By Dr. Karen Hiltz
There are so many theories and ideologies that it’s almost impossible to keep up. One, in particular, has gotten a lot of attention lately, though it’s not a new theory. Have you heard of Critical Race Theory or CRT? Well, it’s definitely on the minds of many parents and elected officials across the nation. People are asking what it means. Many wonder how they can identify and recognize it.
Further complicating the issue is the use of commonly-used and nice-sounding words to promote these ideas. What’s the harm with words like “equity” and “civic engagement” or “action civics,” after all? Sadly, the intent of these positive-sounding words is to confuse the public and conceal dangerous ideas.
Some believe CRT is a cure to the systemic racism they claim is rampant in our country, while others are certain CRT is inherently racist in its approach and causing further division among Americans.
It’s no wonder responses are confusing, because most people can’t comprehend why the education system would teach racism to our children. Is the system that corrupt and corrosive?
Defining Critical Race Theory
Depending on whose work one reads, Critical Race Theory is either divisive or inclusive. Britannica.com identifies CRT as social science and defines it as an:
“…intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour. Critical race theorists hold that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.”
I don’t know about you, but I was born white and that hasn’t changed in over sixty years. However, I’ve never considered that my color would lead to others labeling me as an oppressor or exploiter of people of color.
Now that we know CRT focuses on color, let’s help parents and others by looking at some of the buzzwords common in the CRT discussion. For example, when parents read that their child is going to participate in action civics, that’s presumed to be a good thing – right? What parent doesn’t want their child to learn about our government, watch a legislative session in real-time, or observe a citizenship swearing-in ceremony?
But, is this the reality of action civics? What if the assignment is for students to participate in an anti-Second Amendment protest? Will students be subjected to partake in an event that’s antithetical to their parents’ beliefs? What grade will they receive if they don’t do the assignment?
If you guessed that such a student would get a failing grade…you’re right, as seen in the case of Nevada student William Clark.
Consider the word equity. How could anyone take this to be offensive?
Homeowners and investors like the word. But, when you dig into what it means to many today, it means providing resources to those who they determine to be less fortunate or less capable. They talk about making everyone equal, but equality isn’t the real issue. A fact that seems to be lost in this whole debate is that it’s not only black and brown families that are poor, disadvantaged, or down on their luck. Many whites fall into these categories as well.
By the way, equity does not mean equal! A simple way to state the difference is people in America are afforded equal opportunity, not equal outcome. Our founding fathers clearly stated this in The Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph reads:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This doesn’t mean all of us are entitled to the same outcome. It clearly means that all of us are born (we have arms, legs, brain, mouth, ears, etc.), our Creator provided us with our own unique set of talents, and that we have choices in pursuing our dreams. Yes, some decisions are better than others, but we all have opportunity.
Many governors have been announcing there will be no CRT in the curriculum in their state. The truth is—unless the legislators and state departments of education take action—it will continue to covertly creep into the schools under other names. Parents need only look at the textbooks and assignments to know it’s already made inroads, as has been seen in these Wisconsin school districts.
What about the 1619 Project? This too is a strategy to divide and conquer our history and culture. Even though the 1619 Project has been debunked by many sources, from those on the left and right, it’s still being pushed by the current administration. On April 19, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education published a proposed rule in the Federal Register for American history and civics education. The proposed priorities specifically identify the 1619 Project and Ibram X. Kendi, a self-proclaimed “leading antiracist scholar.” The intent is to dangle grant money to states through “Proposed Priority 1: Projects That Incorporate Racially, Ethnically, Culturally, and Linguistically Diverse Perspectives into Teaching and Learning” and “Proposed Priority 2: Promoting Information Literacy Skills.”
And what about the Lincoln Project? After a scandal forced the organization to disband, they have now rebranded themselves as the Franklin Project. A recent article reported their plan to develop a civics curriculum for K-12 and provide it for free to school districts. Given the allegations that one of the co-founders was having inappropriate relationships with young boys and men, one has to question if this curriculum will be more about social and emotional learning or civics. There is also a pending internal investigation report surrounding the controversy and the project’s questionable financial practices.
Contentious and divisive theories have crept into the K-12 curriculum and continue to do so. Many governors, politicians, and parents don’t realize the covert tactics being used by radical individuals and ideologies. Slipping nice, feel-good words and phrases into curriculum and teacher guides will ensure children are taught to disregard many aspects of our constitutional republic and hate what our founding fathers created.
One other piece of the puzzle that can’t be ignored is Common Core. Not long ago parents were told the new curriculum and standards would improve student learning and test scores. Since that didn’t work out so well, another strategy had to be deployed. After reading Joy Pullmann’s book The Education Invasion, I’m convinced that the failure with Common Core has led to CRT and other efforts. In reality, I believe we are dealing with Common Core Part 2.
There are a couple of insights about Ms. Pullmann’s book that need to be highlighted. First, there are many stories and examples, which are based on research and interviews, that paint an astonishing picture. She identifies the creators of Common Core, who paid for it, who benefited from it (and it’s not the children), and how it was deceptively forced onto the states. The sales pitch by the key players—along with the money carrot—was obviously very convincing to many governors. Having lived in one of the four states that didn’t adopt the standards and curriculum, it was very enlightening.
History and civics are important, and children should be taught to understand how our government works, as “the American experiment” is unique. To understand how fortunate we are, consider what dictator Joseph Stalin famously said, “Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.” This quote echoes loudly in Ms. Pullmann’s summarizing statement: “At the heart, Common Core is about who controls education.”
The breaking down of our society into factions or groups is at the heart of these radical theories. If people can be categorized and one group can be shown to excel over another, then groupthink sets in. When one group feels like they are not equal to another—regardless of individual talents or skills—this promotes unrest, jealousy, envy, and all the emotions that tend to divide rather than unite. What better place to spread this division than our education system?
Note from the Editor: We thank all our contributors for their insights and expertise. However, the views of guest authors or interviewees are not necessarily those of Noah Webster Educational Foundation.
About the Author:
Dr. Karen Hiltz served in the U.S. Navy and is a retired Federal Acquisition & Procurement Professional. She entered the education environment in 2009, where she taught business courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In 2015, she was elected to the local public school board in Franklin County, VA, and created The Apple Report Facebook page to communicate with her constituents. In 2016, she was appointed to the Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) Local Advisory Board. She has served on a private school board and educational non-profit boards (including the board of the Noah Webster Educational Foundation), written many articles on education, and is a published author. Dr. Hiltz holds a B.S. and MBA in Management and an Ed.D. in Leadership Studies. She is married to Chuck Hiltz. They have three children and five grandchildren and currently reside in Florida.