Two-thirds of American parents oppose schools’ adoption and teaching of critical race theory — the reinterpretation of U.S. history that says slavery and racism, not freedom and equality, are the country’s defining characteristics — according to a study published last week.
Most teachers — 59%, The Heritage Foundation reports in its study — are also skeptical of critical race theory. Left-leaning educators and academics embrace the theory, but critics dismiss it as little more than repackaged Marxism.
Regardless of whether critical race theory is part of the curriculum, people from each side told the conservative think tank in separate surveys that American schools need to emphasize civics education from kindergarten through high school.
The Heritage Foundation is releasing its study at a time when proponents of critical race theory are flooding schools with curricula and training sessions that divide the student body according to immutable characteristics such as skin color and sexual preference.
“Americans’ education of their history and founding is in crisis as radical activists push anti-American philosophies on students under the guise of civics education,” the study said.
According to The Heritage Foundation, much of that radical push is rooted in critical race theory’s faulty scholarship and incendiary axioms, including the proposition that “Whiteness” grants privileges that are unattainable to non-Whites.
“CRT teaches young minds to see the world as divided into two categories, oppressors and their victims, weakening public and private bonds that create trust and allow civic engagement,” the study said.
“These teachings are reversing the immense progress this country has made in race relations and equality, as well as stealing major parts of history from students, beginning with small children,” the study said. “Young Americans are taught not to be proud of their country, but to see it as an oppressor.”
The Biden administration has proposed favoring critical race theorists who posit that systemic racism exists throughout American society, including in Department of Education grants for civics and history lessons.
The administration also proposed showering money on schools and educators who incorporate The New York Times’ “1619 Project” into their lesson plans. The Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project” puts slavery at the center of the American experience, a premise that historians say is inaccurate.
Incorporating leftist dogma such as critical race theory or The Times’ race-based take on the country’s founders isn’t sitting well with the majority of parents and students, according to the surveys of more than 1,000 people in each group conducted by the Feulner Institute, which is associated with The Heritage Foundation.
About 34% of parents want critical race theory to be incorporated into American education as part of an overhaul of civics lessons. That number increases slightly, to 41.3%, among teachers.
But 68.1% of parents and 82.7% of teachers back an overhaul that focuses on “the study of rights and duties of citizenship.”
Even there, differences arise when the question shifts to content rather than themes.
As a group, teachers seem inclined to favor participatory civics education such as action civics. Generation Citizen, a nonprofit civics education group, has promoted the process in public schools since 2010. The approach stresses political action and tries to involve students in promoting certain political issues. Generation Citizen says the process gives students “the opportunity to experience real-world democracy.”
The Biden administration’s proposed favoritism in grants indicates that it intends to spend much of the $6 billion appropriated in the Civics Secures Democracy Act on programs such as those designed by Action Civics and other liberal outfits, which are replete with critical race theory.
Generation Citizen did not respond to a request for comment on the Heritage Foundation study.
Part of the explanation for the differences between parents and teachers may be the lack of transparency in lessons, Lindsey Burke, one of the study’s authors, told The Washington Times.
“It is difficult, much more difficult than it should be, for a parent to get a real good idea of what is being taught,” Ms. Burke said. “School systems and teachers have been far too opaque on what the textbooks and curriculums are.”
If the broad school closures during COVID-19 lockdowns had a “silver lining,” it was that online classes gave many parents a clearer picture of what materials their children were using and what they were taught, Ms. Burke said.
One reason for teachers’ more liberal approach to civics is what they learn in education colleges. The 71% of teachers who identified as Democrats said their interest in civics had risen in the past five years, Ms. Burke and others said.
“The text most taught in these colleges of education is Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed,’” Heritage Foundation fellow Mike Gonzalez said. “And that’s not really about pedagogy at all. It’s about revolution and using teachers as the vectors for it.
“These places have become madrassas, and it’s like a new religion to them,” he said.
The authors offer some support for legislative fixes that have circulated in dozens of state legislatures this year, although the language must be constructed carefully, Ms. Burke said.
“You can’t ban an idea, and critical race theory is an idea, so you can teach it,” she said. “The problem is the extent to which it infuses the teaching and becomes something students must adhere to. That gets into compelled speech, and there are other violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act there.”
The study’s conclusions closely tracked those reached by President Trump’s 1776 Commission, which President Biden dissolved immediately after taking office.
The commission’s final report supported the notion that civics education was key, but it warned against political drift.
“The core tenets of a renaissance in civics education must include building active parent coalitions that give parents, students and teachers the framework to fight back against politicized and ideological teachings, thereby mitigating the risk of backlash against students who voice their independent and critical thinking, rejecting partisan politics and providing transparency in curricula,” it said.
• James Varney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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