The Critical Dangers of Critical Race Theory
Former Vanderbilt University political science and law professor, Dr. Carol Swain, describes critical race theory as “an analytical framework to analyze institutions and culture. Its purpose is to divide the world into white oppressors and non-white victims.” (Dr. Swain is a contributor to the 1776 Initiative, which aims to counter the flawed and divisive New York Times’ 1619 project.) She writes that “within this framework, white privilege and its unearned benefits are responsible for economic, health care, and social disparities in minority communities. It advances a narrative of blame that declares white America guilty for the plight of blacks. It is a worldview and narrative that commands white people to sit in obedience and listen quietly to the arguments about their unjust gains as well as their obligation to provide a remedy for — in this case, black Americans, whether they are descended from slaves or not.”
Dr. Swain, who is black, continues: “Critical race theory assumes that racism is permanent and affects every aspect of our society, including political, economic, social and religious institutions. The theory further advances the belief that being born with white skin, in itself, gives unearned privileges. Therefore, any expectation of societal attainment of colorblindness, in which race or ethnicity does not hinder opportunities, is impossible to be achieved. Neutrality in law and decision-making is a pipe dream that can never be attained. Therefore, this mistaken reasoning goes, the oppressive system must be dismantled and destroyed.
“The message is clear: If you are unfortunate enough to be born with black skin, you are forever a second-class citizen who pays a race penalty. Under this rationale, the most affluent blacks rank below the poorest whites when it comes to privilege and opportunities. Critical race theory says every dysfunctional condition in black, urban communities can be traced to slavery and its aftermath. There is no place for the individual-choice initiative.”
As may be expected, this theory accomplishes nothing while fomenting “anger, frustration, and despondency among persons in the victim categories who internalize the destructive message.” According to Dr. Swain, education “is now about white privilege indoctrination.” It labels all white Americans as “having benefitted from their white skin even if their parents are, say, Appalachian poor or high school dropouts working at the local big-box franchise store (if employed at all). In some cases, animated videos with messages of white guilt and oppression shown to middle and high school students create damaging images where whites are taught guilt and minorities are assigned permanent and debilitating victimhood.”
These destructive narratives need to be halted. They have already indoctrinated countless future leaders, and have spilled over from higher education to infect elementary and secondary schools, both public and private.
An Example of Critical Race Theory’s Fallout in Colleges
How does critical race theory play out in practice? The mother of a student at Bryn Mawr, the small but well known women’s liberal arts college outside Philadelphia, provided an in-depth example of how this theory run amok impacted the college and her daughter’s education. Writing on Quillette.com under the pseudonym “Minnie Doe,” the mother described a series of events involving a student strike in the fall of 2020 “that exacerbated the serious preexisting disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.” Following are excerpts from that article, which was titled A Student Mob Took Over Bryn Mawr. The College Said Thank You.
Bryn Mawr and its nearby affiliate, Haverford College, have a “progressive commitment to such causes as diversity, equity and inclusion.” But after a controversial police shooting in Philadelphia, “activists at Haverford and Bryn Mawr embraced the dubious claim that their extremely progressive campuses were actually contaminated by a dangerous climate of racism that (quite literally) threatened the survival of black students. In many cases, the ire was directed not only at administrators and non-ideologically-compliant faculty, but also at any student suspected of not supporting the strike organizers’ apocalyptic rhetoric, dramatic postures, and inflated demands. Anyone who sought to attend class, go to the dining hall, or even turn in schoolwork was denounced as a ‘scab,’ and often faced acts of bullying.”
Doe wrote that the Bryn Mawr student strike, “which formally began on October 28, was led by the Bryn Mawr Strike Collective (BMSC), whose grandiosely stated goal was ‘to dismantle systemic oppression in the Bryn Mawr community,’ and end the apparently crippling regime of ‘institutional racism, silencing, and instances of white supremacy.’ Its list of demands was voluminous, and included a new required course on “Blackness and White Privilege,” additional funding for the campus Black Cultural Center, a call for a halt to the college’s (unspecified) acts of ‘violence against disabled students,’ acknowledgement of ‘the unseen labor of Black women and Black trans/nonbinary people on campus,’ as well as grade protection and money for the ‘work’ that strikers were claiming to do to fight racism.”
Initially, Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy, while responding with a proposed timeline for consideration and compliance with the strikers’ demands, nonetheless attempted to mitigate disruption to the school. Doe wrote: “Like Wendy Raymond, her presidential counterpart at Haverford—Cassidy believed that the strike might be constructively addressed through town-hall discussions conducted in a climate of mutual respect. But strike organizers said they were offended by the offer to talk, claiming they hadn’t been given enough time to prepare, and refused to attend. Instead, they focused on organizing a sit-in that was streamed via Zoom.”
Two days later, President Cassidy attempted to remind everyone that real educational credentials were on the line, along with the college’s accreditation, and that it was the college’s obligation to offer classes for paying students. “During this brief period, she demonstrated a modicum of courage,” Doe noted. Her statement called for students to return to classes on Monday, November 9. Doe continues: “Following on numerous reports of abusive behavior targeting students seeking to return to class, moreover, President Cassidy sent another email (for which, incredibly, she later apologized)—calling for a halt to these tactics.
“This proved to be the high-water mark for Cassidy. Regardless of her directives, many professors still refused to offer regular classes—some out of real solidarity with the strike organizers, while others simply wanted to avoid being targeted. And some of the professors who did hold classes taught only strike-approved content, i.e., discussions about racism and white supremacy. The strikers, who urged that these materials be accorded academic credit, took careful note of who was consuming this or that media, so as to gauge which students and professors were supporting the strike and which weren’t.
“By this time, it had become clear that what the strikers wanted wasn’t actual dialogue, but a series of melodramatic vignettes that showcased their claim to moral leadership. This included a November 13 town-hall meeting where they controlled the agenda, while attending anonymously so as to protect their identities. Attendees learned that the strikers’ list of demands was now 23 pages long—up from the original five. They’d also upsized their original demands (quadrupling the price tag for the aforementioned cultural center, for instance). It was clear that the cost of all this would be picked up by parents. As at Haverford, Bryn Mawr administrators had by this time stopped even pretending to offer principled resistance, and were now focused on protecting their careers.
“By the end of the meeting, Cassidy, along with Provost Tim Harte and Dean Walters, had agreed they would step down if demands hadn’t been met to the strikers’ satisfaction. In what perhaps stands out as her most craven act, Cassidy also agreed to issue an apology for her email decrying intimidation and bullying on campus—on the absurd basis that ‘my words suggested that this is a problem on campus that originates with strike supporters. It was wrong to convey this message and perpetuate a harmful stereotype.’
“In online meetings, students who expressed their frustrations with the strike were told they’d be kicked out of web forums if such behavior continued. The strikers told students that the BMSC, and the BMSC alone, represented the ‘consensus,’ and instructed everyone to attend teach-in events where they would be lectured on ‘why we can’t have a community discussion on whether we should protest or not.’ While the administration was pleading for dialogue, these students were insisting that any diversity in viewpoint was a mask for white supremacy.
“Far from facing consequences for ruining the fall, 2020 semester, strikers have been lavishly praised by the school’s president and continually assured that their grades won’t be impacted. Some professors have even agreed to accept what they call ‘strike work’—conversations with friends and family about racism, diary entries, time spent watching anti-racism documentaries, and so forth—in lieu of actual course work, even in math and science programs.
“As for the majority of students who came to Bryn Mawr to actually receive an education that goes beyond anti-racist bromides, they’re out of luck” wrote Doe. “The same goes for parents who ante up $54,000 a year for tuition (and another $20,000 for room and board). Kim Cassidy now presides over what is essentially the world’s most expensive anti-racism YouTube training program…this also happens to be a massive rip-off for families, many of whom are spending their life savings so that a child can attend this once-esteemed institution.
“What these students have learned—at a Quaker-founded institution no less—is that might makes right, that discussion and debate are for racists, and that the middle-aged elites who run society’s most prestigious institutions will sell them out for their own public-relations convenience, all the while publicly thanking the social-justice shakedown artists who engineered their own humiliation, thus incentivizing more tantrums in the future.
“‘We’re all gonna be here for only four, maybe five years, so nobody really gives a damn about Bryn Mawr in the long run,’ said one anonymous strike leader at a November 9 sit-in event.” Doe concedes: “It’s an appalling sentiment. But it at least has the benefit of being honest.”
No Left Turn (in Education)
How can parents hope to counteract the propaganda and brainwashing their children endure at all levels of education? One mother, Dr. Elana Yaron Fishbein, finally had enough last summer and decided to do something about it. She founded the organization No Left Turn.
During the years her children attended public school, Fishbein noticed that they were increasingly being taught “historical revisionism, political correctness, and the outright rejection of values which have long been at the core of the American experience.” After having discussions with principals and opting her children out of lessons and activities she found objectionable, she transferred them to a private school for the Fall 2020 semester. Fishbein said that following the protests and riots in June 2020, her public school “issued a message to parents that shocked me. It described a hastily drawn up plan by a ‘Cultural Proficiency Committee to offer explicit lessons on equity and race for our students.’ Despite the fact that the school already offers a robust curriculum that includes five distinct programs (plus Black History Month) to help foster empathy, understanding, and compassion in students, they felt an urgent need to execute additional lessons in ‘cultural proficiency’ two days before the conclusion of the school year, to children starting in kindergarten. These lessons included topics such as ‘diversity,’ ‘racism,’ ‘justice,’ ‘equity’ and ‘privilege.’ But instead of reaffirming and fostering the wholesome teaching of MLK, Jr., the lessons in this new ‘cultural proficiency’ unit incorporated specific books that described ‘whiteness’ as an entitlement to steal land, garner riches, and get special treatment.”
Fishbein created the “No Left Turn” movement to provide “a voice to push back on the Leftist agenda sweeping into public education and to underscore the ideals and values that make our country exceptional.” She says there are “thousands in our community, and surely millions in our country who feel as we do and are willing to win back our schools from those who try to poison young minds.” In September, she appeared on the Fox 2 News Tucker Carlson Tonight program to describe her organization and what it stands for. During the interview Carlson praised Fishbein in that, as an immigrant, she presents a fine example of American values.
The No Left Turn website is https://noleftturn.us/. It provides news, information and resources emphasizing “education not indoctrination,” and invites parents of all races and walks of life to join the movement. The website also tackles the 1619 Project and features Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a role model. (See also the book review of 1620 in the December 2020 Education Reporter email, which counteracts the 1619 Project’s errors.)
The Battle of Brookline
Boston Suburb is Microcosm of School Reopening Wars in Blue Districts
For the better part of a year, schools have wrestled with reopening as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Generally, most parents have favored it, the science has agreed with it, but teachers unions have opposed it. The tony Boston suburb of Brookline, MA, embodies the comprehensive nature of the struggle in blue districts, where school officials, politicians and parents are expected to be on the same side. The town of Brookline has a disproportionally large population of epidemiologists, infectious disease experts and other healthcare professionals, but that didn’t prevent the sowing of political discord among all parties involved in the COVID debate.
For years, Brookline’s schools have been the main attraction for well-heeled, mostly liberal parents who pay more than one million dollars for a single family home in the district. Interestingly, these parents sought out Brookline’s schools for the same reasons conservative parents might do so – its teachers had the freedom to experiment with curricula and exercise creativity in the classroom. In recent years, however, the makeup of the influential school committee, which determines the direction of the district on budget, strategy and other important matters, shifted from professionals who were satisfied with the status quo to professionals who favored more standardized, outcome-based education like Common Core. Teachers began to feel intimidated and marginalized by the new top-down style that focused more on closing achievement gaps than on individualized instruction. While everyone favored narrowing the achievement gaps, many questioned whether it needed to stifle teacher independence and become the sole focus of education.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Brookline parents, school administrators, teachers, and union leaders were already steeped in conflict over the direction of the schools. The teachers union viewed the district as being ruled by an elite, corporate style liberalism, which was failing to compensate teachers adequately and was instead pouring money into initiatives the union wasn’t convinced were necessary. Teachers balked at the increased demands on their time and the restrictions on what and how they could teach. Parents complained that the schools were failing to encourage their children to excel.
When the teachers union cited safety concerns as the reason for remaining outside the classroom during COVID, the ongoing contract dispute with the school district and parent committees undoubtedly played a role. Brookline Educators Union President Jessica Wender-Shubow felt parents did not understand “the logistical realities of teaching.” The parents, a number of whom had donated their time and infectious disease expertise to ensure a safe reopening of the schools, wanted their children to return to the classroom. Some of the rhetoric on all sides became contentious and public, airing on social media and in printed materials.
In mid-October 2020, Brookline public schools did partially reopen for K-2 students following delays due to teacher safety concerns that were complicated by the ongoing union contract battle. Schools opened for other grades by the end of the month on a hybrid in-classroom/remote learning basis. But by the first of November, the teachers union called a strike which lasted just one day. The union later second-guessed the wisdom of such a brief walkout, but by early December, the school committee and the union had agreed to a contract.
A Boon for School Choice and New State Legislation?
Brookline and other public schools districts across the country have lost students to private schools and home schooling during the shutdowns, a welcome development for many parents who favor school choice. In fact, the intractability of the teachers unions to concede the “science” that shows little risk to their safety in returning to the classroom has prompted many parents to escape the public school chaos. Since research also shows that lower-income students are hurt the most by closed schools, some observers wonder why the teachers unions don’t appear more concerned about the children they allegedly care about most. And a new study published by School Effectiveness and School Improvement shows that “school choice policies can help heal the mental health crisis plaguing youth,” by allowing parents to find the educational option that best fits these students’ needs.
In North Carolina, education savings accounts already fund alternative choices for parents and students. And states such as Missouri are considering important legislation that would allow public school dollars to follow students rather than be allocated to school districts. Called the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Program (SB55), the bill would permit families to apply their children’s education dollars to the schools of their choice. This bill applies to both elementary and secondary education, and has passed out of the Missouri Senate Education Committee for further consideration. Such legislative efforts should be encouraged to break the increasingly onerous stranglehold of the teachers unions on U.S. public education.
Slate, 12-18-20; Washington Examiner, 12-27-20; Corey DeAngelis on Twitter; Missouri Senate Bill SB55; School Effectiveness and School Improvement Mental Health Study
Education News Briefs
A new study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics finds little to no COVID-19 transmission in schools. The study included 11 school districts and more than 90,000 students and staff members in North Carolina, conducted over a nine-week period of in-class instruction at both the elementary and secondary school levels. It was funded by the Trial Innovation Network, a collaboration of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD) and the Pediatric Trials Network. While as many as 800-900 secondary infections were anticipated during the study, results showed there were only 32, indicating that the school environment is safer than that of the larger community, which reported 773 secondary infections during the study period. Participating schools observed the required safety precautions, including masking when possible, social distancing, and sanitary efforts such as frequent hand washing. Researchers said most of the transmissions took place among children not wearing masks – typically very young children while at lunch and among those with special needs. An article posted on PJ Media applauded the results as “an encouraging finding in such a large population. It should also make school closures a last-resort measure to prevent community spread.” Citing the emotional and educational damage school shutdowns have done to children, the article further states: “It is time to take the teachers’ unions to task for the sake of the children. This is another study that tells us that teachers’ risks from their workplaces are less than their risk in the community.” Pediatric Study-SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Schools; PJ Media, 1-17-20
Los Angeles County school students will be required to take the coronavirus vaccine, when available, before being allowed back in the classroom. Despite studies showing the low risk of transmission in schools when safety precautions are taken against the spread of the virus, L.A. Unified School District superintendent, Austin Beutner, says every student must be immunized by January 2022. L.A. County public schools are currently closed at least until the end of January 2021, and most area private schools are also shuttered, with some exceptions. WND (WorldNetDaily) says Beutner is comparing the coronavirus vaccine with the usual required vaccinations, such as for measles and mumps, but notes that “[T]he Pfizer vaccine is for people 16 and older.” Many parents across the country are wondering whether their school districts will require the coronavirus vaccine, and colleges are weighing their options as well. While universities and colleges could theoretically require students and staff to be immunized, higher education officials acknowledge that “mandatory vaccinations could be a potential minefield.” While colleges may end up following the lead of other employers in determining whether to require their staffs to be vaccinated, mandating that students immunize may prove to be a thornier issue. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that “most are holding off on deciding whether to require vaccines, until there is clearer federal guidance.” Unfortunately for parents who favor autonomy in determining if the vaccine is right for their children, regardless of age, the Biden administration may ultimately make that decision for them. L.A. Unified Public School District Vaccine Mandate; WND, 1-12-21; The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-4-21
Drowning in Screen Time
David Murrow, Salem Books, 2020
The coronavirus crisis was just beginning when David Murrow finished writing his book, and the timing for its release could not have been better. For with the COVID-19 pandemic, which Murrow calls “the rogue wave that no one saw coming,” people of all ages became more dependent than ever on their use of electronic devices. And while these technologies are truly amazing and can provide tremendous benefits, they also pose grave dangers, particularly for children and teens.
Murrow writes that “even before the virus lockdowns confined us to our homes, humanity was drowning in screen time. A pre-virus survey found that the typical American consumes nine hours of screen entertainment each day,” and that “screens have been socially distancing us since they began entering our living rooms in the 1950s.” The author admits he himself was addicted to electronic devices starting with the black and white TV his father brought home when he was a young child in the early 1960s. His father became addicted to television viewing, and the author followed suit. When cable TV and the VCR entered the market, along with computers, the internet, and eventually smart phones and iPads, most Americans became hooked. By 2010, Murrow’s wife and children confronted him about his screen addiction, and he had to face the truth: “I was trading away real life for screen life, just as my father had.”
Most people today take screen time for granted. It is so much a part of our lives that we don’t really think about it. Our devices have become overused. Texting and email replace telephone conversations, and the result is that people become more isolated. Murrow writes that our youth, even though feeling the sting of isolation and loneliness, are uncomfortable with face-to-face interaction and often shun real relationships. The upside is that among our youngest generation, risky behaviors including drug use, petty crime, experimentation with sex and alcohol, and other forms of youthful rebellion have all decreased. The downside is that weight gain, sleeplessness, online bullying, depression and even suicide are all on the rise.
Drowning in Screen Time’s opening chapter illustrates the issues with screens through five “parables,” each one with a lesson in how we become slaves to our devices. The remainder of the book builds on these parables with the overarching message that our devices fill time that might otherwise be used more beneficially, such as in reading, meditation, or first-person interaction with our families and the real world.
Murrow reports that the greatest chunk of screen time is still spent watching TV, particularly among adults. As may be expected, teens and “tweens” spend more time on social media, typically on their smart phones, playing video games, texting and watching online videos. “By age twelve,” he writes, “69 percent of American kids have their own smart phones.” Attention to digital media is weakening relationships and causing estrangement even among family members living in the same house.
Perhaps the most sobering chapters of the book cover two different but very troubling topics. The first is how users are manipulated by the algorithms embedded in search engines and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The author call them “the great dividers.” Algorithms sort us into “markets” for advertising, but more dangerously, they split us into “ideological tribes” based on our preferred content. Enter the disinformation trolls who feed into people’s fears and distrust of opposing beliefs and viewpoints. These trolls are often foreign agents who seek to create strife among Americans by sowing misleading and often false information, which exacerbates our differences and empowers distrust. The book cites a 2018 study which found: “In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America’s differences have become dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants, the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.”
The second even more vexing topic is the explosion of online pornography and the sex trafficking social media enables. Pornography has become so readily available online that it practically assures addiction, destroying marriages and relationships in the process, and preventing youthful addicts from forming normal, lasting relationships later in life. Most addicts need professional help to overcome their addiction.
Perhaps most egregious are the internet-related abductions of children by pedophile rings who sell photos and videos of abuse victims on the dark web. Murrow points out the tragic irony of how parents in today’s society have become “fixated on children’s physical safety, while a child with an internet-enabled device is far more likely to be victimized than one who governs herself in a public space. Predators no longer hide in the bushes. Instead, they prowl social media, cloaked in anonymity, stalking hundreds of potential victims at once.”
Despite the numerous pitfalls, Murrow admits that electronic media provide amazing benefits to human beings and are invaluable resources for information and communication. He recounts his interaction with loved ones in Australia while he and his wife were walking down their rural road in Alaska. “We were in different hemispheres, experiencing different seasons of the year, seeing and hearing each other in real time.” He continues: “I am able to pull up a website and transfer wealth to the other side of the planet in a matter of minutes… Folks, this is a miracle.” The challenge he poses is that we make proper use of this miracle by controlling our use of it rather than allowing its many dark sides to control us.
Nearly every section of Drowning in Screen Time provides links to the author’s website (www.DavidMurrow.com) where readers can find more information and resources. He ends with advice on how to overcome dependence on our devices, so that we can enjoy the benefits while avoiding addiction. Everyone who uses a computer or owns a smart phone, particularly families with children, should avail themselves of this enlightening book.