Across the US, parents are protesting against the implementation of new school lessons informed by critical race theory (CRT). Videos of parents passionately speaking up in opposition at school-board meetings have gone viral. At a recent meeting, the school board in Loudoun County, Virginia, heard a range of criticisms. ‘You’re teaching children to hate others because of their skin colour’, said retired senator Dick Black. Xi Van Fleet, a woman who survived the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s China, said the CRT lessons, with their emphasis on personal guilt, reminded her of those dark days. Students are being taught ‘to loathe our country and our history’, she said. The board quickly ended the meeting and called the police to arrest the protesters.
Media commentary on the parents’ protests has been dismissive and condescending. Parents have been presented as uninformed rubes who don’t know what they’re talking about. Commentators claim CRT isn’t even in schools, and that the parental pushback is just an ‘astro-turf’ movement ginned up by Fox News. The parents have been presented as a minority of aggrieved white Trumpists, whose objections are simply evidence of their bigotry. MSNBC host Joy Reid played a clip on her show of one tearful parent in Missouri, who exclaimed: ‘Just because I do not want critical race theory taught to my children in school does not mean I’m a racist, damn it!’ Reid laughed. ‘Actually, it does’, she said.
But these attempts to wave away the protests as illegitimate are unconvincing. The videos themselves show that the parents come from a range of backgrounds and perspectives. Many are indeed conservatives, but there are also many traditional liberals, as well as ‘normie’ parents who aren’t especially political. And some of the most impressive objections to the simplistic nostrums of CRT have come from black parents. ‘Telling my child or any child that they are in a permanent oppressed status in America because they are black is racist’, said Keisha King in Duval County, Florida. In Illinois, Ty Smith said: ‘How do I have two medical degrees if I’m sitting here oppressed… How’d I get where I am right now if some white man kept me down?’
Defenders of CRT in schools, who say it is all a myth anyway, are essentially telling parents not to believe their own eyes and ears. Mothers and fathers have seen the lessons their kids are bringing home in their backpacks. Many of them got a closer look as their kids did their school work at home during the pandemic. Many kids, including my own teenage son, are forced to engage in CRT exercises that spin a simplistic morality tale – that their race determines nearly everything about them, and that they are either an oppressor or the oppressed.
What often takes parents aback is the scope of CRT in schools. It is not just limited to social studies. Under the new regime, all subjects are meant to be viewed through a ‘race lens’ – including mathematics. In its toolkit to teachers, Oregon’s education department says that focusing on ‘the right answer’ in a math class is an example of ‘white supremacy culture’, while California’s framework for teaching math emphasises ‘equity’ and effectively eliminates calculus.
Journalist Christopher Rufo has almost single-handedly exposed the reach of CRT in US schools. Among his disturbing revelations are: an elementary school in California that forced nine-year-olds to deconstruct their racial identities, and rank themselves according to their ‘power and privilege’; a New York City principal who told parents that the school aimed to create ‘white traitors’ who would advocate for ‘white abolition’; and an Oregon school that trained students to interrogate their ‘white identity’. Rufo’s findings resonate with parents because they see their own kids having to undergo similar exercises.
The parental protests seem to have caught the defenders of CRT off-guard. Advocates and their media friends can’t seem to get their stories straight. The first defence they put forward was to deny that CRT existed in K-12 schools. They said CRT was an esoteric theory taught only in law school. But such dismissal-by-definition is evasive, and it is clear that parents have been objecting to specific school lessons, not the teaching of 1970s legal theory.