NEVER “accepted.” In their writings and research, historians revise, edit, amend, and re-write their understanding of the past. This is their job. Historians may and do differ on their interpretations. This is why, as I’ve written here before, there is no such thing as “true” history. There could be such a thing, however, as “false” history in which a writer of history intentionally distorts or leaves out important evidence. But, any reputable historian would not do this thing. If historians didn’t rewrite history, students would be taught that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, which, I would wager, will be making a comeback in some school districts.

          You can argue that the 1619 Project’s main article, not written by a historian, presents a wrong interpretation of slavery and race. But, you can’t argue that it would have to wait for acceptance because historical interpretation is never “accepted.”

          1. You are playing with words here. Of course, there’s no such thing as final acceptance of history, or science for that matter. Acceptance is a matter of degree. My argument, as I’m sure you understood, is that the 1619 Project has not reached anywhere near the level of acceptance that should allow it to be taught to grade school kids, unless it is only too teach them what modern historians are arguing about.

          2. The panic over CRT in primary and secondary schools bears the earmarks of an incipient Third Red Scare.

            I cannot recall an instance in US history in which the banning of books, or the enactment of laws prohibiting classroom discussion of a controversial topic, has ever served the commonweal.

            1. I couldn’t agree more. The ultimate goal of the far-right legislators is to revert the teaching of slavery and race back to the 1920s and 1930s when the issues that brought about the Civil War were viewed as over essentially trivial issues and if it were not for a “blundering generation” of politicians the war could and should have been avoided. In other words, the thrust of this legislation is to de-emphasize the role of slavery and race under the guise that the white snowflake students may feel uncomfortable. CRT is the perfect vehicle for starting, as you put it, a new Red Scare, for the purpose of gaining and maintaining right-wing power, which is the only right-wing “concern” about the teaching of history.

              In the 1950s the scare was a Red almost everywhere, including the classroom. Today, the scare is that there is a CRT teacher in every classroom whose goal is to corrupt the youth of America, particularly the white ones. McCarthyism burned itself out in the mid-1950s because enough Republicans repudiated the good senator from Wisconsin. Similar type Republicans do not exist today.

          3. There are lots of things that happened, and for which we have evidence. Take the Attack on Pearl Harbor. Not only is there physical evidence, but we have lots of first hand evidence from the participants on the details of the attack. More importantly, we have lots of analysis from people on both sides of the event detailing why they did what they did, from their own perspectives.
            Perhaps analysis of the sunken hulk of the USS Oklahoma might reveal that she sank faster than necessary because of flawed bulkhead design. Or a journal from one of the Japanese pilots might add some arcane detail about the specific formations flown during the attack.
            But it did happen, and you can teach it as true history, especially if you teach the motivations of the sides involved, and how previous actions and events contributed.

            1. The obverse obtains regarding the War’s end — there seems to be anything but a consensus among historians concerning either the US’s motivation for dropping the two H-bombs on Japan or the reason behind Japan’s decision to surrender.

  11. No comment on the overall “CRT is being/isn’t being taught” claims. But locally, anecdotally, best I can do is pay attention to my kid’s 5th grade classes, and object to it if I see it crop up. So far, so good, nothing to see.

  12. Parents are finding out that people are coming after their kids from an unexpected direction. Expressing their displeasure at the school board meeting, of petitioning the government to pass laws against what is happening is a pretty tame reaction, considering the potential harm to the kids.

    Of course the laws that are being drafted are clumsy and imperfect. The nature of legal prohibitions is that they need to contain specific definitions of what they want to address. CRT-based education is pretty hard to pin down that way, but what choice do lawmakers have? The current situation cannot be allowed to stand. It is telling that many of the teachers seem to go to great pains to prevent parents from learning about what happens in the classroom. And a significant number of the teachers and staff seem to be absolutely fanatical, even unhinged.

    Here is what I hope is an extreme example. It is from a right-leaning site, but it seems to conform to the facts of the case-

  13. Thanks for staying focussed on this topic jerry. CRT will be in the middle of K12 politucs in Virginia with our new governor this year…he started by an executive order on “day 1” and I expect little proper content to the discussions…on all sides. So I have spent much of the past month or so studying post-modernism, critical theory, and the various incarnations of critical race theory that pop up and have found jerry’s continuing focus and the broad expertise of the commenters to be very helpful. I have nothing of substance to add but just wanted to thank everyone for their contributions and references. Oh, I think that I recall Dawkins addressing the nuances around “theory” in his book, “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

  14. A superficial thought, as occurs while doing other things :

    It seems to me the language of “CRT” is used without regard for the way it intimidates. Delivered to “white” people, an intimidating effect seems apparent. Perhaps the intimidation woukd balance out the oppression it describes. That “white” people would react by banning it seems to support that idea.

  15. Critical Race Theory teaches that Martin Luther King was a colossal failure who achieved almost nothing for Black people and that his methods and principles were doomed to fail because of systemic racism.

    CRT teaches that what is needed is for people like President Biden to choose exactly what colour he wants his new Supreme Court judge to be, which is what Biden is doing.

    CRT is disaster for America.

    1. I am with you on the first and third but not the second. I think Biden should not have preannounced that he will nominate a black woman to SCOTUS. In fact it will make many think that his selection is a sort of affirmative action. It’s a good idea for him to choose a black woman but he should have built his list of candidates without respect to race or gender and then chosen the black woman from among them.

      1. Yes

        There’s a distinction to make … maybe with a difference?… here – an assertion that race, identity, “lived experience” – though different always – are irrelevant for a functioning supreme court or democracy – that the citizens can observe law works or doesn’t by the content of the characters.

        That a nominee can be chosen _despite_ their identities, such that … I guess … nobody has an excuse to complain about identities.

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