Parents, activists pushing back against critical race theory’s ‘destructive message’ in America’s school
Reported By Ryan Foley, Christian Post Reporter| Saturday, July 17, 2021
As the debate about critical race theory continues to engulf the political discourse in the United States, grassroots organizations and activists rely on a variety of methods to combat “woke” ideology’s influence on American education and counter what they characterize as a “destructive message.”
Over the past year, parents have become increasingly aware of content that their children have been exposed to in public, private and religious schools, as the coronavirus pandemic led to the widespread adoption of online learning. The implementation of critical theory and elements of what they call “woke” ideology in the curriculum of American schools has caused some parents and conservative activists particular concern. It’s also led to several conservative politicians voicing their outrage with the promotion of the academic framework, and some states to pass policies banning its teaching in schools.
American schools’ embrace of critical theory, controversial sex education, gender ideology, sexually explicit teaching material and other “woke” curriculums has led many parents and concerned citizens to launch advocacy groups committed to raising awareness about the situation in American education and providing parents with the tools to combat it. It has also led to the launch of political action committees seeking to elect school board candidates who oppose critical race theory.
One group is Parents Defending Education, which describes itself as a “national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas.”
“By the time students are 18 years old and they get to college … they have never received a proper civics education, they hate America, they don’t understand the First Amendment,” Nicole Neily, the mother of two who founded Parents Defending Education this past March, told The Christian Post.
“So, if the first time you hear … free speech or First Amendment is this is why [white nationalist] Richard Spencer can come to campus, then yeah, you’re going to hate it.”
Previously having run an organization called Speech First that “defends students’ rights on campus primarily through litigation,” Neily said that she was inspired to launch Parents Defending Education after seeing news articles about how some schools were providing benefits to minority groups and discriminating against white students in the name of diversity.
Parents Defending Education has compiled an “IndoctriNation” map of schools teaching students controversial curriculum based on tips from parents that also includes a directory of parent groups set up to combat “woke” ideology within public schools. She clarified that the map does not include “hearsay.”
“Everything is backed up with a screenshot, a URL … a Freedom of Information Act request,” Neily stated. “We asked the schools for comment. We asked the schools to verify that the information is correct. … We are only putting up information that we stand behind.”
“We have on our map about 100 parent groups across the country that have been created mostly within the past year, specifically to address political indoctrination in schools — not math, not reopening, not school choice, specifically political indoctrination,” Neily explained.
Among the concerns that Neily has with “woke” curriculums is the promotion of critical race theory.
“I honestly don’t think [critical race theory] should be banned,” Neily told CP. “When I did my master’s degree, I had to read Karl Marx.”
“Where I have a problem is when … [critical race theory] is taught to students … as the only way,” she said. “How some of these things are implemented, I think … it encourages discrimination.”
What is critical race theory?
Encyclopedia Britannica defines critical race theory as “an intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour.”
According to the reference source, “critical race theorists hold that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.”
Proponents of critical race theory, such as those at the New York-based Leadership Academy, argue that the steadfast opposition to the ideology arises from “fear and misunderstanding.” The organization trains educators on how to dismantle “systemic inequities in schools.”
“Critical race theory, at its core, is about acknowledging the existence and impact of race and racism in our communities and society,” wrote the Leadership Academy’s Mary Rice-Boothe and Jill Grossman. “It is about valuing multiple points of view and life experiences, which are essential for helping students learn to think critically about and participate in our global and diverse world.”
The scholars alleged that critical race theory is “central to culturally responsive leadership, which research and our experience supporting thousands of leaders across the country has shown is critical for disrupting inequities in our schools.”
Additionally, they stated that “equity and culturally responsive policies and teaching practices are about making sure students of every race, ethnicity, language, and other characteristics of their identity, feel valued and respected and have what they need to achieve academic, social, and emotional success.” Rice-Boothe and Grossman summarized critical race theory as “simply about humanity.”
The most prominent example of curriculum embracing critical race theory is The 1619 Project, a partnership between The New York Times and the Pulitzer Center that portrays the arrival of enslaved Africans on American soil in 1619 as “the beginning of the system of slavery on which the country was built.”
Launched in 2019, the curriculum framework places the institution of slavery at the center of the national narrative around the country’s founding instead of 1776 and the American Revolution.
Christopher Rufo, a writer, filmmaker and researcher who has studied the issue extensively, defines critical race theory as “an academic discipline that holds that the United States is a nation founded on white supremacy and oppression and that these forces are still at the root of our society.”
Rufo, an outspoken opponent of critical race theory, added that “critical race theorists believe that American institutions, such as the Constitution and legal system, preach freedom and equality, but are mere ‘camouflages’ for racial discrimination.”
According to Rufo, adherents to critical race theory believe that “racism is a constant, universal condition” that “simply becomes more subtle, sophisticated, and insidious over the course of history.” He characterized the discipline as a reformulation of “the old Marxist dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed, replacing the class categories of bourgeoisie and proletariat with the identity categories of white and black.”
“…….the old Marxist dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed, replacing the class categories of bourgeoisie and proletariat with the identity categories of white and black.”
James Lindsay, who hosts the “New Discourses” podcast, elaborated on critical race theory in a video for the nonprofit media organization Prager University. An opponent of critical race theory, he quoted from two of its proponents, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, in an attempt to portray the philosophy as un-American: “Critical Race Theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, enlightenment rationalism, and the neutral principles of constitutional law.”
NEA embraces CRT as the public remains lukewarm
Earlier this month, Rufo reported that “the nation’s largest teachers’ union has approved a plan to promote critical race theory in all 50 states and 14,000 local school districts.” He shared screenshots showing that the National Education Association approved New Business Item 39 at its annual meeting and representative assembly two weeks ago.
New Business Item 39 calls on the NEA to make it clear that “we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.” The measure advocates for the publication of an “already-created, in-depth, study that critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, racism, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.”
The item also indicated an intention for the union to double down on its support for an “accurate and honest teaching of social studies topics … including critical race theory.” It also signaled an intent to “join with Black Lives Matter at School” to create a “national day of action to teach lessons about structural racism and oppression” and “conduct a virtual listening tour that will educate members on the tools and resources needed to defend honesty in education including but not limited to tools like CRT.”
While critical race theory has achieved a lot of support in academia, it remains very unpopular with the American public as a whole. A poll released last month found that 38% of Americans had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the ideology. In comparison, 58% had a very or somewhat unfavorable view of critical race theory. Majorities of Democrats, liberals, African Americans and Americans between the ages of 30 and 44 viewed critical race theory favorably, while majorities of all other groups hold the opposite views.
The teaching of critical race theory at American schools is part of a broader trend of educational institutions embracing what critics refer to as “toxic new curriculums.” Parents across the country have spoken out in opposition to these curriculums, with parent opposition in Loudoun County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., receiving much media attention.
At a school board meeting earlier this year, concerned parents read aloud texts that the county’s children were exposed to in freshman honors English classes that included portrayals of domestic violence and graphic descriptions of sex acts. A video of the parents reading excerpts from the books, published by the grassroots organization Fight for Schools, has received more than 150,000 views [Warning: video contains graphic and sexually explicit language].
‘It is in everyone’s backyard’
Neily told CP that in addition to spotlighting groups of concerned parents and schools exposing children to material widely seen as problematic, she sees the mission of Parents Defending Education as seeking to “empower, expose and engage.”
The activist hopes to “empower” American parents by “[telling] people what their rights are” if their children attend a public school, specifically mentioning the First Amendment, Title VII and Title IX. She illustrated that while students have rights at public schools, “they generally do not have the same rights at private schools.”
Neily hopes to get parents engaged in their children’s education and equip them with the tools needed to share their concerns, such as “How do you write a letter to the editor?” “What are questions to ask your school board?” “How do you get involved in a school board race?” “How do you … file a Freedom of Information Act request?” “How do you file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education?”
Expanding on her organization’s goal to “expose,” Neily stressed that she’s “very much a believer in the saying that ‘sunshine is the best disinfectant.’”
She illustrated the need to make American parents aware of what their children are learning at school.
“A lot of this has been happening. People have no idea it’s in their backyard,” she explained. “Many people believe that this problem is like primarily a California and a New York problem. It is not. It is in red states. It is in blue states. It is in private schools. It is in parochial schools. It is in everyone’s backyard.”
Neily said that during the pandemic, American parents “saw what their children were learning on a regular basis because classrooms were then in their living rooms.” She called that the “silver lining” of the coronavirus pandemic.
She recalled how finding out what their children were learning motivated parents to reach out to her and ask, “How do we get the schools to listen to us?” and “What can we do?”
The activist said an action taken by the public school system in Wellesley, Massachusetts, earlier this year is the worst example of “woke” ideology.
Following the shooting at Atlanta-area spas that left several Asian masseuses dead, the school district held a “healing space for Asians and people of color” during school hours, with the invitation for the event specifically highlighting that “white students [were] not allowed.”
Characterizing the event as “modern-day segregation,” Neily’s organization filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights with the U.S. Department of Education, citing the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled school segregation unconstitutional.
‘We’re fighting Marxism’
Parents Defending Education is not the only group dedicated, at least in part, to opposing critical race theory.
Kevin McGary, the father of two children, co-founded Every Black Life Matters approximately nine months ago. The group is a response to the “race hatred” and “violence” that resulted from the video of African American George Floyd’s “atrocious” and “heinous” death in police custody.
His organization aims to counter the Black Lives Matter movement, which he referred to as “radical revolutionary Marxists” in an interview with The Christian Post.
“We are founded based on fundamentals that say the nuclear family is important, that protecting black life from conception to the grave is important, that helping encourage black life from early childhood development in education is important,” he asserted. “We believe that having an active father as a part of children’s life is important.”
Acknowledging that “we’re sort of leveraging the momentum of Black Lives Matter,” McGary held up his organization as “the exact opposite of BLM” and the “antithesis” to the left-wing advocacy group.
Every Black Life Matters includes a “template library of … letters that are already pre-written for school boards, city council, other … people that are running for political office or are holding political office.” McGary told CP that all concerned parents have to do is “put their names on it and send it to those people.”
While much of the focus in the effort to push back against critical theory has focused on public schools, the ideology has infiltrated religious schools as well.
As The Christian Post previously reported, Loyola Academy, a Catholic school based in a suburb of Chicago, faced backlash from several parents after employing “diversity consultants” and conducting Zoom meetings where teachers included their gender pronouns.
Noelle Mering, a fellow with the Washington-based think tank Ethics & Public Policy Center, wrote an op-ed arguing that critical theory is incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. She discussed parents’ concerns about Loyola.
“Students were racially segregated for school assignments on privilege,” she wrote. “A working-class student was bewildered to learn that because of his skin color, he is an oppressor to his peers, some of whom live in multi-million dollar homes.”
The Grace Church School, a private Episcopal school in Manhattan, came under fire from both teachers and parents for integrating a “repressive ideology” into its curriculum.
Paul Rossi, a former teacher at the school, wrote an op-ed accusing the Grace Church School of pressuring students to “identify primarily with their race before their individual identities are fully formed” and assigning “the morally compromised status of ‘oppressor’” to one group of students “based on their immutable characteristics” as “dependency, resentment, and moral superiority are cultivated in students considered ‘oppressed.’”
McGary attributed the presence of critical theory and “woke” ideology in religious schools to the fact that “they are using critical race theory within our seminaries.”
“And so, we have woke theologians now that are coming out and spreading a false Gospel,” he said.
Echoing Rufo’s analysis, McGary sees the implementation of critical theory and “woke” ideology in both public and religious schools as part of a larger effort to advance Marxist ideology in the U.S.
“Marxism is really what we’re fighting against on all fronts at the moment,” he said. “It’s not necessarily these individual elements — CRT, liberation theology … social justice. Fundamentally, at their core, they’re all based in … Marxism. And so, we’re fighting Marxism.”
“What we need to help people understand is that Marxism has led to more human atrocities, more human deaths, more economic damage and collapse than any other system in world history,” he continued.
“… part of a larger effort to advance Marxist ideology in the U.S.“
Lambasting Marxism for causing over 100 million deaths and “all economic collapse,” McGary emphasized that “there is no actual great, perfect track record with Marxism.”
While he admitted that “capitalism is not perfect either,” he praised the economic system as “better than Marxism” by “any viable metric.”
McGary maintained that schools “should teach the good and bad of history.”
“If indeed we do have … Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, a lot of other founders and/or presidents who were slave owners … that’s fine,” he said.
“We should know the good and bad of … our patriots and heroes and our founders.”
He criticized the move to “expunge history and say that these guys were strictly bad guys,” pointing to some curriculum, “saying that George Washington was a plantation owner … and a slave owner.” He feels “they focus on that and really exclude the fact that he was an American Revolutionary War hero, that he was the first president.”
McGary opined that rather than teaching “accurate history,” critical race theory proponents instead seek to present a “revisionist history.”
‘A more patriotic curriculum’
In May, Ryan Girdusky, a conservative writer and political commentator, founded the 1776 Project PAC, a political action committee supporting school board candidates who explicitly oppose critical race theory.
Speaking to The Christian Post, he emphasized the importance of school boards. He stressed his organization’s mission to “get school board people in there who can actually start reversing it” by changing the superintendents and textbooks as well as pushing “for a more patriotic curriculum.”
He wants school boards to “start negotiating and countering these principals and these teachers who are pushing this policy.”
“There are many institutions working on creating an alternative curriculum in history,” Girdusky said, including Hillsdale College.
“There’s many institutions on the right that are looking to … get involved … with the program of changing curriculum. So hopefully, we can have a meeting of the minds and find the best options that we can put in front of school board members and say, ‘Can you consider this?’”
Girdusky clarified that his organization was not recruiting candidates but rather “supporting candidates who are opposed to critical race theory and the 1619 Project.” He elaborated on the role of school boards, which he characterized as “the only check really for the public school systems that voters have.”
“They can hire superintendents, negotiate with the schools. They can try to hold teachers and principals more accountable within the school system,” he added. “They can pick out which textbooks are … acceptable, and they purchase textbooks in many cases. They can pick out which outside reading material is acceptable.”
Girdusky acknowledged that “conservatives have been trying [for decades] to get children out of the public school into either private school … or charter schools.” However, he maintained that it is still essential to focus on fixing the public schools because “a majority of children will always go to public schools.”
Girdusky, who comes from “a very large family” with “a lot of younger cousins,” was motivated to start the 1776 Project PAC after discovering that as “many of [his cousins] were in school at home … on Google classroom” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Teachers were incorporating things inside their classrooms that were pretty horrendous and pretty shocking,” the activist claimed. For example, “children as young as 8, 9 years old were being taught things … about racial profiling from police. And one of the teachers basically … said that … police are all racist.”
“What’s happening at the schools and inside classrooms that I find horrendously shocking is … teachers telling … children that there’s implicit bias against them if they’re non-white or that white students have … implicit bias against … non-white people, and that the institutions that really … created this country and … keep our civilization are … inherently created to work against them.”
Consequences for society as a whole
Neily told CP that she worries that “we are encouraging people to hate each other, to doubt each other, to make judgments about each other based on immutable characteristics.”
She slammed critical race theory’s “destructive message.” Girdusky agreed, calling critical theory a “cancer that society is pushing.”
“It’s telling non-white children that they are handicapped in the society that they are raised in on purpose to hurt them. And it says that everyone from our Founding Fathers to entrepreneurs to … the heads of major companies today to their local government and their police force is implicitly working to … keep them down,” he explained. “It’s telling white children, some of which … are extremely young and have no understanding of race or the history of race in our country … that they are racist, that they are born racist … and that’s a terrible lesson to learn.”
Girdusky contends that this ideology will have “detrimental” consequences for the health of American society:
“In a nation that is … multiracial now and increasingly more diverse, it breeds [an] immense amount of social distrust.”
McGary said that the widespread promotion of critical race theory extends far beyond the classroom.
“The net impact is people are viewing … each other with a certain amount of distrust. African Americans have adopted critical race theory to such a degree that a lot of them are viewing white people with complete disdain just because they’re white, and … they’re viewing Asians with disdain,” he stated.
“There’s been a lot of Asian hate, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of coverage as to what is the predominant … ethnicity of the person carrying out those hate crimes and that’s because it’s an inconvenient truth that … blacks are viewing Asians as white-passing and they’ve internalized racist white supremacy. And so, they’re going after Asians with the same vigor that they have towards whites.”
McGary stated that the American public as a whole is “over-sensitized to race.”
“Every conversation, every civic discussion … 10, 12 years ago, we didn’t go around labeling people based on their skin color, whether you’re an oppressed, oppressor, whether you’re privileged or … supremacist … or racist or whatever. Twelve years ago, that didn’t exist.”
He warned that in “every real and every domain,” people are making “snap assessments about people based on the color of their skin and not the content of character.”
McGary connected the adoption of critical theory and “woke” ideology to the rising crime rates across the country. He predicted that “we’re going to see a lot more racial hatred and a lot more crimes based on race as opposed to any other factor.” He believes the “if people don’t get a handle on this stuff, we could actually see a certain amount of mass civil unrest in certain cities between races.”
“we’re going to see a lot more racial hatred and a lot more crimes based on race as opposed to any other factor.” He believes the “if people don’t get a handle on this stuff, we could actually see a certain amount of mass civil unrest in certain cities between races.”
All three agreed that critical theory runs contrary to the teachings of the late civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. Girdusky is concerned that “too many people confuse critical race theory with Martin Luther King Jr.’s conception of having a colorblind America and equality when, in fact, it is using race as the cornerstone of every inequality and inequity in society.”
“What happened to Martin Luther King? What happened to the … content of our character and not the color of our skin?” Neily asked.
McGary lamented that the country is “moving away from … the encouragement and admonition that Dr. Martin Luther King gave us.”
“We’re sort of moving away from that. We’re moving towards strictly analyzing people based upon the color of their skin,” McGary said.
Victories in the battle against CRT
Neily told CP that in the short time since Parents Defending Education was established, there had been “victories that have happened in different places.” She pointed to the town of Southlake, Texas, outside Dallas, where “they just cleared house with their school board” in an “anti-CRT wave that was swept in.”
She also praised the school district in the Chicago suburb of New Trier, Illinois, for adopting a K-12 version of the “Chicago statement” from the University of Chicago expressing support for “free speech and free expression.”
Another example of success against critical race theory is Palm Beach County, Florida. As The Palm Beach Post reported, following backlash from parents, the school board voted to retract a portion of an “equity statement” highlighting its commitment to “dismantling structures rooted in white advantage.”
It’s not just groups like Parents Defending Education, the 1776 Project PAC and Every Black Life Matters working to combat critical race theory and “woke” ideology in education. Several states have already banned the teaching of critical race theory or “divisive concepts” in their public schools, and others are in the process of doing so.
According to Education Week, 26 states have introduced bills or taken other steps to restrict the teaching of critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, while 11 states have enacted those bans as of July 15.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org