Americans Do Not Want the Woke Racism Our Schools Are Peddling
In the past few weeks, it has become apparent that the extreme progressive impulses infecting higher education in the United States have moved from campus quads and dormitories into our nation’s middle and high schools and even into our kindergartens. In New York City alone, the uptown Dalton School has seen an uprising and departure of numerous high-level staff over questions of curriculum and social justice. Downtown, a Grace Church School teacher published an open letter explaining that the school’s new “anti-racist” ideology induces shame in white students for being oppressors; he has witnessed the harmful impact that these ideas have had on children including silencing inquiry such that “children are afraid to challenge the repressive ideology that rules our school.”
Most recently, a Brearley School parent penned an open letter to the entire community of parents explaining he was pulling his daughter from the school because of its “obsession with race” and the fact that the school abandoned its principle of teaching how to think for teaching what to think. In response, Brearley doubled-down on its position and argued that this letter was both offensive and harmful; it was nothing of the sort.
While these letters have undoubtedly impacted their writers, these public statements show that the wave of progressive, woke, critical-race theory influenced “anti-racist” dogma that has penetrated our K-12 schools is finally being called out for what is it: racist, reductionist, anti-intellectual, and dangerous. And, I wanted to add some more fuel to those leading this important pushback: despite the impression that an illiberal, totalitarian movement has seized the world of education, new data shows that majorities of citizens want viewpoint diversity in our K-12 world, they want our schools to give their students an education based on skills, facts, and history and they do not approve of these divisive and racist ideas which masquerade as progressive and inclusive values.
Thanks to new data from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), it becomes immediately apparent that the woke ideas in the K-12 universe do not have the wide support of the public. ACTA surveyed a large number of Illinois residents — a microcosm of the American experience possessing not only a diverse citizenry, but large and small cities along with rural areas — about their attitudes toward these anti-racist ideas and support for woke and equitable thinking is not widely accepted at all.
Consider the following: Respondents were asked if K-12 teachers should work to expose students to a variety of perspectives about the country’s founding and history, and to equip them to think critically about its successes and failures OR if K-12 teachers should embrace progressive viewpoints and perspectives when teaching U.S. history, to encourage students to advocate for social justice causes. Almost two-thirds (62%) believed that it was more important to expose students to a variety of perspectives, compared to just 23% who preferred that teachers embrace progressive viewpoints and perspectives; 15% were not sure where they stood.
There are racial differences present in the data, but it is important to note that no racial group wanted to prioritize social justice concerns over a real diversity of views. 69% of white respondents opted to expose students to a variety of perspectives over a narrow progressive worldview. The number in support of a multiplicity of views dropped to 44% among Black respondents but this 44% is the plurality among Blacks for just 29% of Black respondents want the progressive idea and another 27% were unsure. Similarly, 51% of Hispanic or Latino identifiers selected viewpoint diversity with a third (33%) wanting a narrower view and 15% unsure. Collectively, the data reveal that there are understandable differences in racial outlook, but the overtly woke attitudes and approaches being taken by K-12 schools are completely out of step with reality for pluralities of all racial groups and the nation as a whole rejects this social justice approach.
The survey also asked about teacher preparation programs for the classroom and whether schools should prioritize teaching progressive viewpoints and social justice advocacy to help teachers overcome their own biases and build more inclusive classrooms OR if these programs should focus on making teachers better equipped to help students develop core skills and competencies, not on social justice or progressive politics. 58% of respondents preferred skills, while just a third (34%) wanted progressive politics.
When white respondents are considered, 63% advocated for core skills compared to 28% who thought about social justice considerations. This looks notably different from Black respondents who were fairly evenly divided: 44% sided with the progressive viewpoint position while 42% preferred skills. This is remarkable because this is a fairly even split and not a landslide in support for anti-racist thinking despite the rhetoric being churned out at K-12 schools. For those with Hispanic backgrounds, we see the same pattern with 51% falling on the progressive side and 44% landing on the skills side. This is a slight skew and shows, again, that there are not significant majorities which support the woke, anti-racist messages and teachings happening in our schools. The silence despite the data is most likely due to the fear that many have when they speak up and challenge these impulses.
Finally, when respondents were asked how people should be treated — specifically, do you believe that all people should be treated equally based on merit — there is essentially parity. 84% of all respondents agree with this statement and just 8% do not. 86% of whites, 82% of Blacks, and 81% of Hispanics agree here too. Americans clearly believe in equal treatment for all and not the divisive, anti-racist narratives coming from many of our K-12 schools today.
In short, many schools are fixated on race and difference and this is dangerous. Viewing people as members of narrow and simplistic racial groupings foolishly suggests that one should be defined by race and little more. This is an absurd way to understand people, dividing us rather than unifying us and finding common ground based on shared humanity and history. This is the antithesis of what our schools should be teaching, which include the values of real diversity in all forms and social inclusion. These recent examples of pushback are hopefully the start of a much larger effect to dismantle the progressive, ant-racist ideas which are infecting all levels of our education system. Our educational institutions anchor our nation and help teach and propagate our values and these institutions cannot be ceded to the seemingly growing woke and progressive waves corrupting the free exchange of ideas and our core ideas about learning. The data show that Americans reject anti-racism and the pushback against these ideas must continue as our nation’s core values and social fabric depend on it.
Samuel J. Abrams is professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.