Perhaps the most useful 96 seconds in the post-Glenn Youngkin victory period you’ll spend, but let’s set the context up first. Before, during, and after Election Night, Democrats and the media insisted Republicans and Youngkin created a “dog whistle” campaign about critical race theory and education. Terry McAuliffe insisted on arguing simultaneously that Virginia schools didn’t teach CRT, and that parents who opposed the teaching of CRT were probably racists.
This argument leached into practically every media outlet’s news coverage on Tuesday night as an explainer for McAuliffe’s loss and the red wave in Virginia. MRC/Newsbusters has a sampling that’s MSNBC-heavy, but the CRT-doesn’t-exist argument got heavy rotation on every network except (presumably) Fox. The Washington Free Beacon has a video montage that captures the moment as well (via Power Line):
The New York Times has a follow-up today in the Republicans Pounce!® genre, which is a bit more subtle about the actual status of CRT influence on education:
Seizing on education as a newly potent wedge issue, Republicans have moved to galvanize crucial groups of voters around what the party calls “parental rights” issues in public schools, a hodgepodge of conservative causes ranging from eradicating mask mandates to demanding changes to the way children are taught about racism.
Yet it is the free-floating sense of rage from parents, many of whom felt abandoned by the government during the worst months of the pandemic, that arose from the off-year elections as one of the most powerful drivers for Republican candidates.
Across the country, Democrats lost significant ground in crucial suburban and exurban areas — the kinds of communities that are sought out for their well-funded public schools — that helped give the party control of Congress and the White House. In Virginia, where Republicans made schools central to their pitch, education rocketed to the top of voter concerns in the final weeks of the race, narrowly edging out the economy.
The message worked on two frequencies. Pushing a mantra of greater parental control, Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, stoked the resentment and fear of some white voters, who were alarmed by efforts to teach a more critical history of racism in America. He attacked critical race theory, a graduate school framework that has become a loose shorthand for a contentious debate on how to address race. And he released an ad that was a throwback to the days of banning books, highlighting objections by a white mother and her high-school-age son to “Beloved,” the canonical novel about slavery by the Black Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.
But at the same time, Mr. Youngkin and other Republicans tapped into broader dissatisfaction among moderate voters about teachers’ unions, unresponsive school boards, quarantine policies and the instruction parents saw firsthand during months of remote learning. In his stump speeches, Mr. Youngkin promised to never again close Virginia schools.
Note well that the NYT doesn’t float Youngkin’s argument as a lie or a falsehood. Ross Douthat’s column yesterday may be the reason for that, to which we’ll get in a moment. First, though, let’s hear from an actual school administrator, who explains that there is a campaign to lie about school curricula to parents — only it’s not coming from CRT critics. Tony Kinnett works as a school administrator in Indiana as well as conservative activist and commentator on education, and he translates how CRT gets baked into academic curricula as “anti-racism”:
As an admin for the largest school district in Indiana, here's what we mean when we tell you that we aren't "teaching" Critical Race Theory: pic.twitter.com/f6RLghcw2R
— Tony Kinnett (@TheTonus) November 4, 2021
Yes, we told principals at the beginning of the year to lie to parents and tell them we weren't using CRT in schools. Yes, we continue to lie. pic.twitter.com/A9Qo5D77Pp
— Tony Kinnett (@TheTonus) November 4, 2021
As Kinnett points out, the education establishment has merely rebranded the assumptions and beliefs of CRT into “anti-racism,” in the correct belief that criticizing that kind of branding would be difficult, especially among the uninitiated. With that translation handy, let’s take a more critical look at Virginia’s Department of Education portal. Their handbook on “navigating equity” bases its entire equity approach on the CRT-developed “anti-racism” standards and assumptions:
Anti-Racism: Acknowledges that racist beliefs and structures are pervasive in all aspects of our lives and requires action to dismantle those beliefs and structures. This requires that school leaders hold educators and students accountable when they say and do things that make school unsafe, and that they dismantle systems perpetuating inequitable access to opportunity and outcomes for students historically marginalized by race. (Christina Torres and Teaching Tolerance. “All Students Need Anti-racism Education”. July 30, 2020.)
It’s that first assumption that leads to all sorts of mischief. Are racist beliefs and structures actually “pervasive in all aspects of our lives”? Who says they are — except for CRT advocates? Does that apply equally to everyone, or is it dependent on ethnic background? What role does intent play in this, and what role does grievance alone play? Where is the science-based evidence for this proposition in the first place?
That isn’t the end of the questions this raises either. What “beliefs and structures” require dismantling, and why is it left to teachers and school administrators to take that kind of social-engineering action? Those are the questions that parents want answered. When they have asked those questions, however, they get accused of being racists and get shut out of the school board meetings that exist to engage parents in educational policies.
These issues are what Youngkin and Republicans are shining a very bright spotlight on now, and Douthat scolds media for attempting to play dumb and/or play along with radicals in Academia and their allies. I excerpted it earlier but it’s worth reading again:
Glenn Youngkin attacked critical race theory, combining it with a larger attack on how the education bureaucracy has handled the pandemic, while McAuliffe denied that anything like C.R.T. was being taught in Virginia schools and also insisted that the whole controversy was a racist dog whistle.
The problem with the McAuliffe strategy is that it fell back on technicalities — as in, yes, fourth-graders in the Commonwealth of Virginia are presumably not being assigned the academic works of Derrick Bell — while evading the context that has made this issue part of a polarizing national debate.
That context, obvious to any sentient person who lived through the last few years, is an ideological revolution in elite spaces in American culture, in which concepts heretofore associated with academic progressivism have permeated the language of many important institutions, from professional guilds and major foundations to elite private schools and corporate H.R. departments.
Critical race theory is an imperfect term for this movement, too narrow and specialized to capture its full complexity. But a new form of racecraft clearly lies close to the heart of the new progressivism, with the somewhat different, somewhat overlapping ideas of figures like Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo enjoying particular influence. And that influence extends into schools and public-education bureaucracies, where Kendi and DiAngelo and their epigones often show up on resources recommended to educators — like the racial-equity reading list sent around in 2019 by one state educational superintendent, for instance, which recommended both DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and an academic treatise on the “Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education.”
That superintendent was responsible for Virginia’s public schools.
To a certain extent, the CRT-based “anti-racism” pedagogy is a devilishly clever closed loop. Advocates claim that “racist beliefs and structures are pervasive in all aspects of our lives,” and when critics attack this fundamental point, CRT advocates claim that the criticism derives from these supposedly pervasive “racist beliefs and structures.” Parents in Virginia found that out the hard way, to the point that the Biden DoJ tried to make it a federal issue. It’s an entirely unfalsifiable hypothesis, one which cannot be measured and therefore neither proven nor disproven.
In those cases, the hypothesis would normally get thrown out. That’s what should happen to CRT-influenced curricula as well, and replaced with curricula that teaches all of our history but refuses to indulge in group determinism and paranoia. That, by the way, is precisely what Youngkin promised in his campaign — to teach all of our history but impose none of the radical agenda that has leached into public schools from the fever swamps of Academia:
To @Nate_Cohn’s point — check out the section of Glenn Youngkin’s speech on critical race theory from his final campaign rally in Loudoun County, and how he frames it. This is basically what he always said on the stump in the race’s closing weeks: https://t.co/LfKDxL77Fi pic.twitter.com/EW9n8S8hxd
— Eric Bradner (@ericbradner) November 4, 2021