This month, FreedomWorks Foundation’s Regulatory Action Center and Building Education for Students Together (BEST) initiative have joined forces to push back against federal control of civics education. In a new proposed rule by the Department of Education (ED), the Biden administration is seeking to add new strings to educational grants that would require public schools to teach radical and contentious curriculum like critical race theory (CRT).
The Big Picture
As CRT has come to academic prominence in the last few decades, activist academics have consistently attempted to transition their ideas out of the ivory tower and into the schools and lives of everyday Americans. While critical theories have their place in colleges and universities, requiring primary and secondary schools to teach these theories in the place of traditional history and civics courses is a precarious proposition. Put simply, teaching CRT to younger students who have yet to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to analyze such issues threatens to indoctrinate our students with divisive theories of race and racism.
A Primer on Critical Race Theory:
- CRT is a hotly contested sociological theory that grew out of postmodernism and critical legal theory in the 1970’s and 80’s.
- CRT “is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that American is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.”
- In contrast to traditional sociology that studies the world in an effort to gain knowledge, critical theories study and critique society with the intent of remaking society in their image.
- CRT in particular views the world through a racial lens, positing 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.”
Biden’s New Priorities:
- Biden’s proposed rule would create two new mandatory curriculum priorities for schools that seek grant funding through federal American History and Civics Education programs.
- In outlining the priorities, the ED cites both Ibram X. Kendi–a prominent CRT and anti-racist academic and activist–and the New York Times’ controversial 1619 Project.
- The first priority is more contentious, practically requiring schools to teach American history and civics within the framework of CRT.
- The second priority would encourage schools to “foster critical thinking and promote student engagement in civics education.”
Why It Matters
The federal government should have no role in determining what sort of curriculum is taught in our schools. States and local school boards should be allowed to teach in accordance with their academic needs and principles. Tying contentious strings to federal grants flies in the face of this local autonomy that lies at the heart of the American education system.
To be clear, CRT, and critical theories more generally, are not inherently dangerous when taught and utilized in the proper environment, namely colleges and universities. There, students should be able to voluntarily engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue about different views of race and racism. The issue with CRT comes when academic theory becomes dogma. Accepting such ideas at face value, as most primary and secondary students do, threatens to indoctrinate our students with the idea that America is inherently racist.
In a country that has historically struggled with issues of race, teaching CRT to our students is more likely to create further racial division. The Biden administration’s goal of creating “identity safe” classrooms is belied by the fact that the theories they espouse are rooted in divisions around racial identity. If President Biden truly wants to bring “unity” to our country, he should start by upholding the principles of federalism and allow localities to freely manage their schools.