Should Critical Race Theory be Taught in Schools?
If so, I have one question: Will it be taught the same way Christianity is taught?
As we prepare for the start of school in the fall of 2021, a new battle is raging between academics and teacher unions on one side, and parents and religious/political conservatives on the other. The battle ground is Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its ideological cousins, and the prize that goes to the victor is the student.
As is the case with most complicated issues, the first layer of conflict is simple bordering on simplistic: yes or no. Another layer down, however, are those who are willing to say that a lot of things should be taught in schools, especially at the university level. Afterall, isn’t the point of education to expose students to a whole range of ideas and teach them how to critically reflect on them? Maybe even find truth?
This classically liberal vision of education is where a lot of people are, but even it cannot answer our question. It cannot solve the problem because of what CRT itself teaches about the “whole range of ideas” out there in the world.
My answer to the question is, “it depends.” My reasons for that answer can be explained by a comparison between the way CRT and its cousins are now taught in schools[i] and the way Christianity is taught.
When Christianity is taught in public schools, it is normally taught in a comparative religion course and treated as just one of the world’s major religions. This is a charitable view, avoiding the rabbit trail of teaching Christianity as a version of “white supremacy” and “colonization” (both of which are the result of CRT). When it is taught on the university level, it is in the context of a Religious Studies Department, and more often than not, is taught by someone who does not believe it is true. It is not at all uncommon for biblical scholars in public and non-Christian universities to be atheists or practitioners of another religion altogether.
This is to say, Christianity is not taught by people who believe it is true, it is not allowed to be taught as true, it is often taught in a religiously relativistic context, and it is even taught as one of history’s major problems.
So, should CRT be taught in schools? Let us say “yes”, but only the way Christianity is taught.
This answer is the classically liberal answer. Critical Race Theory is an influential worldview with a lot of academic and popular level literature behind it, so it behooves us to at least understand it well in order to critically analyze it. The reason I say this answer does not work, however, is that CRT does not allow itself to be one of the combatants in the public arena of ideas. It considers itself the only combatant, the arena, and the rules of the game. Obey or have your blood spilt.
Can CRT be taught as one narrative or worldview among many? One test of the answer to that question is whether teachers can disagree with the fundamental tenants of CRT. For example, can a teacher or professor refuse to use neologistic pronouns chosen by students without complaint? Can a professor of sociology argue for “All Lives Matter” without risking serious blow-back? Can a professor of philosophy pose a better set of reasons for racism and argue that CRT gets it wrong? Can a teacher refuse to teach “white privilege”, or treat it as only one way of analyzing history? Can a teacher recommend a transgendered student to counseling to help them overcome their gender dysphoria?
Can a university decide to teach CRT by creating an entire “Critical Theory Studies Department” populated solely by professors who believe the theory is not true?
An increasing number of freshmen orientations and parent days include struggle sessions, diversity training, and awareness raising for white families. All of this is CRT. What if Christianity were “taught” in the same way? What would the academy think of freshmen orientations and parent days that included Christian catechism, prayer, expectations about sexual purity, and a list of requirements for chapel attendance?
CRT is a totalizing narrative[ii], claiming the right to oversee everything people think and say. It is becoming more common to refer to CRT as a religion or a cult.[iii] It has all the hallmarks of a religion, including a strong sense of “insider verses outsider”, sin and guilt, salvation and forgiveness. The comparison between Christianity and CRT is neither frivolous nor a rhetorical trick – it is nearly a one-to-one analogy.
Those who argue most strenuously that CRT needs to be taught in schools at all levels are not technically arguing that it needs to be taught, but that it needs to be assumed as true and that students need to be socialized into believing it is true. This is not education. This is propaganda and indoctrination.
Returning to the comparison between CRT and Christianity, it is in this context where we understand one of the significant differences between the two. It is true that Christianity sees itself as a totalizing narrative – it believes it is true for all people everywhere at all times. But it also believes that it can put itself in the public square, propose its doctrine as true, answer questions, and deal with disagreement. It literally says, “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18), and “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:18).
Christianity literally teaches us to find truth in its doctrine and gospel. It invites conversation and critique from all comers, and that includes CRT.
[i] From elementary to university. Despite protestations to the contrary, evidence that it is being taught is abundant.
[ii] Ibram X. Kendi’s proposal for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for example, creates a Department of Antiracim that “would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas.”
[iii] See authors such as: Jonathan Merritt, Noelle Mering, Carl R. Truman, and Voddie Baucham.
“He must increase, and I must decrease.” John the Baptist
John the Baptist was once asked what he thought about Jesus baptizing and attracting crowds. That was John’s ministry, and now this new guy was doing the same thing, drawing people away. When his disciples and some Jews brought him that question, he explained who he was and what his role in the kingdom of God really was. Then he took them one step further and made sure they knew who Jesus was and why it was so important for people to know him better than they knew John. (See John 3:22-36 for the whole story.) Every time I read this part of the Gospel, I am stopped in my tracks by one thing John the Baptist says, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (3:30).
Here are a few, quick devotional thoughts on how to make this incredible declaration ours.
There is no biblical character who encountered God and walked away saying, “What the world needs is more of me!” Every one of them was overcome with their unworthiness and his infinite worth.
At no time did this recognition mean that the person ceased in their impact or significance. This is not the kind of thing Eeyore would say, sulking into a hole acting as if nobody cares. It is the courageous declaration of a warrior who has found the One Thing worth fighting and dying for. Every person who has come to this realization has become more, not less. Life with God is a wide-open country. Life with myself is a small, windowless room.
The more we read the story of John the Baptist, the more awesome Jesus becomes. John always points to Jesus. And so it should be for every believer, for every church, and for every sermon – let us leave people looking at Jesus. If a sermon leaves you in awe of what is possible for you if you only have enough faith, you have increased and Jesus has decreased. If a church is built on you becoming a better version of yourself, Jesus has faded in the background and that church has decided that sinners are the solutions to their own problems.
The better way is the one taught by John the Baptist. The world needs more of Jesus and less of me.
What I’m Reading
I have always had a respect for the writing of Thomas Sowell. He relentlessly follows evidence and data and has been willing to uncover (and excoriate) the icons of modern elitism and academia. He marches in the direction he sees as right, and I have developed a great deal of respect for that way of life. So, it was with great anticipation that I ordered, “Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell” by the wonderfully unassuming Jason L. Riley.
Fifty percent in and loving it.