Teachers questioned how they could teach history and social studies through a social justice lens without rankling parents in the 'highly conservative county ... in the middle of Trump country.'
The curriculum-writing team in a suburban St. Louis school district plotted with a critical race theory advocate on how to keep parents in the dark about their efforts to inject leftwing social justice advocacy into their classrooms, according to a video of their meeting leaked online.
The video, posted on rumble.com in early July, is alleged to be a condensed version of a September 2020 webinar that members of the Francis Howell School District’s curriculum-writing team participated in. The webinar was hosted by their equity consultant, LaGarrett J. King, an associate professor of social studies education at the University of Missouri. He was described on the call as a specialist in the study of “race, critical theories and knowledge.”
It’s unclear who edited the video, which appears to have been posted anonymously by someone with the online moniker “wokeatfhsd.”
During the webinar, King told the predominantly white team members that “This is not a safe space,” but rather a “racialized space,” because “In many ways a safe space is a space where white people tell us how not racist they are. And this is not that space.”
King said “the first thing we have to understand is that our social studies and our history curriculum is political and racist,” and “there is no such thing as neutral history.” He then asked the team members to question whether they are developing black history curriculums through the historical lens of the oppressor. “We have made those who have oppressed people, the oppressor, we have humanized them,” he said.
The nation’s founding “means nothing to black people,” he said, calling history “psychologically violent” but one-sided. He also seemed to justify violence in the name of racial justice.
“All of our wars was about freedom, violence,” King said. “But yet, when black people say, ‘Hey … we need to take over, man. We need to burn this place down, we need to do this, we need to do that.’ ‘Oh no, you should do non-violence to achieve freedom.’ It’s silly. It’s prejudice.”
During a question-and-answer portion of the webinar, teachers and staff on the call questioned how they could reframe their classes to look at history and social studies through a more racialized social justice lens without rankling parents in the “highly conservative” community, which one teacher described as “the middle of Trump country.” King agreed that teachers could do away with verbiage like “white privilege,” while still getting the progressive message across to students.
One white teacher on the call said she’s been teaching about white privilege for a decade.
“Kids are way more open,” she said, “but then they go home and they tell their parents, and then their parents get upset. I don’t advertise to my students when I’m teaching U.S. history that sometimes I would consider myself the anti-U.S. history teacher.”
Another white teacher said because they teach in a conservative county, “Sometimes I think we have deferred to letting that stop progress. We let noise keep progress from moving forward.”
In a paper he co-authored in 2018, King acknowledged that critical theory was developed in the 1920s by German thinkers who “sought to extend Marxist theory into the changing social, political, and economic landscape of the twentieth century by talking about how culture and ideology encourage and sustain social inequality.” In order to “remain true to critical pedagogy,” the authors wrote, “teachers should work to identify questions that are important to students’ lives and that encourage them to reflect on the ways that they are either privileged or oppressed by social dynamics.”
While the district’s teachers have privately discussed their efforts teach students through a decidedly progressive social justice lens, school leaders have publicly denied this is occurring. At a recent school board meeting, superintendent Nathan Hoven said the district has not adopted critical race theory into the framework of its curriculum. “We are not and have no interest in advancing any political agenda,” he said.
“While we support the work and many of Dr. King’s contributions, we vehemently disagree with any suggestions that teachers or staff hide the work we’re doing from parents and taxpayers,” the district told National Review in a statement provided by spokeswoman Jennifer Jolls. “We always strive to make decisions that we believe are in the best interests of students, and do so in a way that is transparent and accessible to all stakeholders.”
School board members recently voted to approve black history and black literature courses as high school electives, according to local media reports. “Students and parents requested these courses be added to the curriculum and we are proud to offer them for those who choose to expand their learning on these topics,” the district said in its statement.
Truthful discussions never begin with lies. The 1619 Project is founded on a lie. It has no place in our nation’s schools
Parents across the country are revolting against activist school boards and teachers who are introducing critical race theory and propagandistic accounts of American history into classrooms.
One such history is the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which is already being taught in at least 4,000 classrooms in all 50 states.
The 1619 Project is an alternate history of the American founding that claims our nation’s true birthday was not 1776 but 1619, the year 20 slaves arrived in the British colony of Virginia. According to the 1619 Project, America was founded on racism and slavery — never mind the text of the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that all men are created equal, or the words and deeds of our Founding Fathers, many of whom deplored slavery and tried to place it on the path to ultimate extinction.
The 1619 Project avoids discussing how slavery clashed with the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence. Instead, it portrays our Founding Fathers as liars and frauds who did not believe the stirring words they wrote — and in fact wrote them to uphold the evils of human bondage and white supremacy.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats and liberals have lavished praise on this revisionist account of our history. The 1619 Project’s lead author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, won a Pulitzer Prize and quickly hit the lecture circuit. Then-Senator Kamala Harris quickly expressed her support, writing that “the #1619Project is a powerful and necessary reckoning of our history. We cannot understand and address the problems of today without speaking truth about how we got here.”
The response from actual historians, even many on the left, has been less favorable. The project is “so wrong in so many ways,” according to Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Gordon Wood. James McPherson, the dean of Civil War historians and a Pulitzer Prize winner himself, remarked that the project presents an “unbalanced, one-sided account” that “left most of the history out.” A history curriculum that leaves the history out? No wonder parents are upset.
Young Americans are in desperate need of history and civic education, as surveys often find that they do not know basic details about our history and system of government. The 1619 Project will not help Americans achieve greater historical literacy or a deeper appreciation of our nation’s Founding, which truly is the greatest political experiment in human history. Instead, students who are exposed to the 1619 Project will learn to despise their country and their fellow citizens. That is a recipe for division and disaster.
In response to parents’ concerns about the 1619 Project and critical race theory, we have introduced a bill to prevent federal funding from being used to teach the 1619 Project in K–12 schools. This bill, titled the Saving American History Act, would not prevent any local school from making decisions about what curriculum they wish to teach — but it would state firmly that federal taxpayer dollars cannot be used to teach a malicious lie that threatens to divide the country on the basis of race.
America’s students deserve to know the true story of our nation’s Founding, and to be able to grapple with, and debate, the difficult questions in our history. That story includes many great and noble chapters, from the abolition of slavery and Civil Rights Movement to the moon landing and the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny. It also includes many dark chapters where our nation has failed to live up to our own noble principles. Teachers ought to present this history in its full glory and tragedy, making clear how our Founding principles have inspired generations of patriots and reformers.
Truthful discussions never begin with lies. The 1619 Project is founded on a lie. It has no place in our nation’s schools.
Congressional GOP urges Pentagon to ditch radical politics in training materials
Troubled by an influx of critical race theory into the military, a coalition of veterans and congressional Republicans are demanding the Pentagon stop placating left-wing activists and focus on national defense.
A July 2020 film by the United States Air Force Academy football team endorsing Black Lives Matter and “antiracism” education prompted retired Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop to speak out against the school’s administrators. Military academies, the 34-year Air Force veteran said, should remain politically neutral, particularly at a time when Black Lives Matter protests have led to riots and violence throughout major cities across the country.
“Rather than e pluribus unum, rather than teamwork, rather than cohesion, we’re being taught an ideology which seeks to divide us based on the color of our skin,” Bishop told the Washington Free Beacon. “I’ve flown into combat zones. It didn’t matter if my copilot was black or not. How are we better for teaching all the elements of critical race theory?”
Bishop’s complaints were ignored by academy leadership. They heard similar stories from veterans at other schools and bases. Cadets spoke about running into books by Malcolm X and other radicals in a new “Diversity and Inclusion Reading Room” at the school, which did not return a request for comment. That experience led Bishop and Scott to start an advocacy group called Stand Together Against Racism and Radicalism in the Services. In under a year, STARRS boasts a membership into the hundreds, including dozens of officers and retired military officials.
“There’s a culture of fear within the military now,” Bishop said. “On the one hand, it’s okay to cheer on Black Lives Matter [on a military base], but if you speak out against this Marxist ideology you’ll be relieved of your duties. Ask yourself, ‘Is this what China and Russia are concerned about?'”
Many Republicans in Congress share similar objections to the injection of radical ideologies into the armed forces. On Wednesday, 30 of them called on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to “take action to fight back against the creeping left-wing extremism in the U.S. military.” Republicans in the House and Senate expressed alarm at the firing of U.S. Space Force Lt. Colonel Matthew Lohmeier, who criticized the “neo-Marxist” agenda infiltrating the military. House Republicans are demanding the military change course from its focus on diversity. With a growing threat from China, they argue, the military must remain focused on winning wars rather than appeasing fringe left-wing activists.
“The military’s long history of standing above politics has made it one of the most respected institutions in America and enabled our armed forces to both defend the Homeland and serve as one of the bulwarks of our constitutional order,” wrote Rep. Matt Rosendale (R., Mont.). “That legacy is now in jeopardy.”
The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment.
Announcements from senior Biden administration officials about new programs to crack down on right-wing extremism within its ranks have sparked outrage from Republicans. During his confirmation hearings in January, Austin told the Senate that the Pentagon’s job is to “keep America safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
Rep. Randy Weber (R., Texas), who signed the letter to Austin, said the imposition of critical race theory from top military brass is more damaging than the social media posts of individual soldiers. He called on other members of the military and the public to speak out and pressure the Pentagon.
“Patriotic Americans cannot stand idly by watching the politicization of our armed forces. George Washington—first a general, then a president—relinquished his commission before entering office,” Weber wrote. “A truly visionary leader, he recognized the perils of a politically-biased military. Our men and women in uniform are not lab rats in a social science experiment.”
How this pernicious ideology rejects rational inquiry and objective truth.
On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order 13950, “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” The order contained the kind of emotionally charged language about critical race theory that is seldom seen in these legalistic documents: “This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America 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.”
The order quoted from training materials being used by government agencies and from statements of the agencies themselves, such as this from the Treasury Department: “Virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism.” The department, according to the order, “instructed small group leaders to encourage employees to avoid ‘narratives’ that Americans should ‘be more color-blind’ or ‘let people’s skills and personalities be what differentiates them.’” Trump’s order was revoked by President Biden on his first day in office.
By this time, however, the ideas that had prompted Trump’s concerns had already begun to disturb the lives of the American people who encountered them. In a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada on December 20, 2020, Gabrielle Clark, the mother of William Clark, a twelfth-grader in a Nevada charter school, complained about the school’s refusal to accept her son’s objection to what was being taught in a recently revised civics course. Ms. Clark, a widow, is black. Her son’s father, however, was white, and her son was light-skinned enough to be considered white.
In her complaint, Clark stated that a new curriculum at William’s school “inserted consciousness raising and conditioning exercises under the banner of ‘Intersectionality’ and ‘Critical Race Theory.’” “The lesson categorized certain racial and religious identities as inherently ‘oppressive,’ . . . and instructed pupils including William Clark who fell into these categories to accept the label ‘oppressor.’”
Despite Clark’s and her son’s objections to what he was being required to admit about himself and his racial heritage, the school insisted that he take this course and gave him a failing grade — imperiling his chances for college admission — because of his refusal to admit that he harbored the views that were being pressed upon the class.
The remarkable thing about the school’s attitude was its refusal to recognize a student’s objection to the characterization of his personal views. As we will see, this is an insignia of what is now called critical race theory (CRT), which for reasons outlined below will not — actually cannot — accept any white person’s view that he or she is not a racist or oppressor.
Bari Weiss is a former employee of the New York Times, a highly educated and successful writer, who resigned from the staff of the Times in July 2020, with a letter to the publisher complaining of the development within the paper’s staff of a “consensus” that “truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job it is to inform everyone else.” Although Weiss has never publicly identified the “orthodoxy” she described in the letter, it is clear from her actions later that it is the same “divisive concepts” identified by Trump in his executive order and described in Gabrielle Clark’s complaint.
Since then, Weiss has taken up the cause of showing how widespread and dangerous these ideas have become. In a memorandum to her mailing list on March 10 this year, Weiss described the predicament of affluent parents in Los Angeles who see their children being indoctrinated with ideas about critical race theory but don’t protest, for fear of being called racists themselves.
In its way, this is as extraordinary as Trump’s executive order and the refusal of William Clark’s school to accept his protest that he is not a racist. This Los Angeles parents’ group, Weiss wrote, “is one of many organizing quietly around the country to fight what it describes as an ideological movement that has taken over their schools. . . . They are all eager for their story to be told — but not a single one would let me use their name. They worry about losing their jobs or hurting their children if their opposition to this ideology were known.” Another said her son begged her not to talk to Weiss. “He wants to go to a great university, and he told me that one bad statement from me will ruin us. This is the United States of America. Are you freaking kidding me?”
In February 2021, Jodi Shaw, a white female employee of Smith College, resigned, accusing the school of creating a “racially hostile environment” for white people. The incident that produced this reaction occurred in 2018, when a black student was found eating her lunch in a room that was not supposed to be in use. The janitor and the security staff, both white, had advised her to leave and, according to all reports, had acted properly. They were dismissed by the school after the student’s complaint of racism. The school then began a series of initiatives that were intended to eliminate “systemic racism” on campus.
This was not the end of the matter. On March 22, 2021, an organization called “1776 Unites” also wrote a letter to Smith president Kathleen McCartney:
We, the undersigned, are writing as Black Americans to express our outrage at the treatment of the service workers of Smith College. . . . Before investigating the facts, Smith College assumed that every one of the people who prepare its food and clean its facilities was guilty of the vile sin of racism and forced them to publicly ‘cleanse’ themselves through a series of humiliating exercises in order to keep their jobs. Smith College offered no public apology to the falsely accused and merely doubled down on the shaming of its most vulnerable employees.”
For purposes of this essay, the key element in the Smith episode is the failure of the college president to apologize publicly or privately to Jodi Shaw or the white service workers who lost their jobs without good reason. It reflects an uncompromising and unreasoning attitude that accompanies every example of how critical race theory is implemented. No quarter is given, as though no wrong was actually done. It’s as though the individuals involved are not of any importance — just the principle that “racial justice” be achieved. This is a characteristic of totalitarian ideas, and hostile to the concern for individuals that has always characterized classical liberal thinking in the United States.
Why This Is Different
What is happening in the U.S. today, however, is different from ordinary leftist bias. Even where the progressive Left is dominant, its members usually claim that open debate is a good thing. This is not the case with programs like critical race theory. There, as in the examples above, reason and compromise are abjured.
Where did this attitude come from?
It would not be surprising to find in this a link to Marxism, a belief system that does not depend on facts or evidence but asserts that capitalism is at the root of society’s evils, including racism. It’s likely that what we are seeing in the rise of critical race theory is a transmuted form of Marxism, characterized by the same rigidity of outlook but with an updated or modernized complaint about the society and social system it is attacking.
In Cynical Theories, a book on the rise of CRT, authors Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay lay the ultimate responsibility for the rigidity of CRT and related ideas at the door of an academic community that has become enthralled to a new philosophy called “postmodernism.”
A New Secular Religion Evolves
“Postmodernism first burst onto the intellectual scene in the late 1960s,” Pluckrose and Lindsay write, “and quickly became wildly fashionable among leftist and left-leaning academics.” In principle, it denied that truth was discoverable through reason and emphasized the importance of ideology. “The idea that we can come to know objective reality and that what we call ‘truth’ in some way corresponds to it were placed on the chopping block.”
This cynical view turned activist in the 1980s. Postmodernists tried to use this philosophy for “activism on behalf of women and LGBT and, in the United States, the Civil Rights movement . . . just as disillusionment with Marxism — until then, the main, longstanding leftist social-justice cause — was spreading through the political and cultural left. Given the catastrophic results of communism everywhere it had been put into practice, this disillusionment was well founded and radically altered the worldviews of leftist cultural elites.”
It is ironic that although American progressives have eschewed Marxism and its offshoots for well over a century, they should now have fallen in love with a successor to Marxism that is at least as radical and intractable. The difference is that critical race theory and related notions present themselves not as political theories but as purely social ideas.
Many things changed as postmodern theory turned to activism. Pluckrose and Lindsay write that
teaching became a political act. . . . In subjects ranging from gender studies to English literature, it is now perfectly acceptable to state a theoretical position and then use that lens to examine the material, without making any attempt to falsify one’s interpretation by including disconfirming evidence or alternative explanations. Now, scholars can openly declare themselves to be activists and teach activism in courses that require students to accept the ideological basis of Social Justice as true and produce work that supports it.
Obviously, where CRT is taught, it seals off all counterarguments and requires that whites accept the views of nonwhites about the realities of what nonwhites have experienced. No one, CRT proponents argue, who has not actually experienced racism as a black or brown person can claim not to be a racist, because no one who has not experienced racism can fully comprehend what it means.
This attitude inverts the truth, disrupts honest discussion between races, and denies any role for reason. In other words, the more a white person denounces racism and claims not to be a racist, the clearer it is, in critical race theory, that he or she is a racist. It should be obvious how this deceptive argument might be persuasive with young people in elementary school, high school, and even college who have not experienced much of the world and are taken in by this kind of argumentation from teachers or professors.
Wokeness and Reason
The denial of any role for reason or evidence appears to be at the very root of Marxism, postmodernism, CRT, and “wokeness.”
It is both stunning and appalling that critical race theory, a belief system that denies the values that have come down to us from the Enlightenment, can gain ground in 21st-century America. The pessimistic view is that societies, even those well-educated and culturally advanced, sometimes spin out of control over ideas that in retrospect seem lunatic. That happened in Germany in the last century. The support for unreason today in the academy, among university students, and in media such as the New York Times is a truly bad sign.
On the other hand, most Americans are not yet aware of what is happening among the elites and the threat it ultimately poses to democracy. When they realize what is being taught to their children, by large corporations to their staffs, or to the federal workforce, there could well be the kind of reaction that prompted Trump’s executive order. Until then, it remains a hope.