As the debate about critical race theory continues to engulf the political discourse in the United States, grassroots organizations and activists rely on a variety of methods to combat "woke" ideology’s influence on American education and counter what they characterize as a “destructive message.”
Over the past year, parents have become increasingly aware of content that their children have been exposed to in public, private and religious schools, as the coronavirus pandemic led to the widespread adoption of online learning.
The implementation of critical theory and elements of what they call “woke” ideology in the curriculum of American schools has caused some parents and conservative activists particular concern. It's also led to several conservative politicians voicing their outrage with the promotion of the academic framework, and some states to pass policies banning its teaching in schools.
American schools’ embrace of critical theory, controversial sex education, gender ideology, sexually explicit teaching material and other “woke” curriculums has led many parents and concerned citizens to launch advocacy groups committed to raising awareness about the situation in American education and providing parents with the tools to combat it. It has also led to the launch of political action committees seeking to elect school board candidates who oppose critical race theory.
One group is Parents Defending Education, which describes itself as a “national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas.”
“By the time students are 18 years old and they get to college … they have never received a proper civics education, they hate America, they don’t understand the First Amendment,” Nicole Neily, the mother of two who founded Parents Defending Education this past March, told The Christian Post.
“So, if the first time you hear … free speech or First Amendment is this is why [white nationalist] Richard Spencer can come to campus, then yeah, you’re going to hate it.”
Previously having run an organization called Speech First that “defends students’ rights on campus primarily through litigation,” Neily said that she was inspired to launch Parents Defending Education after seeing news articles about how some schools were providing benefits to minority groups and discriminating against white students in the name of diversity.
Parents Defending Education has compiled an "IndoctriNation" map of schools teaching students controversial curriculum based on tips from parents that also includes a directory of parent groups set up to combat “woke” ideology within public schools. She clarified that the map does not include “hearsay.”
“Everything is backed up with a screenshot, a URL … a Freedom of Information Act request,” Neily stated. “We asked the schools for comment. We asked the schools to verify that the information is correct. … We are only putting up information that we stand behind.”
“We have on our map about 100 parent groups across the country that have been created mostly within the past year, specifically to address political indoctrination in schools — not math, not reopening, not school choice, specifically political indoctrination,” Neily explained.
Among the concerns that Neily has with “woke” curriculums is the promotion of critical race theory.
“I honestly don’t think [critical race theory] should be banned,” Neily told CP. “When I did my master’s degree, I had to read Karl Marx.”
“Where I have a problem is when … [critical race theory] is taught to students … as the only way,” she said. “How some of these things are implemented, I think … it encourages discrimination.”
What is critical race theory?
Encyclopedia Britannica defines critical race theory as “an intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise 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.”
According to the reference source, “critical race theorists hold 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.”
Proponents of critical race theory, such as those at the New York-based Leadership Academy, argue that the steadfast opposition to the ideology arises from “fear and misunderstanding.” The organization trains educators on how to dismantle “systemic inequities in schools.”
“Critical race theory, at its core, is about acknowledging the existence and impact of race and racism in our communities and society,” wrote the Leadership Academy’s Mary Rice-Boothe and Jill Grossman. “It is about valuing multiple points of view and life experiences, which are essential for helping students learn to think critically about and participate in our global and diverse world.”
The scholars alleged that critical race theory is “central to culturally responsive leadership, which research and our experience supporting thousands of leaders across the country has shown is critical for disrupting inequities in our schools.”
Additionally, they stated that “equity and culturally responsive policies and teaching practices are about making sure students of every race, ethnicity, language, and other characteristics of their identity, feel valued and respected and have what they need to achieve academic, social, and emotional success.” Rice-Boothe and Grossman summarized critical race theory as “simply about humanity.”
The most prominent example of curriculum embracing critical race theory is The 1619 Project, a partnership between The New York Times and the Pulitzer Center that portrays the arrival of enslaved Africans on American soil in 1619 as “the beginning of the system of slavery on which the country was built.”
Launched in 2019, the curriculum framework places the institution of slavery at the center of the national narrative around the country's founding instead of 1776 and the American Revolution.
Christopher Rufo, a writer, filmmaker and researcher who has studied the issue extensively, defines critical race theory as “an academic discipline that holds that the United States is a nation founded on white supremacy and oppression and that these forces are still at the root of our society.”
Rufo, an outspoken opponent of critical race theory, added that “critical race theorists believe that American institutions, such as the Constitution and legal system, preach freedom and equality, but are mere ‘camoflauges’ for racial discrimination.”
According to Rufo, adherents to critical race theory believe that “racism is a constant, universal condition” that “simply becomes more subtle, sophisticated, and insidious over the course of history.” He characterized the discipline as a reformulation of “the old Marxist dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed, replacing the class categories of bourgeoisie and proletariat with the identity categories of white and black.”
James Lindsay, who hosts the “New Discourses” podcast, elaborated on critical race theory in a video for the nonprofit media organization Prager University.
An opponent of critical race theory, he quoted from two of its proponents, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, in an attempt to portray the philosophy as un-American: “Critical Race Theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, enlightenment rationalism, and the neutral principles of constitutional law.”
NEA embraces CRT as the public remains lukewarm
Earlier this month, Rufo reported that “the nation’s largest teachers’ union has approved a plan to promote critical race theory in all 50 states and 14,000 local school districts.” He shared screenshots showing that the National Education Association approved New Business Item 39 at its annual meeting and representative assembly two weeks ago.
New Business Item 39 calls on the NEA to make it clear that “we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project." The measure advocates for the publication of an “already-created, in-depth, study that critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, racism, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.”
The item also indicated an intention for the union to double down on its support for an “accurate and honest teaching of social studies topics … including critical race theory.” It also signaled an intent to “join with Black Lives Matter at School” to create a “national day of action to teach lessons about structural racism and oppression” and “conduct a virtual listening tour that will educate members on the tools and resources needed to defend honesty in education including but not limited to tools like CRT.”
While critical race theory has achieved a lot of support in academia, it remains very unpopular with the American public as a whole.
A poll released last month found that 38% of Americans had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the ideology. In comparison, 58% had a very or somewhat unfavorable view of critical race theory. Majorities of Democrats, liberals, African Americans and Americans between the ages of 30 and 44 viewed critical race theory favorably, while majorities of all other groups hold the opposite views.
The teaching of critical race theory at American schools is part of a broader trend of educational institutions embracing what critics refer to as “toxic new curriculums.” Parents across the country have spoken out in opposition to these curriculums, with parent opposition in Loudoun County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., receiving much media attention.
At a school board meeting earlier this year, concerned parents read aloud texts that the county’s children were exposed to in freshman honors English classes that included portrayals of domestic violence and graphic descriptions of sex acts. A video of the parents reading excerpts from the books, published by the grassroots organization Fight for Schools, has received more than 150,000 views [Warning: video contains graphic and sexually explicit language].
‘It is in everyone’s backyard’
Neily told CP that in addition to spotlighting groups of concerned parents and schools exposing children to material widely seen as problematic, she sees the mission of Parents Defending Education as seeking to “empower, expose and engage.”
The activist hopes to “empower” American parents by “[telling] people what their rights are” if their children attend a public school, specifically mentioning the First Amendment, Title VII and Title IX. She illustrated that while students have rights at public schools, “they generally do not have the same rights at private schools.”
Neily hopes to get parents engaged in their children’s education and equip them with the tools needed to share their concerns, such as “How do you write a letter to the editor?" "What are questions to ask your school board?" "How do you get involved in a school board race?" "How do you … file a Freedom of Information Act request?" "How do you file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education?"
Expanding on her organization’s goal to “expose,” Neily stressed that she's "very much a believer in the saying that 'sunshine is the best disinfectant.'”
She illustrated the need to make American parents aware of what their children are learning at school.
“A lot of this has been happening. People have no idea it’s in their backyard," she explained. "Many people believe that this problem is like primarily a California and a New York problem. It is not. It is in red states. It is in blue states. It is in private schools. It is in parochial schools. It is in everyone’s backyard.”
Neily said that during the pandemic, American parents "saw what their children were learning on a regular basis because classrooms were then in their living rooms.” She called that the “silver lining” of the coronavirus pandemic.
She recalled how finding out what their children were learning motivated parents to reach out to her and ask, “How do we get the schools to listen to us?” and “What can we do?”
The activist said an action taken by the public school system in Wellesley, Massachusetts, earlier this year is the worst example of “woke” ideology.
Following the shooting at Atlanta-area spas that left several Asian masseuses dead, the school district held a “healing space for Asians and people of color” during school hours, with the invitation for the event specifically highlighting that “white students [were] not allowed.”
Characterizing the event as “modern-day segregation,” Neily’s organization filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights with the U.S. Department of Education, citing the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled school segregation unconstitutional.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org