A panel of education experts weighed in on the perils posed by Critical Race Theory and radical gender theories during a discussion at the Carolina Liberty Conference.

The panel discussion, held Saturday, Feb. 26, highlighted the growing culture war over how American history and civics are taught and how children as young as pre-school age are taught controversial theories about gender.

“Make no mistake, the issue before us is racial discrimination,” said Jonathan Butcher, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, in reference to Critical Race Theory. “No one should be treated differently because of the color of their skin. “Everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, is capable of achieving the American dream.”

CRT exploded into public conscientiousness in the months after the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. But it wasn’t until 2021 that the debate over CRT erupted into school systems across the country, including in North Carolina. 

Butcher argued that CRT originated in the class-warfare and economic theories of Marxist Critical Theory.

“Critical Race Theory is a worldview, not just an academic theory or assortment of secular beliefs that conservative parents do not want taught in schools. It’s a belief system that is meant to be applied in everyday life — your home, your school, your business, your church,” he said.

Butcher emphasized that conservatives’ goals in addressing CRT shouldn’t be about which side can ban the most ideas or censor the most discussions. He cited model legislation from Heritage that closely mirrors a bill passed by the General Assembly in September that would effectively ban CRT in classrooms. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, later vetoed the bill.

Butcher also emphasized the importance of transparency in schools.

“Parents should be able to see what their children are being taught in the classroom. They should see a syllabus, a list of textbooks, even a list of homework assignments that students are going to be asked to complete. They need to be able to see these things before a child gets them in the classroom so they don’t have to wait and see it on the headline of some local newspaper that their child has been taught an idea that violates their most deeply held beliefs.”

Dr. Jay W. Richards, the William E. Simon senior research fellow at Heritage’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, also addressed attendees of the conference on the topic of radical gender ideology. Richards defined gender ideology as a left-wing push to upend traditionally understand categories of males and females. The ultimate goal, according to Richards, is to replace biological sex with gender identity.

Richards said that there is a two-way movement to get radical gender theories accepted — educational authorities introduce the conceptual categories in schools and then social media influencers on places like Tumblr and TikTok introduce the ideas to kids.

“If you asked people four years ago what gender identity is, they wouldn’t know,” Richards said. “These ideas have been working their way, especially through our educational system, for years. There has been an active campaign designed specifically to indoctrinate, and I would even say groom, children in a particular set of mental categories so they would understand themselves and their teachers and their fellow human beings according to these particular categories.”

Richards said this push has resulted in a “unique pathology” that hasn’t existed before, called rapid onset gender dysphoria. The term was defined in 2018 Lisa Littman, a doctor and researcher at Brown University, who found that many girls in early adolescents — without a history of gender dysphoria — suddenly developed it largely due to peer pressure.

One report from the United Kingdom found that over a 10-year period, the occurrence of young girls reporting gender dysphoria increased by 45 times the original rate.

As for solutions, Richards said the most significant steps forward would be to create more school choice and to expand transparency in classrooms.

“If we have transparency and parents know what’s happening, then they have the freedom to move their kids to a different place if they don’t like it, then a lot of this stuff probably takes care of itself,” Richards said.