Why So Many People Oppose CRT in K-12

What is being called CRT (a mix of identity politics, intersectionality, postmodernism, neo-marxism, racial essentialism, anti-racism, systemic racism, and group guilt and shame) is a way of understanding and interpreting the world that may profoundly conflict with the values families are trying to instill at home—hence the backlash to it. In some cases, it’s been embedded within the curriculum without full disclosure to parents, which obviously erodes trust between school and home. Some schools and teachers claim they’re not teaching CRT, yet they are using what’s known as critical pedagogy, which is a lens that informs everything they choose to present and how it’s presented to students.

Some CRT concepts contradict foundational Judeo-Christian teachings, probably best articulated by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said that his wish for his children is that they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their characters. CRT upends this notion. The idea that people are born into an intersecting matrix of power and oppression dynamics based on their immutable racial characteristics directly counters the biblical concept that we’re all created equal in the image of God—beliefs that underlay the concept of natural rights behind our founding documents and that animated the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements. Many American families strongly believe that these Enlightenment values and ideas are worthy of preserving, defending, and passing on to our children and they see CRT-informed pedagogy as a direct refutation of them. The same principles undergird our system of government and laws, and hence antithetical teachings strike at the very heart of these.

Critical pedagogy, therefore, also undermines family autonomy and parental rights to direct the religious upbringing and values formation of their own children. This is no small matter. Parents and students can reasonably expect that their religious values will not be subverted by a secular school that their minor children are required by law to attend.

Some educators are not just teaching about these ideas but demanding a certain implied fealty to them, which threatens the freedom of conscience rights of their students. Schools may not compel the speech of students or require them to affirm beliefs against their will. Parents and some concerned teachers also are objecting to classroom activities that involve shaming or labelling children based on their skin color and classroom exercises where students are required to sort themselves into categories of oppressors or oppressed. Some of this veers close to what could be considered “unlicensed therapy,” and we’ve seen cases of real harm caused by such practices, as in the Boston public school system using unregulated outside consultants.

Many families don’t want their children to be trained in mentally approaching everything and everyone by looking first at the skin colors involved. They don’t consider this healthy or desirable, it violates their worldview and personal ethics, and this is not how they’re raising their children. They think that it is disruptive to classroom and societal harmony and proper friendship formation across racial lines. What’s interesting is that such educators are quick to identify power and oppression dynamics in operational systems outside the schools, but they overlook the very real authority that an adult has over a child and that a teacher wields over a student, who are, after all, other citizens’ children. This seems a sort of willful, selective blindness.

These are distinctly opposing worldviews, but if teachers are only including one in their coursework, then they are not perceived as offering a balanced representation of the constellation of ideas, much less a thorough or representative grounding of the underpinnings of the American way of life. CRT teachings also tend to promote marxist conceptualizations of reality and policy prescriptions, which is another reason people oppose them. When schools encourage young people to compare what some people have relative to others, (in a way that fosters a hostile way of thinking that Nietzche referred to as ressentiment), parents may conceive this as violating the 10th commandment (Thou shalt not covet) and promoting the deadly sin of envy which, again, directly contradicts traditional religious teachings. It is considered by many to be a disempowering, defeatist mindset that weakens the party adopting it. In this sense, CRT and its manifestations are viewed by many as maladaptive.

Another issue is whether schools are going to emphasize a positive or negative worldview. This is a philosophical question, but most people would probably say that schools should promote at least a fair-minded balance between the two. One parent who has filed suit against her child’s school expressed to me that what she noticed in her children exposed to these teachings was a sort of “nihilism” that caused her grave concern. Kids are coming home discouraged, dispirited, and pessimistic after being exposed to these lessons and accompanying activities, and parents are responding to that reality.

Teachers are traditionally expected to be honest brokers of ideas in the classroom, meaning that they are not supposed to be tilting things in the direction of their preferred viewpoint—especially not without full transparent disclosure of their aims. This is precisely why they’re licensed by the state; because they’re in a position to cause harm to vulnerable children, who are immature, impressionable, and deserving of protection. They’re also funded with public tax dollars that are meant to be spent for the benefit of all citizens, not directed towards the achievement of some personally desired end.

There is also the problem of age inappropriateness and pedagogical inappropriateness. CRT and similar theories are rather esoteric and have drifted downward from graduate and professional schools within the academy, where they were formulated by people already well-versed in the literature of their respective disciplines. While they may form interesting critiques of this background knowledge, it’s an entirely different matter to be using this top-down approach with children who are approaching this content from the bottom up for the very first time. In other words, this is not introductory-level content for children, so in many cases it seems that some educators are placing their own interests above the learning needs of the students, which is poor practice. Furthermore, there’s reasonable concern that too much limited class time is being directed towards discussion of racial topics rather than on basic academic skills that young people need to learn and practice, in proper developmental sequence.

Additionally, there has been disingenuousness, lack of transparency, specious reasoning, and some outright deception in how these ideas have been suddenly incorporated into classrooms and, in some cases, embedded throughout entire curriuclums; unsurprisingly, this has raised distrust between schools and families. Certainly, how things are done is an important part of how they are received. The medium becomes the message, and people don't like how they and their children are being treated by unscrupulous activist educators.

Bonnie Kerrigan Snyder, D.Ed.