One of the Board of Education members in my school district told her friend that the district was not teaching critical race theory. We’ve often heard that defense from Board of Education members from around the country. Either they do not know what critical race theory is or perhaps they do not know what is being taught in their district. Or perhaps they are stonewalling. Whatever their denial, we know that if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it is likely to be a duck. They are teaching the common elements to critical race theory, critical ethnic studies, critical pedagogy and the like: there are the oppressed and the oppressors; there is an emphasis on race consciousness extending to claims that objectivity and merit are White culture; there is collective guilt and a victim mentality; and there are worries about the harm from microaggressions. Let us take a close look at several of these common elements and how they distort a robust and diverse understanding of society and history.
There was a recent poll that might help with this kind of protesting. This may be more effective with the general public than with school board members since board members are wedded to their illusions. There is more hope with independents in the general public. The poll was conducted for the Club for Growth in late July. [A WPA Intelligence national poll, conducted on behalf of Club for Growth July 20-28, 2021, shows that voters oppose teaching Critical Race Theory in K through 12 schools and disagree when they hear what critical race theory actually believes.]
Other statements would have been interesting to track as well, such as ‘objectivity is White culture’ and the same for merit. Different results might result by pointing to disparities, but that would assume the cause is racism, which is often quite debatable on empirical grounds. And it is correct to say that following critical race theory requires one to also to be anti-capitalist.
Given this trend away from teaching critical race theory, and given that more exposure to what it is more awareness is likely to lead to greater opposition to it, let us consider two core problems with this theory.
The first is the aim of many to be color blind with the emphasis being on one’s character, not the color of one’s skin. However, from a critical race theory model, such statements simply means that a White person cannot acknowledge race and thus offends a minority person by denying them their racial or ethnic experience.
One of these colorblind statements is ‘There is only one race, the human race.’
If a listener hears this message, it is unfortunate. Clearly, disparagement is a form of discrimination.
But when we teach biology and anthropology, we are aiming at fundamental understandings about human beings, not disparagement. What we see is an overreach by this claim of a microaggression.
Both in biology and anthropology, the statement that “There is only one race, the human race,” is absolutely true. You may as well as get rid of the biological sciences as well as anthropology if we cannot speak this truth.
Yes, there are biological differences, but ‘race’ would only exist if there were human subspecies that were geographically isolated from each other. That has not been sufficient in the human record to support the notion of races ─ war, migration, exchanging spouses for alliances, and more have undercut human isolation, especially in the United States.
The question is whether we need to impose this microaggression and tortured notion of humanity on students. Isn’t it more useful to begin a discussion of ethnic (not ‘racial’) studies that we are, in fact, all human, that we are all of one ‘race’ and that we should look to ethnic heritage with its tremendous variation.
Let us take an example that speaks precisely to these semantics. An example that I like to use in class is an observation that Tiger Woods made about himself. Tiger Woods speaks to the broad reality of a multi-ethnic heritage. From an individual perspective, multiple ethnic heritages are becoming more and more common.
Woods refers to his background as Cablinasian. He says his four grandparents are Caucasian, Black, Indigenous and Asian. He also says that if he was forced to pick one grandparent based on race is to deny the other three. This denial of the other three is the direction that the new race analysis takes us in. A positive approach draws on the cultures of each. But what if we forced Tiger Woods – or the vast number of Californian students that they must choose to be in one of those racial boxes, and that some races were lumped together as marginalized and set off against any White identity? That is what intersectionality and critical race theory expect in its pedagogy.
As an educator, I am not sure what imposing this ideology of identity does for educating one to play a role in a global economy ─ which is the ostensible goal of teaching ethnic studies in California.
Let us now add history and law into the mix of understanding how we see ourselves as Americans. When the question of race comes up, many will think of black and white relations. It is with this in mind that I want to focus on the book Caste by Isobel Wilkerson. The book became a best seller in 2020. And it had considerable impact. In one of my social groups, a friend of nearly 80 exclaimed that after reading this book, he felt so bad to be White that he wanted to dig out his white skin.
The book’s narrative, like many of the subjective narratives favored by critical race theory, speaks loudly to being a victim. In this case, the book looks at several defining characteristics of a caste society, chief of which calls for marrying within one’s group. In America, she notes there were 41 states that had anti-miscegenation laws – laws that made interracial marriage illegal. If one were to ask, what’s the problem with teaching that history? The answer is – there is no problem with teaching that history.
We did not and do not need critical race theory to tell us that those laws do not comport with American values.
So what is the problem with this book? And is this the same problem underlying much of critical race theory?
Here we enter into the importance of viewpoint diversity. Perhaps something important gets left out because we have been teaching with blinders on, and students are being asked to put those blinders as well.
Wilkerson’s book, Caste, leaves out a very important fact. In 1967, that is more than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned ALL of those anti-miscegenation laws. The case was Loving v. Virginia, 1967. If ─ we might ask ourselves, and our students ─ if caste is defined in an important way by laws against intermarriage, wouldn’t be helpful to know that those laws are all gone. We are no longer victims of those laws since they are evaporated into the dustbin of history.
Students might also be interested in knowing what the result of voiding all those laws was. In 1958, the Gallup poll found only 4% of Americans favoring interracial marriage. Now it’s 87%. Also, dramatically up are the actual number of interracial marriages.
What is significant for today, for what students need to know today, is that history, that major social, institutional and attitudinal change, has continued to evolve, especially over the past 50 years. That’s the elephant in the room and that is not in Wilkerson’s popular book.
As many have noted, the last 50 years have brought major changes in American society as a result of court cases and legislation. Attitudes have changed as well. And yes, we have room for further reform.
But treating today as it was over 50 years or more ago is a sin of omission. We do not need a pedagogy that suffers from wearing blinders to actual reform.
This is precisely why viewpoint diversity is critically important. When viewpoint diversity is left out, pedagogy becomes indoctrination. A ‘truth’ needs to be taught, but that ‘truth’ turns out to be an ideological one. With viewpoint diversity, we can work our way to a more informed understanding about how society can change in positive, and negative ways. Also, students can learn from debating competing perspectives rather than being forced into an identity box; this identity box approach is all the more problematic when the blinders favor the sense of being a victim, of having been marginalized.
I was invited by the good and embattled folks of San Diego County to address those matters of Critical Race Theory that disempower citizens by its rational shortcuts and and historical distortions. I delivered a speech August 28th which was the 58th anniversary of MLK’s most famous speech. When I first approached the subject, I considered a simplified description of CRT and the reasons why reasonable Americans have and will continue to fight it. But I realized they surely had their own reasons, much owing to the fact that they were parents themselves who had no desire to have their children boxed in by new interpretations of racial essentialism.
I think I was right to take this alternate tack which was to drill down into the matters of character that MLK alluded to. As I’ve written more extensively about in Forty Virtues, there was a time when schools did grade students on the content of their character. Today that has become something of a non-binding resolution of hot air that nobody gets called on. I begged to differ.
If Americans actually value character, it is something that has the possibility of saving us from foolish partisanship. So I would boldly propose that such evaluations take place in public school.
Free Black Thought (FBT) combats racial essentialism and the politics of racial authenticity by promoting public awareness of the great diversity of thought among black writers and artists. In so doing, we seek to highlight the unique contributions to public debates made by heterodox black voices from across the political spectrum. FBT is non-partisan: we pursue no political agenda other than a commitment to free speech, civil rights, and a conviction that a pluralistic society committed to liberal democracy is nourished by the entire spectrum of black thinking on matters of politics, society, and culture.
The Foundation for Free Black Thought is necessary because it’s difficult to get a wide open set of human possibilities presented to you with respect in today’s environment. Millions of Americans think they’ve got it right, that there is a fixed orthodoxy about race that goes all the way back to 1619 and that Americans cannot think their way out. That we are spoken for. We are not.
Racial essentialism is the box that we all need to think our way out of. We need to ignore, mock and repudiate all racial theories. It’s not so hard. I can prove with scientific accuracy that I’m not a minority. My blood type is O. We Os are 42% of humanity. If you ask the average American what to expect from a Type O, they won’t have a prediction because they haven’t been told anything. We haven’t socialized blood type consciousness. Yet we have socialized racial consciousness, and all of us today are suffering from a resurgence of these bad ideas. We are not spoken for. [Applause]
Our mission is not new. In fact, it’s something that is as old as Western civilization. It is engagement in the process of identifying errors and offering corrections. It involves the creative process of making conjectures that can be tested, and coming up with better ideas by evaluating the results.
In a way you could say that the mission of FBT, indeed all of our mission should be to destroy the idea of the black race, of the white race, of all races. In the same way Western thinkers destroyed all of the giant turtles that were holding up planet earth in the center of the universe. It’s something we already know how to do because we are constantly finding bad assumptions about people because of their race. We all notice people jumping to racial conclusions. It’s a big deal, but we are not involved in a revolution. This is a deliberate process that needs to answer 1000 skeptical questions and 10,000 stupid ones. Like, “Am I racist against X because I don’t like spicy food?” Seriously? It takes patience.
We all know what MLK said about the content of our character. Today I suggest to you that you speak less defensively about your race and more about the content of your character. Speak out about virtues. Let me drill down and identify a few. And as parents let me remind you that these are things that used to be on our report cards.
Generosity: the attitude and habits we demonstrate when we give towards the needs of others in a willing and cheerful manner.
Fortitude: the courage to stand up for what is right, even in the face of pressure.
Prudence: the virtue that allows us to determine what’s right and what’s wrong and then act accordingly.
Justice: giving to others what they are rightly due.
Temperance: controlling our desires and wants in order to achieve a greater good and meet our life goals. Temperance could also be called self-control. [Applause]
Assertiveness: achieving goals by setting appropriate boundaries, asking for help when we need it, and being confident and positive about our abilities.
Purposefulness: having a vision, clear focus, and concentration on goals.
Modesty: demonstration of purity of heart in action, especially in regards to conduct, dress and speech.
Peacefulness: having a sense of inner calm, no matter what is happening around you.
Clemency: poor choices, and disputes in a reasonable and consistent manner by not being too strict, but not being too lax either.
Honesty: sincerity, openness, and truthfulness in one’s works and actions.
Respect: recognizing the worth and dignity of every single human person. [Applause]
Patience: remaining calm and not becoming annoyed when dealing with problems or difficult people. This could also mean paying attention to something for a long time without becoming bored or losing interest. Like at speeches. [Laughter] So I ask you finally for…
Perseverance: taking the steps necessary to carry out objectives in spite of difficulties. [Applause]
I say again, these virtues are not on children’s report cards. What kind of society considers these optional? A failing society. What kind of society considers talk about race and ethnicity to be mandatory? A failing society. So we have work to do. We know how to do it, and we know that we should, because If we don’t, it’s turtles all the way down. [Applause]
It’s not a dream. It’s a necessity. It’s not an option. It’s a requirement for all of us and most especially for children.
My remarks here today move us to the practical realm and what you should do should you encounter a full-blown CRT activist in their native habitat. Which may now be your local k-12 classroom.
First, I’ll talk about WORDS. We have been using a lot of them very beautifully and elegantly. But I want us to pause, take a step back and think deeply about what it means to use WORDS. My hope is that this leads us to the most practical thing we can do.
So, what is a word and what are we doing when we use words?
For those who come from a background in the Christian faith the mystery of WORDS and the human capacity for language has been presented front and center as something DIVINE. the first words of John’s gospel go…
“In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with God, and the WORD was God.”
What in the world could that possibly mean? The Greek word for WORD used here is Logos, which points to the gift of REASON which EVERY human being has been endowed with. It makes us very special.
My time here today won’t be spent unpacking that mystery, but I begin with that just to SPARK OUR motivation and to ponder the richness of the gift that we have as humans from various backgrounds and traditions to have and to use words. It is amazing that we speak to each other in the way we do, it’s beautiful. Let’s not take this gift for granted. The wonder that when I speak you understand. By its very nature speaking has a unifying effect.
Interestingly, you cannot think a thought without associating a word with it. This is part of the phenomenology of language. When you go home and want to sit in your chair to test this, you can EXPERIENCE it as true. You cannot think a thought without associating a word with it.
So, given this relationship, what must it mean to change the meaning of words, or to remove words, or to corrupt words?
It means we strike at the very meaning of human communication, which has the ability to UNIFY through TRUTH.
Many here today have pointed out that words and the ideas they represent are being corrupted. Social justice, ethnic studies and racism have come to mean different things. Ideally words carry an agreed upon meaning that communicates something objective.
Fundamentally, language is about describing a reality OUTSIDE of ourselves. When we lose sight of this, and begin to think WE CREATE a reality without words— all kinds of problems arise.
Again, words are important because they describe realities outside of ourselves that we can SHARE in and LOOK at together.
The practical response to the erroneous vision of CRT is to recover shared meaning when we use words and charitably debate. We have to define words, have others define theirs and make sure we are talking about the same terms when we try to unify and come to agreement.
To give a great example of how this has gone wrong in action…. I have an excerpt here from a leader in anti-racist thought, corrupting the most important word in this battle, which is racism.
Ibrham X Kendi defines racism as “a collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.”
Notice here that he never defines the word racism. The audience in Aspen whom he presented this to GASPED in amazement when these words rolled off his tongue. What someone needed to do is shout and say, “NO! WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY RACISM?”. We have to push the defining of terms as a means to connect with other humans before we are going to work through this.
Racism classically understood is defined as biological determinism based on race. For example, it’s saying you are this race so you will act in this way. That is the racism to which we are all opposed. We are not determined to act in a certain way and its dangerous to carte blanche label groups this way.
History is full of examples where cultural revolutionaries redefine words by the conclusions they hope for. When you engage people remember that the ground solders pushing harmful ideologies often don’t understand what they are doing. Our friends in Aspen probably fall into this category. Political scientists (not me) have historically referred to the phenomenon of “useful idiots”. This is not a unifying term, so in a real sense it’s not helpful, but I bring it up because it helps us understand a phenomenon that played itself out in the past when something similar was happening. People propagandize for causes without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and they are often cynically used by the cause’s leaders.
I want to highlight that what we may be up against includes a mass of good hearted but mistaken activists. Many of them are not “idiots” but sophisticated thinkers who missed something critical and everything flowing from that thought is wrong.
We want to reveal to these citizens that what they are fighting for is not a good. We have to unmask this as so. We have to show that division as a category and strategy for healing is not helpful. Unity always wins, and division loses.
Again, this such a basic principle that it echoes in everything. Even the word diabolical from which we get the word devil means to divide or rip apart. Historical witness throughout the world tells us that division loses. You’re not going to divide your way to happiness. It’s not true. We need to help all our fellow sharers in the human adventure try to understand this and direct their gaze towards the good of unity.
Again, the racism we are opposed to is biological determinism based on race. That’s it. Agree. Then look for it. Expose it wherever it pops up in whatever new manifestation it chooses to rear its ugly head. The ideologies we have been discussing today are removed from reality. They are paper thin ideas. If you spray water on them, they will melt away. We cannot let false ideologies gain a foothold to incarnate themselves.
To reinforce everything, I tried to present I want to end with an excerpt from George Orwell’s 1984, the great dystopian novel about the totalitarian state. The name of the state controlled language is “NEWSPEAK”. In the novel, a member of the totalitarian party says “Don’t you see the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? … The revolution will be complete with the language is perfect”. Perfect here means a complete control of your thoughts to the nefarious ends of the party. For Orwell the language and the totalitarian political regime were one in the same thing.
I encourage you who are undertaking a struggle to confident, be generous, be patient. History and particularly the 20th century are full of examples where things suddenly took a bad turn. But there were also moments less noted where things took a course correction and suddenly got better. Your presence here today gives me to hope that this weird chapter in education history is in the latter camp.
I’m running in 2022 for a seat at the table to put the Unified back in San Diego unified.
God bless you & God bless America!
Let’s go UNIFY!