Opinion

What North Carolina parents needs to know about critical race theory

Senate Leader Phil Berger speaks with Lt. Governor Mark Robinson at the release of the F.A.C.T.S. Task Force report outlining instances of bias in N.C. public schools as reported by parents and teachers from across the state. August 24, 2021 at the state legislative building in Raleigh. Photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal
Senate Leader Phil Berger speaks with Lt. Governor Mark Robinson at the release of the F.A.C.T.S. Task Force report outlining instances of bias in N.C. public schools as reported by parents and teachers from across the state. August 24, 2021 at the state legislative building in Raleigh. Photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal

Over the past month, Americans have descended into a heated debate about “critical race theory,” and a bill aimed at banning it has made North Carolina the latest battleground. The controversy over the legislation, titled H.B. 234, has drawn some questionable allegations about what it would do.

Would the bill really incite “a fear-based approach to limit teachers’ ability to discuss the reality of racism in the United States and … limit students’ engagement with history, current events, and personal health, as well as their social and emotional learning” as the North Carolina Public School Forum put it?

That could not be further from the truth, and North Carolina parents need to know the facts about CRT and its defenders. Critical Race Theory emerged in the 1970s as a branch of legal studies. Its proponents argued that even after the Civil Rights Revolution, white supremacy remained fundamental to American society, and a broad critique of social institutions, not just formal legal equality, was needed to eliminate it. CRT soon spread. In the early 1990s, it was adapted for the realm of pedagogy to examine the gap in achievement between white and non-white students.

Critics of anti-CRT bills rightly note that these niche academic ideas are not being taught directly to students. But this terminological objection only serves to distract from the spread of dangerous pedagogical practices based on the ideas and vocabulary of CRT scholarship.

Take, for example, what happened last year in the Wake County Public School System, North Carolina’s largest school district. As my Manhattan Institute colleague Chris Rufo reported, more than 200 public school teachers gathered for a conference on “equity” and “antiracism,” which claimed that “norms of whiteness” pervaded their schools. Teachers were encouraged to ignore parents’ objections in the pursuit of overcoming a “dominant ideology” of whiteness that needed to be “disrupted.” Teachers were, in other words, actively counseled to disregard parents’ wishes so that they could pursue a “transformative” restructuring of schools.

Schools across the country are following suit. Combining academic CRT buzzwords with the latest consultant-therapy speak, educators are embracing new pedagogical theory which insists that to ensure equity, we need to stop trying to measure students’ ability; that students should be segregated by race to promote equality; and that practices like disciplining disruptive or even violent kids are intolerably racist.

Call it what you will, but that’s the sort of thing North Carolina’s state legislature is trying to push back against. The bill simply prohibits teaching that students should be discriminated against on the basis of race, including claiming that students are inherently racist or “oppressive” because they are of a certain race. The goal is not to silence discussion of America’s history of racial intolerance — it’s to ensure that equal dignity is the animating principle of classroom discussions.

But these bills can only go so far, and it is crucial that parents push back against these retrograde ideas about race in North Carolina classrooms.

The Manhattan Institute recently published a toolkit meant to empower parents of all political backgrounds to do just that. It includes more information about Critical Race Theory as applied in schools (what it terms “critical pedagogy”), as well as some steps for organizing to make sure your voice is heard.

If you are concerned, I encourage you to pick it up. Regardless of what CRT is or isn’t, there is something crazy spreading in our schools, and it is incumbent on you as a parent to be on top of it.

Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, working primarily on the Policing and Public Safety Initiative, and a contributing editor of City Journal.