Jan 14 • 1HR 25M

Christopher Rufo On CRT In Schools

The famed crusader dives deep into the issue with me. I found it hard to disagree with him.

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Rufo is a key architect of the anti-CRT legislation being passed in state legislatures around the country. He is also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and his Twitter account is tirelessly flagging examples of CRT in the public school system, corporate America, and elsewhere. I’ve no doubt that some of this convo is going to stir up a fuss — but the truth is I’ve become more conflicted about this legislation as time has gone by. I once thought it was a terrible idea. I’m now not so sure, given the scale of the attempt to indoctrinate children in neo-Marxist understandings of race throughout public education.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips my conversation with Rufo — on whether anti-CRT state laws go too far, and on whether anti-CRT critics like us are overhyping the threat — head over to our YouTube page.

The Federalist’s Nathanael Blake, responding to my column on “Ever-Radicalizing Republicans,” echoes a core point made by Rufo but applies it to the more narrow focus of sexually-charged books in school libraries:

[T]here is an incoherence to liberalism’s semi-official relativism, for it relies on smuggling some moral views back into political life as supposedly neutral liberal norms. This is manifest in the tendency to try to forestall democratic debate and decisions by insisting that what the people want is illiberal. When Andrew Sullivan bemoans the “illiberalism” of removing sexually explicit materials from school libraries, he is not actually supporting liberal neutrality, but instead advocating for the inclusion of such material in government schools, even if parents in particular and the community in general object.

Declaring that parental and democratic involvement in schools, from curricula to libraries, is illegitimate doesn’t mean that decisions will be neutral, just that they will be made according to the biases of teachers, administrators, librarians and suchlike. And this pattern is repeated on issue after issue, with “conservative” liberals insisting that left-liberals must be allowed to win in the name of “liberal norms.”

I don’t believe parental involvement in schools is illegitimate. Au contraire. I think curriculum transparency is vital; and that indoctrination into the core concepts of CRT is not something that should be allowed in a public high school. But books available in a school library? That students would have to seek out? I don’t have an issue. Sure, one of the books I’ve seen has an illustration of a blow-job. Not exactly Mapplethorpe.

Below, the great liberal debate over CRT continues among Dish readers. First, a heads up that “Glenn Loury and John McWhorter favorably discussed a recent piece you wrote concerning the classification of people by race using colors, starting at the 43:40 mark”:

Another reader points to one of countless examples of the phenomenon that Glenn and John discuss:

Should you care to witness an uninhibited orgy of Blackandbrowning, see this job announcement from Pierce Community College — a public institution — in WA state. They are advertising for a new math professor. Besides the initial paragraphs, be sure to read the list of “Responsibilities of the successful candidate” and even the application process itself. The first two “Responsibilities,” for example, include the phrases “Creating race-conscious course assessments” and “in a manner that promotes Black and Brown excellence.”

The phrase “Black and Brown,” in fact, occurs nine times in this ad. “Equity” appears five times. “Antiracism” (or “antiracist”) appears three times. Words that never appear in this ad for a community college math professor: “algebra,” “calculus,” “statistics,” “trigonometry,” “geometry” ...

Amazing but unsurprising. A missive from the medical world:

You keep publishing dissents like this one:

My God, Andrew, will you give the “woke” thing a rest?! I’ve always read you because of the variety of issues you covered. Now it’s become a chore to constantly see my inbox full of “woke this and woke that.” You’ve simply lost all sense of proportion.

No, your sense of proportion is exactly right. I wish I could somehow give these dissenters a window into what it is like to work in biomedical science right now.  Whether it’s internal memos calling for “decolonising” the molecular biology curriculum or journal editorials declaring “whiteness” to be the great evil permeating all medical science, it’s become a chore to constantly see my inbox full of official wokeness. Maybe I should start keeping a running list, for the sake of all these dissenters who don’t believe in the reality of a woke takeover of elite institutions?

Please do. And send us the results. It would make a good column. And wokeness in medicine is especially consequential when it comes to Covid right now. For example: “In Utah, ‘Latinx ethnicity’ counts for more points than ‘congestive heart failure’ in a patient’s ‘COVID-19 risk score’ — the state’s framework for allocating monoclonal antibodies.” ”Equity” — i.e. anti-white, anti-Asian and anti-male discrimination — is the core word for the Biden administration.

Another reader flags a recent article from RealClearInvestigations titled “No Critical Race Theory in Schools? Here’s the Abundant Evidence Saying Otherwise.” Another reader points to some hope on the horizon:

Next month, San Francisco will vote on the recall of three school board members.   (The first of three crises of the recall effort is “The Equity Crisis: Our school board wasted time renaming schools instead of reopening them. As a result, we were the last big city to reopen.”) I think this local election will be a statement on the midterms and role of parents in the upcoming elections. Here’s one article looking at the recall from the perspective of Asian non-citizens, since non-citizen parents were recently given the right to vote in Board of Education elections. (The non-citizen population of SF is roughly 105,000 — out of about 875,000 residents.) These new voters are angry about the state of schools and are very motivated to vote to recall the board members.

Another reader adds more fodder to the scandal over the 1619 Project, which kicked off the curriculum wars:

ICYMI, here’s an in-depth essay from Jim Oakes (CUNY Grad Center) critiquing the 1619 Project. (He has throwaway lines critiquing Zionist scholars and condemning capitalism — a reminder that he’s hardly a crypto-right winger.) The essay does a particularly nice job of exposing the foundational lie of the 1619 Project — that until NHJ and her work, historians had basically ignored the centrality of slavery to the American colonial and post-independence experience. Oakes also explains why NHJ’s factual errors were an essential requirement for the ideological project.

This next reader neatly conveys the liberal concerns over CRT:

I just finished reading Rebecca Solnit’s opinion piece in the NYT, “Why Republicans Keep Falling for Trump’s Lies,” and much of it resonated with me. As a moderate here in San Francisco (which makes me a “far right” person in the eyes of the local DSA tribe), I have no love whatsoever for the damage Trump has wrought on both our country and the GOP. However, too often in the essay, Solnit (another San Franciscan) wades into cliche woke hysteria over issues that do not deserve to be maligned in such a way. 

The most notable example is when she writes that “the ruckus about critical race theory is wrong that it’s actually being taught in schools but right in that how we think and talk and teach about race has shifted from when whiteness was unquestionably supreme.” After reading your work over the past few years, it is clear to me that teaching our kids that whiteness is not supreme is NOT the issue. Rather, it’s teaching our children that their identity is the most important aspect of their lives.

Why can’t progressives figure out that this is our collective concern? We WANT to teach our kids that slavery is a stain on this country; that Jim Crow can never happen again; that we should treat our fellow humans with the respect and love that the deserve. We do NOT want to teach our kids that one group of kids is more worthy of hearing out than another; that one group of kids is perpetually victimized with no ability to mold their lives through their own individual choices. Colorblind is the goal — when did that become controversial?

Amen. In contrast:

I’ve always enjoyed your perspective, particularly since it’s often different than my own. I’ve thought a lot about your take on the woke culture and the harm it’s doing to Democrats. However, the notion that all can be solved by a return to your classical notion favoring personal liberty and opportunity for each person, no matter who they are, as opposed to fixating on systems of oppressions, seems problematic.

While I share some of your frustration with CRT, the theory is useful because it points out ways that inequities are baked into our systems, resulting in generational handicaps for some groups, particularly blacks. This isn’t even controversial, and it can be seen in redlining, the fact that minority communities are much more likely to live in areas next to toxic factories, the shockingly low levels of black wealth compared to white wealth, etc. Human nature being what it is, of course systems built primarily by white people are going to tend to benefit white people more than other groups. Over time, we can look at this handicap as acting as a kind of negative compounding interest for some communities, which explains a good deal of the yawning difference in net worth between white and black people in America.

If we could somehow wave a magic wand and create a system where each individual, no matter what they looked like, would have the same opportunities, I would cheer as much as anyone. However, in an equitable society, what do we owe those who have been harmed by past unequal systems? After all, the way economics works, if the world became magically fair overnight, those who came from families that were harmed by slavery, Reconstruction, and other imposed inequities, will never catch up. They are starting too far behind. So my wife’s black Yale students will have good lives if they work hard, but they will be less likely than their white peers to inherit anything, less likely to come from households that own their homes, more likely to have to take care of relatives and elderly parents financially and physically, less likely to have strong systems of family capital and connections outside of their school, etc.

So what I would ask you is: If it’s impermissible to set up the kind of rigid worldview of some CRT advocates to impose new unequal systems to favor oppressed groups to remedy past injustices, what, if anything, should be done to make up for centuries of unequal treatment? It’s a little hard to take when Justice Roberts and other powerful white guys voice discomfort with any kind of race-based remedies. Do we just forget that for centuries, powerful white men, including a lot of judges, had no problem approving and defending all sorts of laws that in effect hurt black people and benefited whites? I have no answer, but I feel that in a just society, something should be done.

I’d have to ask: what exactly is the statute of limitations on this? It’s remarkable how so many defenses of affirmative action, for example, always assumed it would be temporary, because African-Americans as a group would catch up. Now there is a kind of assumption that African-Americans can never catch up, making it vital to rig the system to discriminate in their favor. Zora Neale Hurston thought the statute of limitations had already been reached in 1928!

My view is that many African-Americans are actually doing well; and that others are crippled by terrible family structure, cultural anti-intellectualism, and the violence and crime of their neighbors. Tackle these things first. Instead the left wants to put all these aside and focus on the repercussions of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and rigging systems to favor one race over another.

To put it more bluntly: CRT is the answer to the relative failure of African-Americans to succeed. It’s an admission of defeat; and the permanent entrenchment of victimhood as core to the black experience. Getting rid of these Marxian ideas is the beginning of religion reform.

But yes, one area of needed reform, still, is policing. Here’s a reader on something I wrote last week:

You ask why “BLM” isn’t celebrating. Since I work in the criminal justice reform field, allow me to answer. It’s not because police weren’t defunded/abolished — that’s a goal for only one corner of our broad and truly bipartisan movement. It’s because of other rather basic goals, once viewed as easily attainable, that went shockingly unattained, despite all of the momentum coming out of 2020. Some missed goals include:

  1. Ending qualified immunity, which protects officers from liability for harms caused while violating the law;

  2. Ending the disparity between crack/powder cocaine punishment, which was never evidence-based in the first place;

  3. Reforming the federal clemency process to make it a real part of the federal justice system (a goal that dates to Alexander Hamilton).

  4. Fixing the First Step Act, a sentencing/prison reform bill signed by Trump that still isn’t working nearly as intended. [Update from the reader a few days later: “today the Justice Department finally changed part of the broken implementation of the First Step Act.”]

I could go on. The point is that these are all simple, bipartisan goals where Republicans either aren’t negotiating in good faith (#1) or don’t seem to care (#2), or where Biden is — and you’ll like this one — simply not paying attention (#3-4).

Qualified immunity was the main sticking point in the Senate that eventually sank the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Read David French in National Review for a good conservative takedown of qualified immunity. I’m on the side of the reformers here.

Another dissenter wants a more proactive approach from the Dish:

Your endless culture war tirades have become stale. The high from righteous anger about the latest woke outrage is wearing off ever quicker; and deep down I know this was an unhealthy addiction from the start — for both you and your readers.

The problem is not that defending liberalism is not important. The problem is that you offer nothing but outrage in response. Where is your solution? Where is your vision? Where is your project?

Maybe it is unfair to demand from a conservative sweeping visions for the future, and you might retort that your life’s major project — same-sex marriage — is already accomplished. But without some ideas for the future, what’s left of a conservative is a reactionary.

Defending the status quo ante is not enough when — as you are the first to admit — that state is fundamentally broken. The United States is a wreck of a democracy, one close election away from tyranny, and its economy keeps steaming ahead towards turning the planet into a hot house. Half the political country has in effect renounced the democratic process and is intent on grabbing power in 2024, whether they win the election or not. The current political institutions enable and incentivize their project. Clearly, fundamental reform — a rebalancing of the checks and balances — is necessary to save this great democracy, or it will eventually fall victim to some clever hack of its centuries-old, unpatchable code base.

So what have you offered recently? A vague idea about nuclear power as a way to sell climate politics to right-wingers; and some noncommittal flirtations with a “Trumpism without Trump” mixed with a good dash of Toryism (it seems in your wet dreams, Dominic Cummings advises Glenn Youngkin to victory in 2024).

Here’s the thing: I don’t think the constitution has suddenly broken, and that a liberal society is impossible. I think we have become broken by tribalism, which renders attempts at any reform (see my proposed compromises on trans issues last year and this week) far more difficult.

Lastly, a dissent over such dissents:

I’m dismayed by the number of people who write to complain about your frequent skewering of wokeness. Many of your critics argue that you shouldn’t discuss the woke peril because the threat from Trump and his cult is greater. That argument is unpersuasive to me because it cuts both ways. If Trump and his cult pose an existential threat to America (and I think they do), then shouldn’t Democrats focus on that threat instead of talking endlessly about police violence and racism? In other words, why should those who oppose wokeness be the only ones asked to avoid talking about problems that aren’t as big as the Trump problem?

There is one important point that I think your dissenters miss. Wokeness and Trumpism are not completely separate phenomena. There is some synergy. One of the things that fuels the Trump cult is an intensifying anger directed at wokeness.  People are being exposed to it in their employment HR policies (as I am) and their children are being exposed to it in schools. The only way to stop Trump is to persuade Democrats to separate themselves from wokeness so they can win the votes of moderate voters (i.e. most voters). 

I’ll share with you a data point from one county that illustrates just how bleak the landscape now is for Democrats. I live in a rural Texas county with a population of less than 40,000 where Trump got more than 70% of the votes in 2020 and fewer than 45% are vaccinated against Covid-19. More than a year after the election, I still drive past several large, defiant “Trump 2020” banners on my way to work each day. (There is also an early, very large “Trump 2024” sign that I see each day.) 

The filing deadline for the March 2022 primary passed recently. In this county, there are about 10 contested local offices (county judge, county clerk, justice of the peace, etc.) The number of Democrats that filed to run for local office in this county was ZERO. Therefore, all winners in the Republican primary in March will run unopposed for those local offices in November. Yes, ALL of them. This is why so many Republicans act like they care only about primaries. They are being cynical and unpatriotic, but very rational. The horrifying truth is that the Democratic Party has simply ceased to exist in rural areas like this. I’m beginning to see parallels with Afghanistan, where the “government” had essentially zero support outside the cities. It all collapsed very quickly.

I wish Democrats would spend less time worrying about gerrymandering and vote suppression and more time worrying about the fact that they don’t have a meaningful message that resonates with “normal” people. Some people worry that Trump will steal the 2024 election. In my view, they should worry instead that he will win without stealing.

THAT is why you and others must continue to warn the nation and Democrats about the perils of wokeness. To put it bluntly, silence in response to the Democratic Party’s foolish dalliance with wokeness will elect Trump in 2024.

I’m grateful my reader sees why I think this is important. If you want to defeat Trumpism, you need to defeat left-extremism. There is no other way. And President Biden has opted to back left-extremism. The Democrats are soon going to feel the impact of his fateful choice.