Tag Archives: CRT

Don’t Know Much About History…

It’s not just a song by Sam Cooke…

This Fourth of July, Americans aren’t only fighting over our future; we are also fighting over our past–and the need to learn from it. That requires  a clear-eyed encounter with history– accurate history.

Efforts to teach a non-whitewashed  ( pun intended) history in the public schools has been met with so-called “anti-CRT” bills, angry parents accusing school boards of blaming today’s children for the sins of the past, and “patriotic Americans” demanding that history classes emphasize the ‘greatness” of the country and minimize or ignore deviations from our Constitutional aspirations.

The Supreme Court was able to count on that ignorance of actual history in its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson.

In that decision overruling Roe v. Wade, Justice Alito relied substantially on a dishonest recitation of American history  to justify his result.  Few Americans were in a position to point to that dishonesty and set the record straight. I have previously posted on this subject, but let me repeat a portion of what Randall Ballmer, an eminent historian of Evangelical Christianity, has written.

Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

Ballmer tells us that Falwell and Weyrich, who were furious about efforts to tax their segregation academies, were “savvy enough” to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would encounter moral blowback. “Saving babies” was far more palatable.

Another scholar who has criticized the ahistorical tale told by Justice Alito is  Geoffrey Stone, who authored “Sex and the Constitution” and  teaches law at the University of Chicago. Stone was a Supreme Court Clerk when Roe was decided; as he says,

Americans, almost all, believed at that time that abortion had always been illegal, that it had always been criminal. And no one would have imagined that abortion was legal in every state at the time the Constitution was adopted, and it was fairly common. But people didn’t know that.

The justices came to understand the history of abortion partly because [Justice Harry] Blackmun previously had been general counsel [at the Mayo Clinic] and researched all this stuff. But this history also began to be put forth by the women’s movement. And this was eye-opening to the justices, because they had, I’m sure every one of them, assumed abortion had been illegal back to the beginning of Christianity. And they were just shocked to realize that was not the case, and that prohibiting abortion was impairing what the framers thought to be … a woman’s “fundamental interest.”…

In the 18th century, abortion was completely legal before what was called the “quickening” of a fetus – when a woman could first feel fetal movement, or roughly four and a half months through a pregnancy. No state prohibited it, and it was common. Post-quickening, about half the states prohibited abortion at the time the Constitution was adopted. But even post-quickening, very few people were ever prosecuted for getting an abortion or performing an abortion in the founding era.

This accurate history gives the lie to Justice Alito’s claim that the right to abortion was not ” deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions.” Several other historians–notably Heather Cox Richardson–have also disputed Alito’s characterization.

It’s highly unlikely that teaching more accurate history would have included the history of reproductive rights, but it would have–and should have–included those elements of the American past that gave rise to the racial and religious divisions we are experiencing today. Going through school, as I did, without ever encountering the Trail of Tears, the Tulsa massacre, the rise of the KKK and so much else leaves students without important context they need in order to understand today’s political debates. (It’s not just the omissions; we are now discovering that the tales we were told, and told to remember,  were often twisted...)

As legal scholar Akhil Reed Amar recently argued, “originalism” needn’t be dismissed as simply a dishonest tactic employed by radically conservative judges. Based on good, accurate history, it can be surprisingly progressive.



Appealing To The Dark Side

Credit where credit is due: Today’s Republican strategists are absolute masters of appealing to the fears, resentments and outright hatreds of their base. A current example is the GOP’s unremitting and very strategic attack on an imaginary critical race theory, or CRT.

There is, of course, an actual scholarly sub-field called Critical Race Theory. It’s a research area pursued almost exclusively by law professors, and it examines the various ways in which racial stereotyping has infected the nation’s legal systems. (Redlining is one example–negative beliefs about Black people were incorporated in housing policies that were discriminatory.) But the target of GOP’s anti-CRT campaign bears little or no resemblance to the real thing.

As the Brookings Institution recently confirmed, the GOP’s war on “divisive topics” has little or no relationship to the study of how racism distorted American legal systems. The bans on teaching “CRT” that have been passed in Red States, ironically, are intended to serve a clearly “divisive” purpose.

Many of these laws were embedded in broader initiatives to address sometimes legitimate parental concerns about public schools’ capabilities to deliver quality educational experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the specific focus on banning the teaching of racial history smacks of political motivation by a party that is trying to ignore this nation’s rising diversity and appeal to its largely white, culturally conservative voter base. In fact, the term “critical race theory”—a much narrower academic framework than what is commonly taught in K-12 courses on American racial history—is intentionally used as a scare tactic to appeal to that base.

Survey research shows that actual parents–as opposed to the GOP’s elderly base–are relatively unconcerned about this manufactured version of CRT.

Surveys taken in Virginia, Florida, and Texas show underwhelming support for banning the teaching of racial history and diversity in public schools among most respondents, including parents. Moreover, a February nationwide CBS poll found that more than eight in 10 Americans oppose banning books that discuss race or slavery from schools, and more than six in 10 believe that teaching about race in America makes students understand what others went through.

This is noteworthy because the demography of the nation’s school children and their parents is distinct from nonparent voters of the traditional Republican base—older white voters, especially those without college educations. Therefore, it is fair to say that the political strategy behind these laws, particularly in rapidly diversifying Republican states, is really intended to appeal to nonparent voters who are fearful of the nation’s changing demography.

Raise your hand if you are shocked by this conclusion…

If demographics are destiny, America’s diversity will eventually prevail: the data shows that children of color are already more than a majority of the nation’s K-12 students. That reality would seem to dictate the need for both white and nonwhite children to become familiar with “all elements—both good and bad—of the nation’s racial and ethnic history.”

Of course, what is reasonable–what a democratic polity requires–is irrelevant to the Republican strategists who are desperately working to delay the inevitable. As the Brookings article puts it,

The recent Republican-initiated state bans on teaching racial history or diversity in schools seem to be targeted to voters who are not parents of school-aged children.

This divide between older white populations on the one hand and younger minorities on the other is emblematic of what I have called the “cultural generation gap.” Older white Americans—especially those fearful of the nation’s changing demography—respond to political messages that favor curtailing immigration, suppressing minority votes, and providing less government support for education or other social service programs targeted to younger, more diverse generations, who they do not see as “their” children.

These voting blocs were on the frontlines of the Trump administration’s “war on demography,” which persists today. A July 2021 Pew Research Center survey showed that 35% of white residents age 65 and older feel that a declining share of white people in the U.S. is either “somewhat” or “very” bad for society, compared with just 5% who think it is either somewhat or very good. Among all residents age 18 to 29, the comparable figures are 13% versus 29%. Moreover, among Republicans age 65 and older, just 18% see increased public attention to slavery and racism in the history of America as somewhat or very good, compared with 54% who believe it to be somewhat or very bad. Among respondents age 18 to 29, the responses are 66% and 16%, respectively.

As I used to tell my students, my generation is leaving them a profoundly messed up country. (I may have used a stronger word than “messed up” to describe the situation…). When my age cohort dies off, I promised them, things will improve.

I just hope we can hang on that long….


Let’s Talk About Public Education

The GOP has found a new wedge issue–attacking public education. It is apparently irrelevant that their attacks are based on imaginary issues (critical race theory) or the party’s longstanding anti-intellectualism (attacks on a book by critically-acclaimed author Toni Morrison). Both are, at their core, appeals to racism.

As I have previously posted–and as most readers of this blog know–critical race theory is not and never has been part of any elementary or high school curricula. For that matter, it hasn’t been part of college curricula, either–it is a relatively arcane area of legal research, pursued almost entirely by law professors. But like the attack on literature that portrays a side of American history that offends certain White parents, it isn’t intended to be accurate. It’s intended to activate racial grievance and distract from the actual problems facing America–problems for which the GOP offers no solutions.

Public school teachers must be feeling whiplashed. This latest assault comes on the heels of persistent efforts to kneecap or destroy public education–most prominently, the voucher programs that encourage parents to use tax dollars to send their children to schools that promise the “proper” sort of indoctrination.  (It’s tempting to suggest that the outraged parents attacking school board members over these ginned-up accusations take advantage of those vouchers and send their little darlings to schools imparting their preferred versions of reality.)

I’ve written extensively about those voucher programs, and their role in segregating Americans on the basis of race and religion, and I don’t intend to repeat those arguments here. I can only hope that this latest attack on education and the dedicated teachers who provide it encourages a widespread backlash. In the past, when enough teachers have gotten sufficiently pissed off, they’ve made a difference.

That said, if America is going to be stuck with these programs that use tax dollars to fund private and religious schools, I think we should follow the lead of the Netherlands, which does fund both private and public schools–and that closely regulates all schools it funds. My son who lives in Amsterdam recently shared with me a government description of that regulatory framework.

According to the government document, the Dutch education system is “unique in the world.” Under article 23 of its Constitution, the state provides equal funding for both public-authority and private schools. To be eligible for government funding, schools must meet the statutory requirements on minimum pupil numbers and classroom hours, among other things.

Public-authority schools are open to all pupils and teachers. Their teaching is not based on a particular religion or belief. Publicly run schools are set up by the local authorities, and pursuant to article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, local authorities must ensure there are sufficient publicly run schools in their municipality. If there are not enough schools locally, they are obliged to provide access to public schools elsewhere.

Some of the more interesting provisions of the Dutch framework include:

Government authorities (usually the municipality) are responsible for the budget and educational quality of public-authority schools. Municipalities are also tasked with supervision.

Private schools are established and run by private individuals, usually parents. The usual procedure is to set up a foundation with the intention of establishing a school based on religious or ideological principles, such as a Protestant or Muslim school. Private schools of this kind may use teaching materials that underpin their foundational principles.

A private school based on religious or ideological principles may require its teaching staff and pupils to subscribe to the beliefs of that denomination or ideology. For instance, a Protestant school may insist that its staff are committed Protestants. And a Roman Catholic school may forbid pupils to wear Islamic headscarves.

However, a school in this category may only impose these rules if they are necessary to fulfil its principles. The requirements may not be discriminatory and the school must apply its policy consistently.

Private schools do not have the right to dismiss teachers because they are gay, nor may they refuse to take on pupils or staff on these grounds.

Basically, every school bears primary responsibility for the quality of its teaching. The Education Inspectorate is responsible for monitoring the quality of education at publicly run and private schools. Every year it presents an Education Report to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science. The minister then sends the report to parliament.

In the Netherlands, in other words, receipt of tax dollars requires accountability. Public or private, schools may not discriminate, even on religious grounds, and the quality of their secular instruction is subject to oversight.

Somehow, I doubt that the uninformed and angry parents who want their schools to impart a Whitewashed history would embrace a similar regulatory framework.