Virginia's McAuliffe Is Dishonest & Deceptive On Critical Race Theory

Virginia's McAuliffe Is Dishonest & Deceptive On Critical Race Theory
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Appearing this weekend on CNN’s State of the Union, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe charged that Republicans have “made up” K-12 disputes over Critical Race Theory (CRT) in order to “divide” voters. McAuliffe said, “This is a made-up — this is a Trump, Betsy DeVos, Glenn Youngkin plan to divide people, and really bothers me.”

In a television interview last week, McAuliffe had previously said of Critical Race Theory, “It’s not taught in Virginia, it’s never been taught in Virginia. And as I’ve said this a lot: It’s a dogwhistle. It’s racial. It’s division.” But the controversy over Critical Race Theory is hardly “made up,” as McAuliffe alleges. Take developments in Virginia’s Loudoun County, an affluent Washington suburb that’s made plenty of national headlines with its CRT disputes.

In July, a freedom of information request revealed that Loudoun County Public Schools paid consultants at "The Equity Collaborative" for a raft of anti-racist trainings. Teachers were taught, in lessons that incorporated the Dismantling Racism Workbook, that good teachers don’t “profess color blindness," "accept responsibility for their own racism," and believe that "addressing one’s Whiteness (e.g., white privilege) is crucial for effective teaching."

Rather remarkably, school teachers were taught that "fostering independence and individual achievement" is a racist hallmark of "white individualism,” as is the promotion of “self-expression, individual thinking, personal choice." The school system’s "Action Plans to Combat Systemic Racism" recommends the book How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, which teaches that "there is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy" and that "only racists say they’re not racist."

Now, McAuliffe would presumably claim that such teachings have nothing to do with CRT. But this is where he’s being dishonest and disingenuous. After all, while it’s true that CRT is technically just a school of legal analysis, its own adherents would argue that it’s much more — and that the toxic dogmas on display in Loudoun are precisely what they have in mind.

CRT’s leading proponents readily concede its revolutionary aspirations. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, two of the early founders of the CRT movement, write in their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” As Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuck has observed, “Critical race theory emerged out of postmodernist thought, which tends to be skeptical of the idea of universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, Enlightenment rationalism, and liberalism.”

So, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to say, “It’s not taught in Virginia, it’s never been taught in Virginia.” The real question is whether practices that reflect this attack on the liberal order, “equality theory,” or rationalism are present in local schools. It’s hard to say with any certainty how much of this is being pursued in Virginia’s 100+ school districts, but that’s part of the point — many parents are angry and anxious because they’re not clear on what schools are doing and are trying to find out.

And there’s plenty to find out. In practice, CRT has come to serve as a shorthand label for an array of racially charged positions and practices. While the precise contours of CRT are disputed, what’s indisputable is that advocates like Kendi and Robin DiAngelo have risen to educational prominence based on their CRT-aligned claims that the U.S. is “systemically racist.” DiAngelo, author of the bestseller White Fragility and a popular speaker for colleges, foundations, and schools, teaches that “White identity is inherently racist.”

Bettina Love, winner of the 2020 Society of Professors of Education Outstanding Book Award and co-founder of the Abolitionist Teaching Network, explains that “active anti-racism” is “the most important step” teachers can take and “is not a teaching approach or method” but “a way of life.” Glenn Singleton, president of the racial-sensitivity training provider Courageous Conversation, tells the New York Times Magazine that “scientific, linear thinking” and “cause and effect” are among the “hallmark[s] of whiteness.” 

Critics worry that CRT encourages schools to resurrect troubling segregationist practices, promotes pernicious stereotypes, teaches students to regard those of other races or ethnicities with suspicion and distrust, and calls for practices at odds with civil rights law and constitutional norms. There is nothing “made up” about such concerns.

The disputes are about much more than whether schools should teach about slavery. This is a fundamental disagreement over the values that Americans want to teach our kids and about how we want them to understand themselves and their nation. This is a whole lot more than some kind of furtive “plan to divide people.” And it’s troubling that McAuliffe would willfully pretend otherwise, while schools engage in “anti-racist” racial caricature and ideologues promote a toxic agenda fundamentally at odds with the traditions of liberal education.

Frederick M. Hess is director of educational policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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