by Dr. Carol M. Swain
Critical race theory is the civil rights issue of our time. It eats away at our public, private, and Christian academies with its cancerous messages about white privilege, minority disadvantage, and perennial racism. Hardly a day goes by that I do not hear from parents and teachers about yet another school system where the cancerous roots of critical race theory have taken hold or begun to appear under the guise of “culturally competent teaching and learning” or “educational equity.” No matter what they call it, they cannot hide its poisonous effects.
Consider the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) with its Office of Equity, established expressly to end systemic racism. According to their website, “equity means providing each student with the academic, social, and emotional supports [students] need to prepare for college, career, and community success in the future.” However, as implemented by its advocates, their well-intentioned programs can destroy students’ opportunities if they include the abandonment of traditional teaching methods for learning fundamentals.
At OUSD, this looks like the “Pathway to Equitable Math” curriculum funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates’ equitable math class operates on the apparent presumption that minority students are less capable than white students of learning math principles. Their solution is to lower standards and expectations for math learning. They theorize that minorities who feel good about themselves and angry at systemic racism will somehow acquire the skills to succeed in life.
It has nothing to do with teaching math. It is an empty vessel labeled “math” that aims to teach critical race theory.
It indoctrinates students into believing that there are not any right or wrong answers in math. It teaches students that math is a form of white supremacy, and for that reason, teachers should not ask children to show their homework. If students do not have to show their homework, there is no expectation that it will be completed or evaluated. Even if teachers do assess the work, they cannot insist on correct answers. How crazy can it get?
And what has this curriculum done for OUSD? They are a district with 90% minority students, with a 27% proficiency rate in math and reading. OUSD ranks in the bottom 50% of California schools for graduations.
By all measures, OUSD is an abysmal failure. The sad fact is CRT can lower their proficiency and graduation levels even more.
Its impact is apparent. But what makes critical race theory a cancer?
Critical race theory is a flowery form of racism that teaches children what to think, not how to think. It emphasizes conclusions without dialogue; children either cannot or are discouraged from critically thinking about complex issues. By comparison, academic subjects like math walk students through a process aimed at reaching correct answers.
Additionally, critical race theory disincentivizes students. Minority students have it drummed into their heads that they are at a permanent disadvantage because of the color of their skin. When told that they are inherently and perpetually racist and oppressive, white students sometimes become crippled by guilt and shame about their race and ancestors. Why should we say to any child that their race and ancestors are inherently evil and undeserving of classroom success?
Students can become depressed, bitter, conflicted, and demoralized under these conditions. The classroom can become a hostile learning environment. Students grapple with racial narratives that should be debated rather than force-fed as the gospel truth.
Critical race theory is a nonsensical approach, and it’s racist. The only positive thing it does is benefit politicians wanting to stir the racial pot. Moreover, it provides teachers with a new excuse to justify their failure to attain decent proficiency rates in math and reading. It is much easier to blame social issues like white supremacy than to assume personal responsibility for subpar proficiency rates and disruptive behavior in the classroom.
Critical race theory is a dangerous philosophy. Like cancer, critical race theory will grow until it consumes schools. Ultimately, it will destroy opportunities for students of all races in those schools. That is unless communities take the initiative now to remove the cancer.
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Carol Swain is a former professor of political science and professor of law at Vanderbilt University and author of Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise. She is also a member of the reconvened 1776 Commission.