Ban Critical Race Theory Now | Opinion

Critical Race Theory (CRT) indoctrination is already largely illegal under federal law. But states must now go further and protect all students from racial discrimination by asserting the power to enforce the principles of the Civil Rights Act.

Many parents might not yet understand what CRT is. The ideology has gone by a number of names in recent years: identity politics, intersectionality, wokeness. Academics have generated convoluted justifications and rationalizations for it; journalists have crafted stilted narratives to promote it. But at its core and in practice, CRT amounts to institutionalized racial hatred.

When Paul Rossi, a high school teacher at Manhattan's Grace Church School, objected to CRT at his school, the lead teacher admitted: "We're demonizing white people for being born." Robin DiAngelo, author of the bestselling White Fragility, argues that all whites are inherently racist. Bettina Love, an education professor, has written in Education Week that "white teachers need a particular type of therapy" to address their "white emotionalities" and to undo "whiteness" in education. Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of The New York Times' CRT-infused "1619 Project," has plainly stated that her project's deepest ambition is "to get white Americans to stop being white."

Anyone who doesn't immediately understand how morally abhorrent this all is need only swap the races and/or epithets used in these statements. Can you imagine if school leaders admitted that they were demonizing children for being born black? If bestselling authors insisted that all blacks are inherently vicious and must work on their Black Instability? If teacher magazines suggested that black teachers need therapy to address "black emotionalities?" If curriculum designers explained that their goal was to get black kids to stop being black?

There would be a nationwide moral outcry that there must be laws to bring these bigots to heel and protect our nation's children from their morally demented ideology. Indeed, there already has been such an outcry and such a law passed: the civil rights movement and the Civil Rights Act.

CRT, however, defines itself explicitly against traditional civil rights. According to Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, CRT is "unlike traditional civil rights discourse" in that it "questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of constitutional law."

When most Americans think about the civil rights movement, they think of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream that his children "will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

But Robin DiAngelo has declared that it is "dangerous" to say that you try to treat people equally, regardless of race. Teacher magazines like Educational Leadership insist that teachers must "challenge racial 'colorblindness.'" Teacher support books recommended by the Department of Education declare that when teachers try to be color-blind, they are actually creating an "unsafe environment" for students.

Indeed, Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist and arguably the most influential CRT public intellectual, has issued a clarion call on behalf of racial discrimination: "The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination."

In the context of education, this is a call for teachers to racially discriminate against white children as a supposed remedy for past racial discrimination against black children.

It's no wonder, then, that CRT practices are the mirror images of some historic practices that horrified us when we learned about them in school (or, for many older Americans, witnessed them firsthand).

For instance, in Evanston, Illinois, a school separated staff by race for training, offered racially segregated "affinity groups" for students and parents, told teachers to treat students differently based on race and publicly shamed white students based on their race.

Elementary school classroom in San Diego, California
Elementary school classroom in San Diego, California David Butow/Corbis via Getty Images

This is all obviously illegal, and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights had declared it, properly, to be so—that is, until the Biden administration officially suspended that decision, suggesting that all of this might be totally acceptable.

No one could possibly doubt that if a school district shamed black students based on their race, told teachers in writing to discipline black students more severely or offered "whites-only" professional development opportunities, that Biden's Office for Civil Rights would force them to stop.

Unfortunately, the Biden Department of Education has clearly gone "woke." When Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was Connecticut's commissioner of education, he declared, "We need teachers behind this wave of our curriculum becoming more 'woke.'" When Deputy Education Secretary-nominee Cindy Marten was superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, she oversaw training that told white teachers that they were "spirit murdering" black students. And last month, the Department of Education issued a proposed regulation for federal civics grants that name-checked the "1619 Project," Ibram X. Kendi and a book by education professors advocating against "colorblindness."

State-sanctioned racism is, of course, not a new phenomenon in America. It is only the group being intentionally victimized and the institutions endorsing (or even enforcing) racism that have changed.

By the 1960s, it had become undeniably clear that some states would not apply the protections of the 14th Amendment to all of their citizens. Because of that, Congress gave the federal government express authority to enforce the principle of equal protection. But today, it is becoming clear that, when it comes to education, the federal government is not exercising its authority to protect all students. Therefore, it is time for state legislatures to step forward and ensure that the Civil Rights Act is vigorously enforced.

Critics of proposed state laws addressing CRT in schools contend that these proposals constitute "censorship." While the details of these proposed laws vary—and matter greatly—this charge is, by and large, bogus.

No teacher today is free to say things like "black students are ignorant and therefore I decenter, disrupt and dismantle blackness in the classroom." Such rank bigotry is (properly) illegal under the Civil Rights Act. Only by abandoning Enlightenment rationalism and the avowed neutral principles of the rule of law—as CRT affirmatively encourages its adherents to do—could one argue that stopping what is obviously "illegal discrimination" when applied to one race becomes "un-American censorship" when another race is the target instead.

Anyone arguing in good faith against state laws addressing CRT in schools must argue against what these proposed laws actually say. For example, Idaho's recently passed bill to ban CRT in the classroom declares that no educational institution "shall direct or otherwise compel students to personally affirm" that "any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin is inherently superior or inferior [and/or] that individuals should be adversely treated on the basis of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin." Therefore, the Idaho law's critics must argue that schools actually should tell students that certain races are inherently superior or inferior, and that individuals should be treated differently based on their race.

This, as we have seen, may well be what leading CRT activists actually believe. But it is not what everyday critics of such laws typically contend. They'll make arguments about censorship or the First Amendment, or claim that these laws will hurt efforts "intended" to address racism.

But we, as a nation, must not address the legacy of institutional racism by institutionalizing a new form of racism in our schools. As the federal government appears to have abandoned its duty to protect all students from racial discrimination, state legislatures must step forward and accept the responsibility of enforcing the Civil Rights Act by banning CRT indoctrination in public schools.

Max Eden is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.