The following is excerpted from Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child, published today by Center Street.
The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 set off a racial reckoning in the United States. The issue of race and how it is perceived and experienced in the United States was suddenly everywhere. Much of this national soul-searching has been a long-needed corrective. It has opened many Americans’ eyes to the experiences of their fellow Americans. It has shown us that life for some of our countrymen and women is marked by injustice and inequality. It has taken us back to the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., who called for the promise of the American founding—of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to be guaranteed to all Americans.
But this reckoning has also called forth a poisonous ideology that rejects the belief in the fundamental goodness of America held by Dr. King. It is an ideology that writes off America as irredeemably racist—founded on the exploitation of minorities, especially African-Americans, and dedicated to their continued exploitation. This America is divided into oppressors and the oppressed. White people are racist simply because they’re white. Other groups are automatically victims by virtue of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or their perceived gender. Far from being rooted in judging people by the “content of their character,” the America portrayed by this ideology is divided and at odds. And it can’t be healed. It can only be torn down and remade.
Critical race theory (CRT) became the catch-all phrase for all the racialized, divisive ideas about race being taught. Parents of all political persuasions and races were alarmed by what they saw. Their children, they believed, were being taught to hate their country and themselves. The education establishment responded to parents’ growing concern with condescension, denial, and technicalities. Defenders of the new teaching, from President Biden to school union bosses to members of the Loudoun County school board, told parents they were seeing things. What they claimed was on their children’s computer screens wasn’t there because, they said, CRT is not being taught in elementary or high schools. It was a “decades old” theory taught only in colleges and law schools.
That was and is a complete evasion. It may be true that CRT is taught in colleges and law schools, but that doesn’t mean the racism that animates it hasn’t found its way into elementary and high school classrooms. It has.
In 2019, an audit of Loudoun County schools by a consulting firm called Equity Collaborative concluded that the district’s public schools were a “hostile learning environment” for minority students and teachers. The county then paid the same firm almost $400,000 to create and implement a “Comprehensive Equity Plan.” Loudoun County High School changed its mascot from the “Raiders”—which was linked to Confederates in the Civil War—to the “Captains.” They produced a video apologizing for segregation. Teachers were required to undergo training for “cultural sensitivity.”
One of the training programs the Equity Collaborative offers teachers is called “Introduction to Critical Race Theory.” It defines CRT as centered on “the permanence of racism” in America. It is embedded in our system and even in the beliefs we hold. To overcome this internalized racism, teachers and students must reject tenets of liberal democracy such as “color-blindness, the neutrality of the law, incremental change, and equal opportunity for all.” These ideas function, the program continues, not to protect the inalienable rights of all, but to “allow whites to feel consciously irresponsible for the hardships people of color face and encounter daily and also maintain whites’ power and strongholds within society.”
In other words, the foundations of liberal democracy only perpetuate racism and injustice. But what were teachers supposed to do with this information? Keep it to themselves? Teach it in a law school class? No. The prompt for the final breakout session of “Introduction to Critical Race Theory” asked teachers to contemplate “How might you use CRT to identify and address systemic oppression in your school, district, or organization?”
Some Loudoun County teachers complained about a chart used in the training sessions that broke down Americans into two groups—one that “experiences privilege” and the other that “experiences oppression.” Christians were listed among the privileged, while non-Christians were deemed oppressed.
None of this stopped Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor in 2021, from claiming that it was I who had “made up” CRT.
The outrage expressed by parents wasn’t confined to Northern Virginia. School boards across the country were inundated by parents of students in schools infected with the racism of the new education ideology.
In Cupertino, California, third-graders at one school were asked to create an “identity map” describing themselves. They were told to list their race, class, gender, religion, and other traits. Then the teacher told the students they live in a country with a “dominant culture” of “white, middle class, cisgender, educated, able-bodied, Christian, English speaker[s],” which uses its dominance to oppress other people.
In 2019, as part of its effort to promote “equity, inclusion, and diversity,” Seattle Public Schools developed a “Math Ethnic Studies Framework.” The method purports to teach math by introducing divisive and unrelated concepts. For instance, the framework asked students to “explain how math dictates economic oppression” and to “explain how math has been used to exploit natural resources.” Students could also find math useful in “identify[ing] the inherent inequities of the standardized testing system used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color.”
In Lexington, Massachusetts, fourth-graders were taught to “articulate what gender identity is and why it’s important to use nonbinary language in describing people we don’t know yet.” They learned about “gender identity,” “gender expression,” “sexual orientation,” and “sex assigned at birth” by applying sticky notes to a “Gender Snowperson” drawn in Magic Marker.
These may not technically be examples of “critical race theory.” But in the minds of increasing numbers of parents in the summer of 2021, CRT was just a shorthand for the racism and inappropriate sexual material being taught in their schools without their knowledge or consent. And it wasn’t just happening in public schools.
The Grace Church School in New York is an elite private school that adopted the practice of routinely separating its students into groups based on race, gender, and ethnicity. One day a math teacher at the school was with a “white identifying” group of students when a diversity consultant hired by the school proclaimed that objectivity and individualism were “white supremacy” concepts. The teacher, Paul Rossi, confronted the consultant.
“Human attributes are being reduced to racial traits,” he said. The consultant responded by asking Rossi if he was having “white feelings.”
Some of Rossi’s students shared his condemnation of the racism of the exercise with their peers. When word of it got back to the school administration, Rossi was publicly shamed for his questioning. He was offered to stay at the school only if he agreed to “restorative practices” for the minority students he supposedly harmed. He resigned from the school instead.
Another parent of a child in an expensive New York City private school, the Brearley School, wrote a scathing letter to fellow parents as he withdrew his daughter from the school in disgust. Andrew Gutmann’s open letter to the Brearley community is worth quoting at length because it captures the dismissal of and disregard for the opinions of parents regarding the new educational ideology—even at a $54,000-a-year New York private school.
I object, with as strong a sentiment as possible, that Brearley has begun to teach what to think, instead of how to think. I object that the school is now fostering an environment where our daughters, and our daughters’ teachers, are afraid to speak their minds in class for fear of “consequences.” I object that Brearley is trying to usurp the role of parents in teaching morality, and bullying parents to adopt that false morality at home. I object that Brearley is fostering a divisive community where families of different races, which until recently were part of the same community, are now segregated into two. These are the reasons why we can no longer send our daughter to Brearley.
Defenders of the politicization of curricula claim that these are “cherry-picked” stories that paint a false picture of schools. But these are just a few of literally hundreds of examples that have come to light as parents and teachers feel more comfortable exposing the truth about what’s happening in schools.
And truth is what is desperately needed in our schools today. America’s past is stained by slavery and Jim Crow. Racism lingers in their wake. Any and all American history curricula should deal honestly and forthrightly with these facts. Certainly, Loudoun County, Virginia, has its own troubled racial past.
But the “woke,” CRT-infused ideology in our schools goes far beyond teaching the facts of our history or even acknowledging the ongoing challenges of our present. In the name of “antiracism,” racism is being taught to American children. Fundamental facts of our country and its founding principles are at best being overlooked and at worst being distorted and denied.
Perhaps most damaging to the education of children is the fact that the solution often advocated for achieving “equity”—reducing the gap in academic performance between races—is to lower expectations and standards for everyone, not to raise the achievement of lower performers. Even though schools are awash in new funding thanks to the Covid-19 relief bills, many are simply giving up on learning standards and an aspiration for excellence. Instead they rationalize their surrender with the twisted logic of critical race theory.
Last summer, Kate Brown, the Democratic governor of Oregon, quietly signed a law doing away with a requirement that high schoolers in Oregon demonstrate that they can read, write, and do math before they can graduate. The problem was that the graduation rate of African-American students lagged that of white students in Oregon schools. So the solution, according to Governor Brown, was to make everyone “equal” by eliminating standards. Without any apparent understanding that he was demeaning the groups the governor purported to want to help, the governor’s spokesman said that the elimination of the test will benefit “Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx [sic], Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.”
There is nothing more antithetical to achieving equality between individuals of different races than defining standards, merit, and hard work as “racist.” Lamentably, this toxic message isn’t just being spread in public schools. In 2020, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school chain announced that it was abolishing its traditional slogan, “Work Hard, Be Nice,” in an effort to tackle systemic racism. Apparently, the phrases “work hard” and “be nice,” in the KIPP leadership’s eyes, “supports the illusion of meritocracy.” By exposing that “illusion,” the once-great KIPP schools signaled to parents of all races that they no longer cared about the achievement and success of their students. But what parents want to send their children to a school that believes rewarding accomplishment is an “illusion?”