In sonnet ninety-four, Shakespeare turns his brilliance to youth and its fickleness, ending the sonnet with one of the most memorable of his couplets: “For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds/Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

This couplet came to mind as  the current controversy regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT) swirls madly about the country. Former President Obama, the recently deposed Terry McAuliffe, and all the other quacksalvers notwithstanding, CRT is no tempest in a teapot. It isn’t a balefire that lights the way to a better future but a torch that incinerates our past while scorching our present. On the one hand, nothing could be more “sweet” than the idea of equality. On the other, nothing could be more putrescible than the idea that one race is better than another, but that is exactly what CRT teaches.

If any good has come out of the Wuhan Pandemic—and it’s unclear that we can think in those terms yet—it is the realization of parents of school age children that public schools seek more to indoctrinate than they do to educate. This is not only apparent from deplorable reading and math scores that are regularly reported, but also from the fierce and unapologetic “wokeism” of the National Education Association (NEA), the national teachers’ union.

The NEA—once referred to by Forbes magazine as the National Extortion Association—has been the coryphaeus, the conductor, of the cacophony we now call public education. It, along with its twisted sister CAEP (Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation), not only controls teacher preparation but also stands to defend any teacher who teaches CRT and is threatened with job loss. Teacher preparation is long on theory and noticeably short if nonexistent on discipline content. It’s not at all unusual for teacher preparation programs to graduate math teachers who cannot multiply or divide fractions, or literature teachers who have never read a Shakespeare play. So, what can parents do?

Speaking out will label parents as domestic terrorists by the National School Boards Association (NSBA—are you seeing a trend here?) and the Biden administration. Fortunately, that plan has backfired and now a quarter of the states have dropped their affiliation with NSBA (kicking out its sequacious partners, the NEA and CAEP, should come next). But other means of pushback exist.

Education Consumer Foundation provides parents with excellent resources to combat not only CRT but the whole panoply of slipshod education with first-rate data and research (Full disclosure: I serve as an advisory but uncompensated board member). Carlyle once said that “If we think of it, all that a University or final highest School can do for us is still but what that first School began doing—teach us to read.” As ECF data makes clear, however, many of our nation’s schools cannot do even that. We know without any doubt that failure in reading is the death knell for any student’s educational progress.

Using scatterplots and other tools, ECF shows at a glance how their local schools fare in teaching reading but also how their success or failure impacts state, local, and federal taxes. All local schools tout a positive image, but ECF data allow parents to compare that image with reality, a reality that is often at odds. For example, CRT theory often claims that racism is responsible for racial disparities in school performance. ECF data, however, reveals that the schools’ own faulty instruction is to blame for low performance — both white and minority.

Supported entirely by private donations, ECF documents school excellence, or lack thereof, in locales around the country. Focused initially in Tennessee, ECF created a consumer empowerment model that it now seeks to expand to other states as private funding increases.

Examining school performance is not an easy task. Recently a group with which I am associated, asked four school districts in York County, South Carolina, whether the schools’ curriculum included CRT. School officials either hedged or told us emphatically, no it was not present. Subsequent Freedom of Information Act requests revealed a different picture entirely. Second Step, a social-emotional learning tool that focuses on teaching children social justice (or the elementary version of CRT) is ubiquitous in the area. DEI (DIE might be a better acronym), diversity, equity, and inclusion, is also prevalent. In other words, educrats are teaching CRT principles whether they call it that or not. Consequently, school officials, not to mention school boards, may not be the best places to access the unvarnished truth.

CRT, DEI, and social-emotional learning like Second Steps, not only have nothing to do with student learning outcomes in reading, math, science, and so on, but they also undermine the efforts the motivation of students who are in most need of encouragement and support. Instead of encouraging minority students to make their best efforts, schools use CRT to tell them their situation is hopeless systemic racism, and the deck is stacked against them. Such indoctrination not only vouchsafes that students will have negative expectations about their futures, but it also blinds them to the myriad opportunities available to them in the freest nation on earth.

For years, schools counted on parents not knowing what was going on in the school curriculum, much less CRT, DEI and whatever other social-emotional claptrap was being taught. Today, they count on our reticence to stand up, our inclination not to ‘rock the boat,’ and what can be called the Lake Woebegone Effect: schools are weak, but my child is the happy exception. The pandemic has changed all that. Now, we all know that public education is more about wokeism and less about intellectual progress for students. We also know that parents who point this out are unwelcome in the schools.

In a phase that is sure to discomfort those educrats let me say: Parents of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but the blinders from your children’s eyes while you will gain more control of your child’s education. Recent election returns in Virginia and elsewhere prove that parents are catching on quickly.  But we cannot stop now. We know if we do nothing more, Shakespeare will again be to the point: “The fault will lie not in our stars but in ourselves….”

Mark Y. Herring is professor emeritus, dean of library services from Winthrop University. Herring spent 42 years as dean or director in academic libraries in Tennessee, Oklahoma and South Carolina. He was most recently appointed by Governor Henry McMaster to the South Carolina State Library Board. He resides with his wife, Carol, in Rock Hill.