Political Theater of the Anti-CRT Campaign

There is a wave of bills and resolutions that are sweeping across the country that on the surface claim to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools. Beyond the surface lie concerted efforts to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion activities and outlaw culturally responsive teaching, critical pedagogy, and restorative justice approaches.

As someone born in the USSR, I am struck by the statements made by those who are participating in this campaign.

“Our children should know that we live in the greatest country on earth!”

“This dangerous, anti-American ideology has no place in Georgia classrooms”

“Our young people don’t need to be taught divisive lies!”

“Students should be able to report what their professors are teaching, to stop the spread of dangerous propaganda and the indoctrination of younger generations.”

I am struck by these statements coming from legislators, policymakers, education board members, and parents because I have already heard similar proclamations before. And, with some luck, I can hear them again if I find the right video recordings of the Communist Party Plenums from the Soviet era.

Here is the problem in the nutshell – surveilling who says what to whom and reporting what has been said to stop the spread of “indoctrination” has already been done in the Soviet Union where indoctrination was blatant and ever present. Of all the things done in the Soviet Union – not all of which were necessarily bad – witch hunts of those who express different views is not the best practice to emulate. Importantly, witch hunts – whether in this country during McCarthyism or in any other country under dictatorial regimes – never lead to anything good. In fact, they more often than not create large-scale disasters. You know where the word “gulag” came from? From the country where witch hunts based on political views were the norm, aka the USSR.

You might say, “These debates about Critical Race Theory don’t concern me” or “I don’t want children in this country to be indoctrinated.” I don’t want children in this country indoctrinated either. But along with others who have shared their analysis of the political theater around anti-CRT bans, I think there is a lot to be concerned about here. My main point of concern is how the media, marketing, and legislative campaigns are getting parents and legislators to believe that some people should be stopped because they are “indoctrinating” young minds. Why? Because this rhetoric itself is a form of indoctrination.

What are some symptoms of indoctrination?

The simplest one is repeating the same talking points.

See, if a person had a chance to wrestle with some ideas, they end up rejecting some, changing the language in others, and then adding something from themselves.

Legislators are demanding that the following “divisive concepts” be removed from school curricula or discussions in educational institutions. Can you guess which state these ideas came from?

  1. The United States of America is a racist country
  2. One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
  3. An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
  4. An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race;
  5. Members of one race cannot or should not attempt to treat others without respect to race;
  6. An individual’s moral standing or worth is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex;
  7. An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
  8. An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex;
  9. Meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race;
  10. Fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.

Well? Is it Michigan? Utah? Florida? Georgia? New Hampshire? Idaho? Tennessee?

The answer is – all of the above.

And this should give you a pause.

Think about this for a second. Why is the United States a federation? So that each member state could make its own governing decisions that are better aligned with local contexts, values, and priorities. For example, people often repeat – K-12 education is a state issue; federal government has no business telling what states should do. Take, for example, Governor Kemp of Georgia who proclaimed that, “Parents, educators, and local communities here in the Peach State know how to best educate their students – not the federal government.”

If states have their own governing bodies, so that they could make their own policies, why is the language so consistent?

The answer is fairly simple. A group of conservative organizations created networks that influence legislators and supply them with scripts for the bills that should be introduced. These organizations are also linked to advocacy groups and non-profits that receive scripts to distribute among “concerned parents” and “concerned citizens.” These operations are funded by large donors.

For example, one of the central actors waging the war against “wokeness” and leading the charge against critical race theory, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, and equity is the Heritage Foundation. Its IRS 990 forms list $365,763,848 as its assets and $132,836,267 for its gross receipts. It can spend millions on lobbying and “grassroots” activities. One of the organizations it supports is “Concerned Women of America” that tracks the introduction of anti-CRT bills and mobilizes others for action in their state. Heritage is supported by Koch brothers who also support the American Legislative Council and State Policy Network, with such affiliates as Texas Public Policy Foundation, that deliver “state solutions” with “national impact” to state legislators. Philanthropy Roundtable that seeks to influence policy-making by guiding philanthropic support has also receive support from Koch brothers.

The Heritage Foundation is not waging this war alone. The letter submitted by Attorneys General to the Secretary of Education where concerns about divisive concepts are shared bases its argument on the Heritage Foundation posts and publications by the American Enterprise Institute. One person cited is Christofer Rufo one of the main figureheads of the campaign who has held positions with the Manhattan Institute and the Discovery Institute – libertarian think-tanks that are also participating in this campaign against “wokeness.”

In fact, the points I listed earlier appear in “The Partisanship Out of Civics Act” designed as a model bill by the National Association of Scholars (section B, points 7 and 8). This is one instance of a script that gets circulated among policymakers and legislators to prompt political action.

Why should you be concerned?

It’s plain and simple.

You voted for elected officials who are supposed to represent you. But instead, your elected officials represent the richest people in the country and sign into law bills created by powerful “influencers,” some of which operate on multi-million dollar budgets. When the same language gets parroted from one state to another, indoctrination unfolds.

And that is how you get bills with the same language introduced from one state to another. And when journalists ask simple questions – Is Critical Race Theory even taught in schools?, rich donors have nothing to say.

Why?

Because this has never been about Critical Race Theory. It has always been about teaching you to look at your neighbor, your child’s teacher, or a college professor and see the enemy, instead of paying attention to who is spending billions buying superyachts and taking rides on space shuttles.

We can have many perspectives on what Critical Race Theory offers and what limitations it might have. But it is time to consider how this battle against it is in itself a form of indoctrination.

My invitation is simple. Let’s not repeat TV one-liners and social media posts. Let’s not forward to our elected officials mass send-outs from organizations funded by billionaires. Let’s read, learn, and check for ourselves what these ideas are and what they stand for. In order not to become coopted into someone else’s game, we all have to take a simple choice to think for ourselves and use credible reliable sources to develop our positions. Fighting indoctrination happens through careful learning and reasoning. Not by repeating someone else’s talking points or by legislating who should be reported and disciplined for discussing certain concepts.

Why does it all matter? Because we cannot have a democracy without independent thinkers.

If we all repeat one-liners here and there, if we engage in witch-hunts, reporting, and punishments, if we accept what we are told without critically examining these ideas for ourselves, we slide into authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

I hope we can all agree that it is not the future we want for ourselves or our children.

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