How would you feel if your child came home from school and said her teacher had told her that everything that happens in the world is “racist” and that she’s part of the problem because of the color of her skin?
That may sound far-fetched, but such disturbing ideas are coming to your children’s schools, if they are not there already.
In Michigan, an Educator Advisory Council to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer produced a report called “Social Justice and Anti-Racist Resources” that included an article in which the author says everything that happens today is racist and the only question teachers and students can ask is “How much racism was in play?”
In Buffalo, New York, the school district’s “Emancipation Curriculum” told children that “all white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism.” That statement was eliminated only after investigative journalist Chris Rufo, who is also a visiting fellow in domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, put it in a headline and embarrassed the school system.
The message that “anyone who does not believe in systemic racism is part of the problem” is sadly permeating all the literature on race in America today.
At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian institution funded by taxpayers, officials released a document last year intended for use in schools that claimed ideas such as “hard work is the key to success” and that trying to “be polite” are evidence of an oppressive society.
Here again, museum officials withdrew the document only after complaints.
Examples such as these are common in K-12 schools today. When educators treat students differently because of their skin color or say children are guilty of oppression because of their race, it violates existing law. It should go without saying, but such dogma is also dispiriting for all children, white or non-white.
These ideas of oppression and systemic racism come from a Marxist doctrine called “critical theory.” Over the past 40 years, college professors and activists expanded critical theory into what is now called “critical race theory,” a worldview that “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”
The curriculums and trainings cited above clearly belong to the critical race theory discipline.
Last year, then-President Donald Trump blocked federal agencies and contractors from training federal employees to think that America is irredeemably racist, but President Joe Biden rescinded the ban on his very first day in office.
Now, state officials have the responsibility to make sure public school employees and those in other public institutions do not violate the Civil Rights Act or the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by calling for people to be treated differently according to race, sex, or national origin.
State lawmakers in New Hampshire, Louisiana, Florida, and elsewhere are considering proposals that reinforce federal law—and reject the “woke” culture of victimhood.
Because progressives have pounced on these moves as proof that conservatives are practicing cancel culture and intolerance, we released a report that explains why any reasonable interpretation of the 14th Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 means that implementing critical race theory in the manner described in the examples cited violates existing laws. The Civil Rights Act specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, or national origin.
Teachers have a responsibility to help students understand different perspectives on controversial issues, and we should not ban the teaching of critical race theory. But increasingly, parents, policymakers, and the media are uncovering instructional materials that apply critical race theory, proclaiming that America is systemically racist and that people should be treated differently based on the color of their skin or their national origin.
Those ideas will not create a national identity that the future lawyers, doctors, and lawmakers—not to mention parents, neighbors, and co-workers—can share. State officials, local school board members, and educators have the power—and the right—to prevent this new material from telling students that there is no America, only tribes competing for power.
Anyone living in a nation alongside people from different ethnic backgrounds should take seriously the issues of race and equality under the law, but Americans also need to recognize the difference between separate racist acts and a legal system stacked against individuals from certain ethnicities.
Racist acts are deplorable and should be condemned. Yet, declaring Americans to be systemically racist today is a sign of disrespect to those brave souls who marched in civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s, fought to defend our way of life overseas, or are protecting our streets and communities now.
State lawmakers and local education officials must make sure new K-12 lessons do not discriminate by race, sex, national origin, or any other immutable characteristic because such discrimination violates federal law.
And after all who have sacrificed to help America live up to her promise, we should hope that teaching students to treat people differently based on skin color would be “far-fetched” again someday.
This commentary has been adapted from “State Education Officials Must Restore a Sense of National Character in Public Schools.”
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This article has been updated to include Rufo’s role as a Heritage Foundation visiting fellow.