Monday, March 06, 2023

For the 1,619th Time, No One Wants CRT Taught in Schools

Until about a couple of years ago, very few people had ever even heard of "Critical Race Theory," but today it is hard to find anyone who doesn't have an opinion about it.

Another indication of its influence is that it also now has its own acronym: "CRT." An acronym is not only a letter-saving device designed to simplify words that would otherwise constitute a mouthful, but, for some people, a thought-saving device allowing those who believe in whatever the acronym signifies to avoid the tiresome process of having to defend or even think critically about it.

Over the last year or so, parents have accused some schools, rightly or wrongly, of having taught, or planning to teach "CRT" in their schools. On the other side, there are those who challenge these claims. But, whatever you think of the anti-CRT claims, the defenders of these real or proposed or imaginary programs, rather than denying what their opponents claim is true have taken the strange position of saying that CRT is a pure creature of higher education (particularly law schools) and therefore could not possibly be taught in K-12 schools. 

I can understand the position that CRT isn't being taught in schools. I can understand that CRT is being taught in schools and that that is acceptable. What I can't understand is the argument that CRT is only a figment of parents' imaginations.

Their argument is not that CRT is not being taught in schools, but that it cannot be taught in schools (because it is specifically a program in higher education).

It's hard to argue with people who claim that what they are defending does not actually exist, but there you are.

What is Critical Race Theory?
Several ideas are associated with CRT. One is the denial that race is a legitimate natural or biological category: "that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour" (Encylopedia Brittanica, "Critical Race Theory"). 

Another is the goal of subverting all hierarchies it considers unjust, a belief that often takes the form of the subversion of all hierarchies under the belief that hierarchies are ipso facto unjust.

But the central idea of CRT is the idea of "institutional racism" "Critical race theorists hold that racism is inherent in the law and legal institutions of the United States insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans" (Encylopedia Brittanica, "Critical Race Theory"). 

One could argue that the idea of institutional racism preceded the formal doctrine of Critical Race Theory, but that is irrelevant to the point that this idea in fact permeates the theory.

"Institutional Racism"
In traditional terms it is hard to discern what the expression "institutional racism" could possibly mean. The explanations of Critical Race Theory by its advocates are often confusing, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the reason for this is that the people trying to explain it are themselves confused. 

Now there are only a few things that this could mean.

First, it could mean that there are people within the institution who are racist. If this is the case, of course, this problem is easily remedied: You find the racists and get rid of them. This is not controversial. Everyone agrees with it. There is no need even to debate this.

Second, institutional racism could refer to policies which have a racist purpose or consequence. Again, this is not controversial. Everyone agrees with it. Again, no debate here.

Third, institutional racism could mean that it is the racist history of the institution that makes it racist. But those talking about institutional racism don't want to go there, because it is the institutions they now control that would be the first casualtiesall the elite educational education institutions, numerous media organizations, and at least one of our major political parties. If this was the meaning of institutional racism, then they would have to close down the institutions they now run, such as the Democratic Party. And, of course, that's not going to happen.

Finally, there is the idea that the racist outcomes of an institution's operations might constitute its inherent racism. But by this criterion, that would mean that the NBA discriminates against Asians, and that the NHL discriminates against Blacks, from which it would follow that both are inherently racist, which is clearly preposterous.

So, for example, law enforcement institutions can be considered "inherently racist" apart from any actual racists or racist policies (point #1 above) or any expressed intention or purpose of being racist (point #2), but simply on the basis of their past history (point #3) or the frequency with which Blacks are arrested as opposed to Whites (point #4).

It is not that I am racist or you are racist, now the police are racist or schools are racist or America itself is racist. Furthermore, you may be perfectly non-racist, but your membership in a racist institution implicates you in racism.

According to this central assumption of Critical Race Theory, racism can exist even though no actual racist person or policy exists.

The Shift in the Locus of Responsibility
This hypostatized view of institutions, a view which stipulates that they really constitute some kind of moral entity which we can praise or blame for its actions is in direct conflict with the traditional conception of sin. Although CRT advocates do not state this belief in theological terms, their doctrine clearly implies that the locus of moral responsibility does not lie in individuals (the Christian view) but rather in institutions (the postmodern liberal view). It is another rendition of the modern tendency on the political left to deny original sin.

Of course this belief is not unique to CRT, but is an inherent principle behind all left-wing ideology. This is the central thesis of Thomas Sowell's Conflict of Visions: The Ideological Origins of Political Struggles and a central theme in all of the writings of Russell Kirk: that the fundamental difference between ideologies of the left and right is the belief or denial of individual responsibility, a belief most explicitly stated in the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. Edmund Burke says this explicitly in his Reflections on the French Revolution.

In this respect, critical race theorists have changed the very definition of the sin of racism. It is why they will frequently deny they are accusing any individual person of racism when they accuse an institution of being racist (even though, admittedly, they violate this rule on a regular basis).

Because critical race theory asserts that sin resides in institutions rather than in individuals, its advocates believe that the means to social improvement is the reform of institutions rather than individuals. Instead of the old way of mitigating racism (as taught in my day) by simply teaching the Golden Rule—that we should treat others the way we want to be treated—some now want us to teach political ideologies in our schools that, rather than focus on individual behavior, teach that our institutions are, or even our very system of government itself, is evil. No need for the hoary old individualist Golden Rule.

In fact, the main target of Critical Race Theory is not racism at all, but rather whole political, social, and economic institutions, which are to be forced to accept the left-wing dogmas based on the rejection of Original Sin, such as that race and gender are social constructs that have no grounding in reality, a belief which involves a radical reassessment of human nature.

Critical Race Theory, in fact, has little to do with actual racism, but is rather a purely political belief designed to change society along ideological lines. It is not that everyone should be treated equally or given equal opportunity, but that everyone must be equal in every respect, even if such equality must be brought about by force. It is a romanticist view of society and politics that has its origins in the French Revolution, where radicals inspired by thinkers like Rousseau (a proto-critical theorist) attempted to force equality on a national scale, only to bring about social upheaval and violence.

All this is not to deny that education programs sharing this central principle of CRT don't also promote "consciousness-raising," and "self-awareness" about racism, often taking the form of a personal confession of being racist (whether or not it is actually true). In fact, it is not uncommon to hear advocates of CRT or its doctrines call on individuals to confess their racism ("A little self-reflection might reveal some uncomfortable truths—such as ways in which you might be having racist thoughts or exhibiting racist behaviors without even realizing it."--, reminding one of the scene in the movie "The Killing Fields," in which Cambodian peasants are asked to confess their "pre-revolutionary lifestyles and crimes," except that, in CRT, you are not taken out after your confession and shot.

This inconsistency could be pointed to as a flaw in the conservative analysis of CRT—or simply seen as an inconsistency in CRT itself.

The CRT Label and the "Kleenex Defense"
Finally, there is the matter of the CRT label. Any time someone identifies some program or policy, such as the 1619 Project, as being an instantiation of Critical Race Theory, the defenders of the object of criticism immediately deploy the argument that Critical Race Theory is a program limited to law schools. The argument basically amounts to saying that something is not an example of CRT because it doesn't have a CRT label on it, even though it shares one or more of the central principles of CRT.

This is what I call the "Kleenex Defense": "It's not Kleenex, it's tissue paper." CRT is, for all practical purposes, a brand name, and the fact that advocates of CRT know what parents are referring to and act as if they don't is tiresome and disingenuous. It is an attempt to avoid the argument. Everyone on the left knows what is being said by parents who have a problem with programs that, in fact, teach the CRT doctrine of Institutional Racism. If you don't acknowledge this, then you're not an intellectually serious person.

Even if a school program that acts like CRT, looks like CRT, or talks like CRT, you cannot and must not call it CRT or (sigh) you are a racist.

Okay, lets call it "crt", without capital letters. Is that acceptable?

Whether you want to call it CRT or not, efforts to teach CRT's central beliefs, like the 1619 Project, directed by Nicole Hannah Jones (an activist  journalist, not a historian), and sponsored by the very liberal New York Times, would teach America's students that our country itself is fundamentally and inherently racist. 

The people who are sympathetic to CRT are now in full denial mode about claims that CRT is being implemented in schools or is being considered for implementation, and any parent who charges that it is (whether they are right or wrong) is a racist. 

But we know three things: 
  • First, that the chief and most characteristic doctrine of CRT is the belief in institutional racism. 
  • Second, that CRT is embedded in the very heart of the 1619 Project (—this is explicitly acknowledged both by self-confessed CRT advocates and promoters of the 1619 Project.
  • Third, that the 1619 Project itself and its outside promoters are advocating that it be taught in K-12 schools.
So if the 1619 Project promotes CRT and the 1619 Project is being promoted for use in K-12 schools, then what exactly are people supposed to conclude?

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