Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the Catholic Reporter, often comes up with some good columns. Today's column is about critical race theory.
Since the column is lengthy, I'll highlight a few key paragraphs:
Should critical race theory be taught in school? Politico reported last week that, nationwide, Republican candidates for school board are running on the pledge that they will keep critical race theory out of the schools.
If you watch Fox News, you would think this was one of the most pressing questions facing the nation, but people like Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson do not argue in good faith. Nor do most of those Republican Party politicians who have attacked critical race theory. But is it even being taught?
At Fox News, of course, they lump any form of diversity training in with critical race theory and denounce it all. Both pols and pundits have shown throughout the Trump years that they are only too willing to traffic in racist dog whistles — or worse. They suggest it teaches children to "hate America." You half expect Carlson to cite the musical "1776" as an example of what he wants by way of education in American history. However, training children to be prepared to live and work in a diverse society is as essential to their formation as teaching them the three R's.
There is a method to the conservatives' madness. As Christopher Rufo, of the conservative Manhattan Institute, wrote: "We have successfully frozen their brand — 'critical race theory' — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions." They are not subtle about their ideological and political ambitions.
When politicians get involved in debates about school curriculum, all of our alarm bells should go off. In The New York Times, Timothy Snyder, the foremost historian of totalitarianism, warned against efforts to falsify history and turn the classroom into a forum for propaganda, drawing on Soviet (later Russian) efforts to downplay the starvation of millions of Ukrainians from famine during the forced collectivization in 1932-33. He warned that efforts in the U.S. to ban critical race theory are "Kafkaesque."
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a Czech-born German-language writer whose surreal fiction vividly expressed the anxiety, alienation, and powerlessness of the individual in the 20th century. Kafka's work is characterized by nightmarish settings in which characters are crushed by nonsensical, blind authority. Thus, the word Kafkaesque is often applied to bizarre and impersonal administrative situations where the individual feels powerless to understand or control what is happening.
The book, "1984" is another example of this.
To quote a poster I saw recently,
Those who can, teach
Those who cannot pass laws about teaching
As I wrote the other day, right wing extremists (like Charlie Kirk) are trying to turn school boards into conservative political sounding boards.
If, then, critical race theory calls us to embrace legal ideas such as affirmative action, sign me up. To overcome something with a long and ugly history like racism, it is not enough to wish our society into some colorblind state of equality. You must pay attention to race to overcome the legacy of racism. This is clear.
If, however, critical race theory is to move beyond the halls of the law school, readers and students deserve better than the intellectually imperialistic ideology on display in "The 1619 Project." Scholars, not journalists, still less politicians and pundits, should be given the task of posing new questions to the historical record, integrating new perspectives and insights, and finding ways to communicate them to rising generations. Unfortunately, the whole episode is now just one more battlefront in the culture wars and our students deserve better.