Mises Wire

Teaching Critical Race Theory Isn’t Education; It’s Indoctrination

A recent report by the Manhattan Institute (a conservative think tank) showed that critical race theory (CRT) concepts are being taught in many high schools across America. The report was based on a survey of 1,505 nationally representative Americans aged 18–20 and lends new weight to the idea that CRT is about training students to be social activists rather than teaching them how to think.

The survey asked students who were taught CRT (for example, that the US is a systemically racist country) how their teachers handled counter-arguments. The survey asked, “When you were taught these concepts, what were you taught about arguments against these concepts?” In total, 68 percent of respondents said that they either were not taught about arguments against CRT or that they were taught there were no respectable arguments against it. In other words, a majority of students across the country are being told that this far-left ideology is the only accurate way to see the world.

Many parents might be surprised by this focus on indoctrinating students, but the truth is that critical race theorists are open about their intentions when they are talking to each other. Robin DiAngelo—perhaps the best-known critical race theorist owing to the blockbuster success of her CRT manifesto, White Fragility—is notorious for this. In Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, DiAngelo and coauthor Ozlem Sensoy state that “education is a political prospect.” Is Everyone Really Equal? is a widely used textbook for graduate students training to be teachers. A generation of aspiring teachers are being told that their job is to turn students into political activists for the causes that DiAngelo and Sensoy care about.

It is not just DiAngelo and Sensoy. Across the board, critical race theorists see education as a training ground for future activists. In the prestigious UCLA Law Review, two critical race theorists said that CRT “engages students in social activism to defy majoritarian supremacy.” A workshop by the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference taught educators that “kindergartners are natural social justice warriors.” Dr. Alison Bailey, the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Illinois State University, explicitly rejects the idea of critical thinking:

The tools of the critical-thinking tradition (for example, validity, soundness, conceptual clarity) cannot dismantle the master’s house: they can temporarily beat the master at his own game, but they can never bring about any enduring structural change (Lorde 1984, 112). They fail because the critical thinker’s toolkit is commonly invoked in particular settings, at particular times to reassert power: those adept with the tools often use them to restore an order that assures their comfort.

Bailey essentially says that critical thinking might be used by those in power to maintain control, so we need to jettison the concept completely. It is tough to imagine a more openly indoctrinating worldview.

Another reason that we should not be surprised when students say they are not taught counterarguments to CRT is that CRT activists frame their hypotheses as axiomatic and therefore beyond question. At the National Race and Pedagogy Conference at Puget Sound University, scholar­-activists Heather Bruce, Robin DiAngelo, Gyda Swaney (Salish), and Amie Thurber presented several core tenets of antiracism. Developed by leading CRT practitioners, these foundational tenets represent how CRT is actually applied. One tenet is particularly revealing: “The question is not: ‘Did racism take place?’ but rather ‘How did racism manifest in that situation?’” The underlying hypothesis (that racism takes place in every single situation) is framed as something beyond doubt to preemptively undercut any disagreement.

When folks do have the temerity to question CRT, the reaction of prominent critical race theorists is dismissal. In White Fragility, DiAngelo says that every single white person is fragile. How does she know we are fragile? Because when she calls us fragile, we respond with a variety of behaviors including “argumentation,” “anger,” “guilt,” “tears,” “silence,” and “leaving the stress-inducing situation” (that is, the room where the person is being lectured about their fragility).

According to DiAngelo, if you are white, you are fragile. If you disagree, you have proved your fragility. If you remain silent, you have proved your fragility as well. And, of course, agreement is also proof of your fragility. This style of argumentation is known as a Kafka trap. You are accused of something. And if you defend yourself, your defense is considered proof of your guilt. As far DiAngelo and her fellow theorists are concerned, disagreeing with CRT is just further validation. No wonder students are being told there are no respectable counterarguments to CRT.

Why do CRT advocates openly endorse indoctrination rather than traditional education? They do this because they see social institutions (including schools) as so corrupt that they only produce fixed, preplanned outcomes. In Is Everyone Really Equal?, DiAngelo and Sensoy posit a zero-sum, bare-knuckle battle between different identity groups in which a dominant group seizes power and uses that power to maintain itself above oppressed groups. Schools play a critical role here. DiAngelo and Sensoy compare schools to the panopticon, a hypothetical prison in which inmates are always watched so that they only do what the prison guard wants them to do.

In the same way, DiAngelo and Sensoy believe schools (and other institutions) create a harsh atmosphere of self-policing in which white students are conditioned to do what the dominant group wants them to do; that is, continue to keep their boots on the faces of oppressed groups. If social institutions are so corrupt, seizing these institutions and using them to indoctrinate a new generation of student activists motivated to tear down the structures of the dominant group is a moral imperative.

When they are talking to the public rather than to each other, critical race theorists sing a different tune. They insist that CRT is only about teaching an accurate version of US racial history. It is time to call their bluff. There are plenty of gifted scholars, like John McWhorter and Glenn Loury, whose work can be used to teach the checkered history of US race relations without resorting to the indoctrinating nonsense promoted by DiAngelo and many other CRT practitioners.

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