Published November 10, 2021
Many Democrats are responding to their electoral drubbing in Virginia with total denial. Concerns over education radicalism, especially critical race theory, were essential to Republican victories, but the cultural leftists who steer the Democratic Party these days keep insisting this is a fake controversy created by right-wing activists.
Either they are idiots, or they think we are. Probably both.
That critical race theory and its allies permeate public education is indisputable, and there are a multitude of examples. For instance, the Virginia Dept. of Education website promoted CRT even as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe denied it was in Virginia schools. Fairfax County Public Schools paid “anti-racist” huckster Ibram X. Kendi $20,000 for a one-hour chat session and spent another $24,000 on his books.
Leftists could defend this propagation of critical race theory and related ideas, or they could acknowledge that parents have legitimate worries and change course. Instead, they are denying everything. Responding to a story about a backlash to California watering-down its math curriculum in the name of racial equity, Ross Douthat joked: “Looks like another fake controversy designed and launched by one specific hard-right activist, working within the institutional conservative messaging industry.”
But a lot of Democrats really seem to think that they can sell this spin to voters. More remarkable still, many of them seem to believe it, a conviction that further demonstrates the extent to which critical race theory has conquered their minds. The sort of separation they are trying to create between CRT and what is happening in education is only plausible for true believers who accept the entire intellectual framework.
Consider the usual argument for why CRT is not being taught in public schools, which is that it is an advanced academic theory mostly found in law review articles and grad school seminars, so of course it isn’t being taught to children. This is like arguing that Thomism isn’t being taught in a Catholic middle school’s theology course unless students are assigned readings from the “Summa Theologica.”
Of course, Thomism can be taught without being assigned the works of the angelic doctor, and critical race theory can be taught without readings from academics such as Kimberlé Crenshaw. In both cases, the concepts and jargon are omnipresent in shaping the subject, even if the original source is not always cited.
Today’s left is as dependent on the ideas of CRT as Catholic theology is on the writings of St. Thomas. Most Democrats adopt the CRT patois of systemic racism and white privilege and genuflect before its shrines. This helps explain why some of them are able to, with apparent sincerity, insist that it isn’t being taught in public schools.
After all, a faithful theology teacher would probably describe himself as teaching the truth of the Catholic faith, rather than Thomism. Likewise, for true believers, the academic work of critical race scholars is but one exploration of the fundamental American reality of racism.
Such teachers see themselves as imparting the truth about our nation, whose history they see as one of white oppressors and non-white oppressed. For such a teacher, telling children that racism has been the essence of the USA for its entire existence is teaching them the truth. Training white children to dwell on their privilege, and black children to count their oppressions, is just teaching them the truths about life in systematically racist America.
This is how educators whose work is steeped in CRT can deny that they teach it — they believe the dogmas of CRT so thoroughly that the source seems irrelevant and academic to their work. This is not to say that there is no motivated reasoning involved. They would prefer to describe their program as mere anti-racism, or as one of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as a less biased label gives dissenters something to hang their objections on and to rally against.
Those pushing a top-down cultural revolution do not want a label, because that makes it harder to delegitimize opposition to their agenda. They believe that dissent from their position is by definition racist, so they think it beside the point whether their ideas and language can be specifically traced to CRT scholars and their allies. For them, CRT is just an academic part of anti-racism. The point is that America is wicked and must be cleansed.
But calling voters racist is a bad electoral strategy. So Democrats and their media allies have motivation to try to define CRT in a very narrow way even as they push its ideas onto students. This sort of pedantic point appeals to the midwits that dominate leftist Twitter. The thought bubbles are practically visible: “Ah-ha! They are treating critical race theory as a general ideology, instead of an academic movement! We have them now; it was just a right-wing con the whole time!”
Even if they have talked themselves into believing this, it won’t work on the broader public. The parent revolt will continue not because conservatives have made CRT into a boogieman, but because parents are horrified at the radical racial indoctrination being pumped into public schools. Critical race theory is as good a label for this as any, but the name matters less than the insanity it represents. Denying this and quibbling over labels will not make the Democrats’ education policies popular.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.