Christopher Rufo joins Brian Anderson to discuss his recent work on critical race theory (CRT) in American schools, the whistleblowers behind much of his reporting, and President Biden’s decision to revoke former president Donald Trump’s executive order banning CRT-inspired training in the federal government.
Read Rufo’s series on CRT in American schools:
- Failure Factory (Buffalo, NY)
- Gone Crazy (Manhattan, NY)
- Bad Education (Philadelphia, PA)
- Spoiled Rotten (UN International School)
- “Antiracism” Comes to the Heartland (Springfield, MO)
- Woke Elementary (Cupertino, CA)
- Radicals in the Classroom (San Diego, CA)
- Teaching Hate (Seattle, WA)
Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me on the show today is Christopher Rufo. He's a contributing editor at the magazine and a regular figure on this podcast. He's been with us a number of times. He's a documentary filmmaker based in Seattle. He's the director of the Discovery Institute Center on Wealth and Poverty. And as I noted, he is a City Journal contributing editor. You can find him on Twitter @realchrisrufo.
Chris has been writing an ongoing series for us at City Journal on the impact of critical race theory in American schools. He's up to eight pieces in the series and they've started really to generate a lot of attention. As many of our listeners are probably aware CRT or variations of it, has been popular in elite institutions like universities for a while now, but it's push into K through 12 education, both public and private has been motivated in part by the George Floyd protests this past summer. And it has, I believe been a wake up call for many Americans who find the content of this quite disturbing.
We've published, as I mentioned, eight of these pieces so far as part of the series and you can expect them more in the pipeline soon. If you haven't read any of them, I really encourage you to check them out because they're just filled with stunning details and we'll talk about some of the stories here on the podcast today. So Chris, thanks again for joining us as always.
Christopher Rufo: It's great to be with you.
Brian Anderson: Before we get into some of these specific cases you've written about. I wanted to recognize that you've developed quite an audience for your work over the last year. Many of the stories you've reported on have come from anonymous individuals or whistleblowers at companies or schools that are undergoing this kind of CRT inspired, diversity training or something very similar to it.
I wonder if you could explain to our listeners how your sources are contacting you, because this is very interesting. And what kind of folks are getting in touch with you?
Christopher Rufo: Yeah, it's been actually a really interesting to connect with so many people, but it's pretty simple. The more I report on these stories, the more kind of attention they generate, the more of an audience they build. I'm getting inbound communication predominantly through a simple kind of proton secure email box. And I have my very busy research assistant is sifting through sometimes hundreds of messages a day, from parents whose children have to do kind of a racial activist training in elementary schools or corporate executives that are trying to figure out how to fight back against this kind of woke politics in the boardroom and everything in between. And it's been...
I think, most interesting to get to know these folks and to really understand that they're like everyone else. They're mostly middle of the road people who feel no recourse to stand up against this ideology and their institutions. And leaking documents, in a way that protects their anonymity, is for most of these people the only way they feel they can push back.
Brian Anderson: Right, because when they do push back in these settings directly, they often find themselves in a lot of trouble, right?
Christopher Rufo: They do, yeah. I think two of the sources on stories that I've worked on or been kind of tangentially involved in, I think only two of the kind of what would have previously been anonymous sources came forward. In one case at the Sandian National Nuclear Laboratories, this person was placed on an administrative leave, was put under investigation. Another story that's kind of made the rounds recently was a woman who worked in kind of residential life at Smith College. She spoke out publicly against these kind of diversity ideologies. She was put on leave, placed under investigation and really pushed out of her employment.
So the message to people is really clear and I think the dynamic within American institutions right now is that, the people who are most aggressive, set the tone. They set the official dogma and then if there's anyone who dissents, especially publicly, they're really on the outs, they're in essence of setting themselves up to get purged.
Brian Anderson: The most recent in the series that you've been writing for us is about the Buffalo Public School District and as you note there, the story of Buffalo is unfortunately a sad and all too familiar one. It's a struggling old industrial town, which these days has some of the state's worst performing schools, especially in its inner city schools. But the one thing Buffalo schools do have, it seems as this incredibly active and vocal diversity's [SAR 00: 05: 23] In its associate superintendent. Whose name is Fatima Morrell.
Now she's been in the news before. Last year, she created a new curriculum promoting Black Lives Matter in the classroom and an anti racist training program for teachers. Could you give us a fuller picture of what's being taught specifically in this context in Buffalo and what you've learned recently about what's going on in some of their training sessions?
Christopher Rufo: Yeah. The details from Buffalo are pretty shocking and I've been working with whistleblowers within the school district to basically kind of cultivate more videos, more PowerPoint presentations, more slides building up a kind of trove of documents about what's happening in teacher training and in the classroom. And the diversity SAR is a kind of unapologetic, far left activists.
She says in one of the videos that I obtained that, "Teachers must become woke and achieve critical consciousness," which is a Marxist pedagogical idea developed by a theoretician named Paolo Ferrera in Brazil. Basically says the education system should be training students to identify their oppressors and then give them the kind of critical analysis and revolutionary consciousness that's required in order to eventually overthrow their oppressors. So that's the pedagogical model. And then the lessons are pretty shocking. And kindergarten teachers are now required to show a video of deceased black children, including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and some of the other cases.
And they're dramatize to actually speaking to the kindergarteners, warning them about, and I quote "Racist police and state sanctioned violence." This idea of really kind of putting the kind of fear and division into very, very young kids by middle school. Students in Buffalo are told that quote, "All white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism and white elites work to perpetuate racism through politics, law, education and media and this makes them unfairly rich."
So again, this kind of racialized, Marxist dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed. And finally by high school, the curriculum really moves towards teaching students how to become left-wing activists for anti-racism. There's one lesson for high school students where they're asked to confront their whiteness in the classroom to kind of confess their white privilege and to a tone for their white privilege by committing to use their voices for these left-wing courses.
Brian Anderson: And it really is right out of free air. And it's just so fundamentally alienating or it must be for these young kids. You just wonder where all that's going to be culminating. And when you think about how poor the Buffalo Public Schools are, it's all a more of egregious. It's not as if these kids are in many cases, even graduating from high school.
Last week your entry in this series was on a school in New York City, the East Side Community School. Which is an institution on the lower East side of Manhattan. As you point out there, the principal of the school recently sent a letter, encouraging white parents to become quote and quote, "White traitors and advocate for white abolition." Could you tell me a bit more about this story and what's the background of that principle? Was it similar to the associate superintendent in Buffalo?
Christopher Rufo: Yeah, it's somewhat similar. And this school is a public school in Manhattan and serves predominantly minority students. And by some of the kind of numbers that I've reviewed is actually a pretty high functioning school, but the principal is a kind of long time left-wing activist. He was reprimanded in the past for organizing student protests, where he was going to take students off campus onto the subway to protest in front of the district attorney's office in Brooklyn. The department of education immediately cracked down on him, forced him to stop this plan. He was even arrested in the school house for interfering with a police officer who was detaining and then taking a student out who had punched the school police officer in the face.
So this is a person who is just deeply enmeshed in left-wing politics. And I think a lot of these folks don't even see how these highly inflammatory phrases could be disputed. It's the kind of water that they swim in. And he sent a graph, a color-coded graph that says, "These are the eight stages of white identity." At the very far end, the kind of red side, the bad side is white supremacists. Eventually you move on to white confessional, where you confess the sins of your whiteness. And then as you said, you can become a white traitor, which is good. And then the highest form is a white abolitionist for abolishing whiteness. And these are the kinds of things that you'd expect in kind of-
Brian Anderson: [inaudible 00: 10: 47] even mean though, Chris? I don't quite understand how do you abolish whiteness? It's a kind of incredibly destructive way of talking about something that isn't under somebody's control or their skin color.
Christopher Rufo: I think it's part of this semantic game, where a lot of these left-wing intellectuals really want to rev up the language as far to the edge as possible. And they'll say on one hand they kind of... I think one reading of this is saying, "Hey, abolish whiteness." Is a euphemism that veers on very kind of almost genocidal language. Applied to any other racial group. There would be an immediate outcry, but they would say, "Well, actually we're not saying abolish white people in a physical sense, we're saying abolish the kind of metaphysical essence of whiteness that defines white culture and white institutions. And that whiteness is really a set of cultural practices and power relations that we need deconstruct and then reconstruct for racial equity."
But the language in all of these cases in Buffalo, in New York and other schools is... I've been reading a lot about the cultural revolution in China and it's not that far away, at least linguistically, from a lot of the really ugly movements of the mid 20th century.
Brian Anderson: The fact is this isn't restricted just to urban schools and left-wing cities. We're also seeing this kind of trend in non-urban schools, as you wrote in another entry in the series about a Missouri middle school. Could you describe that a story for our listeners a little bit and the oppression matrix that the teachers had to locate themselves?
Christopher Rufo: Yeah, that's right. This really is everywhere. Certainly it's in Portland and Seattle and New York and Buffalo, but it is also in the Midwest. It's in the South, it's in suburban communities across the country. And in that particular case, it was a Missouri middle school that was training teachers. They took all the teachers into the auditorium and they said, "The first lesson in this kind of anti-racism program is for all of you teachers to identify yourselves on an oppression matrix." And this suppression matrix listed traits of oppressors, white, middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual, English speaking Christian males and then the oppressed. So people of color women, religious minorities, sexual minorities and was basically saying, "We can divide this room into the oppressors and the oppressed." And creating this really artificial and really ugly division among teachers.
They also shared a kind of document, a kind of pyramid document that said, "Explicit white supremacy is things like lynching and the KKK, but there's another kind of white supremacy that lurks in the hearts of you teachers. And this is some things like... That is white supremacy is dressing up as a native American, as a Halloween costume or calling the police on a black person is white supremacist, no matter the context."
And they originally had even the Maga hat or Make America Great Again, as an expression of white supremacy. Although they took that out in a subsequent version. And again, it's this kind of political ideology that is being pushed in the institutions in a way that is very aggressive, it's happening very quickly. And most people are frankly too scared to stand up and say, "Wait a minute, this has a) nothing to do with our effectiveness and educating students and at the kind of other side of it, is really a kind of activist indoctrination of both teachers, rather and students."
Brian Anderson: You in part influenced by your reporting. The Trump administration had moved to crack down on this kind of radical pedagogy. The Biden administration has come in and immediately rescinded the executive order cracking down on critical race theory. I wonder where things stand on the federal level. And just recently we've heard news that a West Virginia is going to perhaps try to get rid of this in the public schools within that state through state legislation.
Christopher Rufo: Yeah. The executive order is actually, it's kind of an irony. The executive order is constructed in a way that basically says, "You can no longer teach these divisive concepts in public institutions." And the divisive concepts were basically stereotyping, scapegoating or demeaning people on the basis of race and sex.
So in a way it's a pretty direct reiteration of the kind of legal ideas behind the 1964 civil rights act. It just says you can't be racist or sexist or in some cases say that the United States is a inherently racist country or advocate for the overthrow of the United States government. Seems pretty basic that a public institution would not advocate for its own overthrow.
But the Biden administration framed it in a way that the Trump administration doesn't like diversity or doesn't like diversity training. Which was rhetorically successful but deeply dishonest. And one of the first things he did was get rid of it on the first day in office. One it was first 15 executive orders, but we've now seen some red States inspired by the executive order starting to say, "Hey, wait a minute. We don't want this in our classrooms. We don't want this in our state governments." And actually three States have now introduced legislation. West Virginia, recently before that New Hampshire and before that Arkansas, and I think there's going to be some other States in the coming weeks, also introducing legislation.
And it's bringing up these very interesting questions. And I think frankly some uncomfortable questions for people on the left who've been operating with impunity. Because people are now starting to see, "Hey, wait a minute. These very soft and anidine concepts, abstract nouns like diversity, inclusion, equity. When you actually see the very specific instances of what they're teaching, this kind of halo of neutrality disappears. And the reality of these programs emerges." And I think state legislators very wise to try to stop them.
Brian Anderson: Well, your work is certainly contributing to this effort, Chris. I wanted to thank you for joining us on the podcast today. For listeners please check out Chris rufo's work on the City Journal website, that's www.city-journal.org. We'll link to his author page in the description and you can follow him on Twitter @realchrisrufo.
Thanks again, Chris, for the great work you're doing and we look forward to reading more in this very important series who've been author.
Christopher Rufo: Thank you so much.