The past couple of months has seen a flurry of activity from concerned parents speaking out against the adoption of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other liberal ideas in K-12 school curricula nationwide. NBC news reported that at least 165 local and national groups had been formed to push-back against CRT as of June 1. On Wednesday evening, it was reported that police in Loudoun County VA, a place that seems to consistently find itself in the midst of these controversies, declared an unlawful assembly at a school board meeting gone off-the-tracks, resulting in an ugly physical altercation and the subsequent arrested of a parent. This grassroots movement has really gained steam lately and left-wing media outlets have been forced to take notice and respond.
Over the course of the past week or so, the left seems to have coalesced around the narrative that CRT is not in fact being taught in virtually any schools, and the parents driving this movement are woefully misinformed by news outlets like Fox and Breitbart. Moreover, the left asserts that these parents are actually pushing to have any mention of slavery or the atrocities of the Jim Crow era completely removed from the classroom. The Loudoun County School Board, the same district mentioned above, denies teaching Critical Race Theory to its students and claims that it is simply training teachers to be more “culturally responsive” in light of its increasingly diverse student population. Daniel Wessel, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee told Yahoo News that Republicans are intentionally manufacturing this controversy in an effort to win back the white suburban women it lost in the 2020 general election. He claims, “The Republican Party is hellbent on making up fake issues to divide our country.”
The narrative that CRT is an illusory concept and therefore not something that is actually being taught in schools has been echoed over the past two weeks by left-wing news outlets such as Yahoo, CNN, MSNBC, Vox, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and Slate. However, all of these articles offer differing definitions of the term or refrain from attempting to offer a definition at all. None of them are able to distinguish “critical race theory” from the underlying substance that is the cause of all the consternation on the right – namely, that the U.S. is systemically racist and that its underlying foundational institutions serve to perpetuate that racism, necessitating a massive change in the way that our government and society is organized. The attempt of left-wing pundits to obfuscate the issue with malleable language is obvious to anyone who is paying attention. An in-depth analysis of each of the sources cited above is beyond the scope of this article, but perhaps the best example is in the Slate piece, entitled “How to Avoid the Culture War Trap Around Critical Race Theory.”
Slate offers a “solution” to the problem of push-back to CRT by endorsing a model of education called “reflective patriotism” which is being proposed by a new group called Educating for American Democracy (EAD). Slate claims:
“Instead of viewing current social movements ominously as aiming to “destroy the Constitution,” as anti-CRT ideologues have claimed, EAD sees evidence of such mobilization as warning signs for a political order that has fallen short of stated ideals… [EAD] proposes teaching how individuals and groups “used agency in the face of oppression” to expand rights; it aims to prepare students to be agents in present-day challenges. It helps students explore the connections between “hard histories” and “contemporary debates” and how they and their allies can seek to avoid historical mistakes.”
Those on the right will no doubt point out that this very ambiguous definition of “reflective patriotism” sounds eerily similar to critical race theory, and the point about preparing students to “be agents in present day challenges” certainly sounds a lot like the current call to become a ‘social justice warrior.’ The substance of this new proposal is in fact the same as critical race theory; it’s just repackaged for marketing purposes.
Shockingly, Slate essentially admits this point as they go on to say:
“In EAD’s ‘roadmap’ for teachers of core themes and basic framing questions, it does not use the term ‘systemic racism,’ likely because of its objective to produce guidelines that could be widely adopted despite our polarized times. However, it includes critiques of those structural issues in all-but-name. For example, [reflective patriotism] calls for engaging with “hard histories” of inclusion and exclusion, and dynamics of “oppression and power.” (emphasis added)
So “reflective patriotism” doesn’t use the term “systemic racism” because it would hard to get the curriculum “…widely adopted in our polarized times,” but rest assured it contains “critiques of all those structural issues in all-but-name.”
This will provide little assurance to parents concerned that their children are not being given an appropriate civics education, and more importantly, it serves only to further blur the lines around what exactly critical race theory ‘is,’ and ‘is not.’ One cannot help but infer that this obfuscation of language around CRT on the left is done purposefully, to create speed-bumps for the grassroots movement of concerned parents. Furthermore, claims of any serious pressure to completely rid curricula of any discussion about slavery or oppression all together, are thinly-veiled attempts to provide cover for the defenders of CRT; sometimes the best defense is a good offense. No serious pundit on the right has come anywhere near calling for minimizing K-12 academic discussions of slavery and oppression beyond what they typically were twenty years ago.
The concern here is that children are being taught that our society and system of government are so deeply flawed that is not possible to effectuate change from within the system; therefore the system itself must be replaced. Call it what you want… “critical race theory,” “reflective patriotism” or anything else – until someone on the left offers a concrete, bright-line definition of what CRT actually is or isn’t, the term seems to be as applicable as any other in these circumstances.