As I have previously noted, Texas is among a growing number of states that are passing laws to keep Critical Race Theory (CRT) out of public school curricula. Others are doing so through executive rule. These are good first steps, but as some have pointed out, we need to pay closer attention to what it is that is so pernicious about this particular theory for our school children. Critics of these regulatory steps also complain that rules or laws that would constrain certain kinds of classroom content amount to short-changing our kids in our true history with “speech codes” that ignore some of the unsavory elements of our past. So what is this theory and why all the fuss about a concept that has become a catch all and that most people have not bothered to fully understand?
One of my favorite liberal columnists, Bill Galston, in a couple of recent essays, has done good work in drilling down to the basics of a movement that originated in law schools in the 1970s and has since become a sprawling movement. His first resource is “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction”, co-written by one of the movement’s founders, Richard Delgado. He writes that critical race theory “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law”, all of which are foundational elements of the American creed.
To probe more deeply, Galston goes to a collection of essays by the movement’s founders and early adherents, “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement”, published in 1996. From this volume he pulled together from several essays some key founding elements of the theory as a philosophy and political movement, as follows:
- CRT denies the possibility of objectivity; scholarship about race in America can never be written from a distance of detachment.
- The theory moves race to the center of our focus and it aims to recover and revitalize the radical tradition of race-consciousness, a tradition that was discarded by integration and assimilation.
- The founders of CRT identified with Black Power movements much more than with those who were working for integration. In other words, this form of race-consciousness cannot be reduced to a class struggle.
- CRT is an explicitly left-wing movement inspired by the thinking of an Italian neo-Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, who was against classic Marxism and the class struggle.
- CRT offers a fundamental critique of the civil rights movement and the liberal ideology it reflects and scores the civil rights victories in the 1950s and 1960s as symbolic rather than substantive, and applicable only to discrimination by specific individuals and businesses, not as “systemic”.
- CRT rejects the principle of equality of opportunity and considers it a myth not a reality in America; the real goal is equality of results, and the metric of “merit” is unacceptable.
Obviously there is plenty not to like here that is completely antithetical to everything we know about America’s founding and creed and I will let Galston’s findings speak for themselves. The good news is that we have a creed that has served us well, beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and other instruments that spell out the American experience in full. As the editors of National Review have recently well noted, legislation is a blunt instrument; the long game should be more grassroots involvement in ensuring that schools teach American history and values with fairness and accuracy, warts and all, “but there is nothing improper, censorious, or unconstitutional in the people’s deciding, through their elected representatives, what should be taught to children by government employees in government schools on government property”. Amen.