by Mary Margaret Olohan
A parent-led rebellion against Critical Race Theory is storming school boards across the country and demanding accountability for what is being taught to American children.
At least 165 local and national groups have formed to combat Critical Race Theory (CRT) instruction in schools across the U.S., an NBC analysis found. Many of these groups were founded by parents appalled to discover what was being taught to their children. Their advocacy has launched small town CRT debates onto the national stage, spurring far-left activists and establishment media outlets to accuse conservatives of ignorance and in some cases, racism.
“Parents are right to revolt against critical race theory in the classroom,” senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and anti-CRT writer Christopher Rufo told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Children are not inherently ‘oppressors’ and should not be implicated for historical crimes on the basis of their race. That’s the kind of propaganda that belongs in a Soviet history museum—not American K-12 classrooms.”
What Is Critical Race Theory?
CRT holds that America is fundamentally racist, yet it teaches people to view every social interaction and person in terms of race. Its adherents pursue “antiracism” through the end of merit, objective truth and the adoption of race-based policies.
Proponents of CRT defend the theory by saying that it offers needed critiques of “how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers.” In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, elements of CRT have begun to appear in schools across the nation, identifiable through buzzwords such as “systemic racism,” “racial equity,” “anti-racism,” or “implicit bias.”
“School systems are teaching material that affirms Critical Race Theory’s main ideas when they recommend teachers ‘decolonize’ their curriculum by counting the races of different textbook authors,” Jonathan Butcher, a Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF, referring to Washington, D.C. school equity materials.
Butcher also highlighted school districts “asking teachers to adjust homework assignments according to a child’s skin color,” teaching “that Americans who are white have unfair privileges and the ‘legacy of white supremacy endures,’” and separating students “into affinity groups by race for school activities.”
“As state lawmakers consider the issue, policymakers should say that no public institution can compel any teacher or student to affirm or profess belief in any idea that violates the Civil Rights Act, including the idea that individuals should receive certain benefits or sanctions based on the color of their skin,” Butcher said.
Parents across the nation have been appalled to see elements of CRT taught to their children, activists told the DCNF, but the content can be difficult to define or track down. Like progressive gender ideology taught to students in sex education, elements of CRT are not only present in equity programs but have also seeped into other elements of public school programs.
Parents who report CRT in schools often aren’t able to put a name to the alarming practices they are seeing implemented, Parents Defending Education Director of Outreach Erika Sanzi told the DCNF, but they come with stories of students being separated by race during the school day or young students being forced to label their social identities.
“Children are suddenly needing to lay out their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their nation of origin, their religion, whether or not they identify as the sex they were born with,” Sanzi said, “and then they learn that all of these identities either fall into it to be a category of like an oppressor or oppressed.”
School districts, such as Loudoun County Public School Systems, often side-step parent’s accusations by pretending the problem does not exist — by insisting that they are not implementing CRT. But parents and activists say that the elements of CRT are evident in trainings, in classes, in conversations about diversity and equity and in reading materials that are chosen for class, such as books by critical race theorists like Ibram X Kendi and Robin DiAngelo.
So What Does Critical Race Theory Look Like In Practice?
Some schools enforce bias response teams that encourage students and teachers to report one another for infractions of CRT teachings — a practice compared to tactics perpetrated by Mao Zedong’s communist China.
Parents Defending Education released documents earlier this month showing that the leaders at Massachusetts’ Wellesley Public School have been pushing both teachers and students to report on one another for “incidents of bias” or “or any concerning pattern of biased behavior,” the National Review reported.
Included in the documents are the school policy on “Responding to Incidents of Bias or Discrimination” as well as slides from a staff equity training course, according to the publication. The school suggested disciplining students who violate the policy through “detention, suspension, or other restorative responses that require them to acknowledge their responsibility and minimize its impact.”
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year against a similar policy at the University of Texas involving an “elaborate investigatory and disciplinary apparatus to suppress, punish, and deter speech that other students deem ‘offensive,’ ‘biased,’ ‘uncivil,’ or ‘rude.’” The court ruled that the UT policy “represents the clenched fist in the velvet glove of student speech regulation.”
During a Loudoun County school board meeting in early June, a mother who fled communist China highlighted similarities between China’s class propaganda and the way in which students and teachers are encouraged to report on one another for CRT infractions.
“During the cultural revolution, I witnessed students and teachers turn against each other,” she said. “We changed school names to be politically correct. We were taught to denounce our heritage. The Red Guards destroyed anything that is not communist: oaths, statues, books, and anything else.”
“We are also encouraged to report on each other just like the student equity ambassador program and the bias reporting system,” she continued. “This is indeed the American version of the Chinese cultural revolution. Critical Race Theory has its roots in cultural Marxism. It should have no place in our schools.”
Parents Take A Stand Against Critical Race Theory
On June 4, Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER) organized a rally to protest outside a Poway Unified School District (PUSD) meeting. Parents and activists specifically took issue with the school’s Racial Equity & Inclusion plan, as well as its Ethnic Studies and Ethnic Literature courses.
In a press release, CFER said that PUSD includes the writings of CRT theorists like Kendi, “propagating a hypothesis that system racism permeates US society” and “advocating student activism as central to its curriculums.” The activist group criticized PSUD officials for denying that the school teaches CRT, calling this dismissal “dishonest” and intended to “insult genuine grassroots opposition.”
“PUSD’s proposed Ethnic Studies and Ethnic Literature curriculums are full of well-known CRT buzzwords and concepts like systemic oppression, intersectional identities, and ‘anti-racism,’ with the content focused on someone’s ‘lived experiences’ rather than on data, evidence, or objective measures,” CFER President Frank Xu said in a statement.
“This CRT-based content is intended to indoctrinate students with a politicized and divisive ideology demanding race-based equal outcomes,” he added. “Race-based treatment is completely contrary to our Constitutional guarantees of equal treatment and equality before the law.”
“To defend our Constitution, and these guarantees that facilitated our national progress, we must oppose all theories and practices that promote a race-based worldview,” Xu said.
Parents in Loudoun County, Virginia, rallied Saturday to protest against the school district’s increasingly divisive CRT policies. Loudoun County Public School Systems has come under fire for not only its progressive teachings on sex and gender but also for its equity plan promising “a racially conscious, identity-affirming and culturally responsive learning space for every student and employee” — a plan that parents say is laced with CRT.
Loudoun’s chaotic situation has greatly escalated over the past several months. The Daily Wire reported in March that current and former teachers and parents in Loudoun formed a group called “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” and compiled a long list of parents who the group suspected disagreed with the school’s progressive agenda.
Since then, parents continue to emotionally condemn the school for its policies in public meetings, clips of which often go viral.
These incidents are prompting parents to turn to activism groups — or become activists themselves. Across the country, activist groups have sprung up, including the 1776 Project PAC, Southlake Families in Texas, Education First Alliance in North Carolina, Awake Illinois and the Virginia groups Fight for Schools and Stand Up Virginia.
“Maybe they don’t know how to get it in the right hands, but we do,” Parents Defending Education President Nicole Neily said in March of the parents clamoring to expose the progressive content. “We know a lot of reporters, and we’re happy to share those things.”
In Pennsylvania, Elana Yaron Fishbein pulled her children out of Gladwyne Elementary School when she found that the school was teaching them about privilege and justice during the last week of classes, NBC reported.
Fishbein sent a letter to the school superintendent accusing the school of carrying out a “plan to indoctrinate the children into the ‘woke’ culture.” When she didn’t hear back, she launched her own organization to safeguard education: No Left Turn in Education. The group grew rapidly after she discussed her experiences on Tucker Carlson Tonight and now has 30 chapters in 23 states.
“The schools have been hijacked,” she said, according to NBC. “Our kids are captive audiences. And they think they can do whatever they want with our kids.”
Republicans Take Action Against CRT
Local outrage against CRT has spread to state lawmakers, to governors and in some cases, to Capitol Hill. Republican lawmakers across the country have begun passing legislation banning CRT in schools: Florida’s state Board of Education banned CRT from classrooms as recently as Thursday.
“You can put lipstick on a pig and it’s still a pig,” Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has frequently condemned CRT, said in May. “It’s offensive to the taxpayer that they would be asked to fund critical race theory, that they would be asked to fund teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other.”
Idaho became the first state to ban CRT in April through House Bill 377, the “Dignity And Nondiscrimination In Public Education,” which prohibits public schools and universities from compelling students to “affirm, adopt, or adhere to” teachings often found in CRT instruction.
Former President Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director Russ Vought launched an anti-CRT toolkit only last week to help parents identify and combat elements of CRT in their children’s schools.
Vought, who leads Citizens for Renewing America, explained to the DCNF that because CRT sometimes operates subtly, the guide equips parents to be on the alert for buzzwords such as “anti-racism,” “anti-bias training,” “anti-blackness,” “anti-meritocracy,” “obtuse meritocracy,” “collective guilt,” “colorism” and more.
“This guide is meant for anyone of any knowledge and experience level who is concerned about what children are being taught and how they are being treated,” the tool kit begins, “with an emphasis on making the banning of Critical Race Theory (CRT) the central theme by which you reclaim your schools.”
Critical Race Theory: The Media’s Darling
Since conservatives, parents and Republican lawmakers across the country have begun to take action against this burgeoning ideology, far-left activists and establishment media outlets have begun claiming that conservatives don’t actually know or understand what CRT is — and that anyone who opposes the CRT agenda opposes teaching children about slavery.
“The media is perpetuating myths about critical race theory in the same way that they perpetuated the myths that ‘Antifa is just an idea,’ by denying the record of real-world harm that critical race theory has wrought in American classrooms,” Rufo told the DCNF. “My reporting on critical race theory in education has delivered 250 million direct media impressions, but outlets like NBC News refuse to cover the substance of this work because they want to defend critical race theory at all costs, and these concrete stories controvert their pre-manufactured narrative.”
And with all of their mortal panic that white & nonwhite kids might discover that this country indeed has a violent history which explains a lot of our national pathologies — and yes, some heroic parts too — the critical race theory hysterics still CAN’T EVEN DEFINE WHAT IT IS.
— Joy-Ann (Pro-Democracy) Reid 😷 (@JoyAnnReid) June 11, 2021
New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the lead author of the 1619 Project, said that CRT reporting should note that there is “a well-planned Republican misinformation strategy” around CRT and MSNBC host Joy Reid said CRT opponents would rather teach that “slavery was actually a blessing and there is no racism.”
Almost none of this reporting actually defines critical race theory, a clear indication that the reporters reporting on it do not actually really know what it is, nor does it question why everyone is "suddenly" talking about a legal theory that has been around for decades.
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) June 9, 2021
Slate published an interview with CRT proponent Kendi accusing conservatives of not knowing what CRT is.
Conservatives want to cancel critical race theory. But they don’t know what it is. https://t.co/sArEQ3SOfK
— Slate (@Slate) June 12, 2021
“Personally, I think that Republicans specifically chose to attack critical race theory because they felt that they could define it more easily than other terms,” Kendi told Slate. “Since they couldn’t come out and say, ‘Oh, those people who are challenging systemic racism are a problem.’ They couldn’t say, ‘Those anti-racists are a problem.’ So they’re defining critical race theory at the same time they are attacking it, and critical race theorists are like, ‘That’s not how we define it.’”
An NBC News story published June 15 accused activists and Republicans of seizing on anti-CRT sentiment, “rushing in to support the anti-critical race theory parent activists, hoping that these local battles will mobilize conservative voters in next year’s midterms and beyond.”
The NBC story describes CRT as simply “the academic study of racism’s pervasive impact” without offering any discrete or specific examples of what its principles look like in practice. The article then accused critics of attempting to “disrupt lessons on race and gender.”
“Reinforced by conservative think tanks, law firms and activist parents, these groups have found allies in families frustrated over Covid-19 restrictions in schools and have weaponized the right’s opposition to critical race theory, turning it into a political rallying point,” wrote NBC reporters Tyler Kingkade, Ben Collins, and Brandy Zadrozny.
Critical Race Theory is the new antifa and its just so frustrating to see this boogeyman political tactic work over and over again.
— Brandy Zadrozny (@BrandyZadrozny) June 11, 2021
“The groups swarm school board meetings, inundate districts with time-consuming public records requests and file lawsuits and federal complaints alleging discrimination against white students,” the NBC story said. “They have become media darlings in conservative circles and made the debate over critical race theory a national issue.”
NBC also shared the common defense of school districts — the districts say they are not teaching CRT and that backlash is unjustified. The news outlet shared perspective from the adults who ran the “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” Facebook group that targeted parents in Loudoun.
“The national attention that has been shined on this is just ridiculous,” Jamie Neidig-Wheaton, the Facebook group’s white administrator, told NBC News. “I get that white people don’t want their kids going to school and being told their parents are racist, but it’s not happening — it’s made up.”
“Parents who faced threats have scrubbed their social media profiles and taken down yard signs that read ‘Black Lives Matter,’” the NBC reporters wrote. “Some said they are planning to sell their houses and move. Several members of the anti-racist Facebook group, including Black parents, declined to speak on the record for fear of receiving more harassment.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
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Mary Margaret Olohan is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.