Last month, Stanley Kurtz accused two Republicans, Senator John Cornyn and Representative Tom Cole, of being “hornswoggled” into backing the Civics Secures Democracy Act, which would appropriate $1 billion for federal grants to support curriculum development and teacher training in K-12 civics education. Kurtz and others argued that the key words in the bill all but assured the Department of Education would use the money to promote critical race theory (CRT).
We no longer need to take Kurtz’s word for it. This week, the Department of Education proposed a regulation that eliminates all plausible deniability, directing civics grant programs to prioritize applications that “support the development of culturally responsive teaching and learning.”
“Culturally responsive” is one of CRT’s favorite terms. For many, it might sound like the melting-pot pedagogy that centrists have long held dear: finding elements in students’ diverse backgrounds that could be used as hooks to bring them closer to the spirit of E pluribus unum. But the creators of “culturally responsive” education actually mean the opposite.
According to New York University professor David Kirkland, author of “Culturally Responsive Education: A Primer for Policy and Practice” and key architect of New York State’s culturally responsive framework, the old approach to diversity facilitated “assimilation by dominant systems and ideologies which centered Anglo-European-Christian-Judeo-cis-hetero-male whiteness as the normative reference point.” Culturally responsive education, he says, “challenges this doxa.” How far does that anti-assimilationist challenge go? Kirkland has declared that expecting class to be conducted in American standard English reinforces “narratives of white supremacy.”
The Department of Education’s proposed rule does not go quite that far, but it does put what it wants in remarkably plain language. As an example of a work showcasing the “vital role of diversity in our Nation’s democracy,” the Department of Education lauds the “landmark” 1619 Project, which scholars have heavily criticized for its factual and interpretive distortions.
The proposed rule also applauds that “schools across the country are working to incorporate antiracist practices into teaching and learning,” and invokes Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Anti-Racist, which declares, “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.”
The proposed rule would also prioritize civics programs that foster “an ‘identity-safe’ learning environment.” But what, according to the rule, puts students in danger? The idea that teachers should treat them equally, regardless of race. Teachers who “try to be colorblind,” explain the authors of a book cited in the proposed rule, “inadvertently [are] creating an unsafe environment.”
No one paying close attention should be surprised to see the Department of Education turning its grantmaking apparatus into an engine to promote CRT and foster “anti-racist” racial discrimination in the classroom. Unfortunately, moderates and conservatives in Congress typically don’t pay that much attention.
Or perhaps they really do believe that our country was founded as a “slavocracy;” that our schools should engage in “antiracist” racial discrimination, and that “colorblindness” endangers student safety.
Whatever the case may be, the Department of Education has done Americans a favor by making its intentions clear: it will use any money Congress gives it for civics education to promote critical race theory.
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