Republican state legislatures are adopting resolutions banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools. The bans are a reaction to Democrats mandating CRT in public education and in other dimensions of public policy. Bans and mandates are two sides of the same coin.
CRT is a bad penny, first because any version of history and sociology so controversial should not be taught in public schools. Let university intelligentsia debate such ideas until a consensus interpretation develops that is appropriate for young minds in elementary, middle and high school.
Furthermore, the central precepts of CRT and its highly promoted version, The New York Times’ 1619 Project, are extreme to the point of invalidity, including prominently the related public policy prescription of overt reverse racism.
One of the leading proponents of CRT, Ibram X. Kendi says “When I see racial disparities, I see racism.” This sweeping absolutist observation is patently false. Take just one specific example: Asian Americans outperform Blacks and whites and all other minority groups both academically and economically. Where’s Kendi’s racism?
Kendi says “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.”
Is this what we want taught in public schools – that white schoolchildren should be discriminated against and Black schoolchildren should advance because of the sins of white ancestors and the oppression of Black ancestors? Should it be public policy that the sins and the oppression of ancestors determine the future of today’s schoolchildren, who are innocent in all respects?
Instead of wallowing in the past, racism including its present-day legacy effects, why not offer needful Black children enhanced instruction in practical academic skills – reading, math, job training?
Yet that is what the Biden administration has proposed. Last April 19th, it published in the Federal Register a proposed new rule, entitled “Proposed Priorities – American History and Civics Education.”
The proposed rule will prioritize federal grants for both teacher training and classroom instruction to projects that “incorporate anti-racist practices into teaching and learning. As the scholar Ibram X. Kendi has expressed… ‘Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities.’”
The Kendi citation leaves no doubt about the intention of the projects. This is hardly the unifying policy that Biden, the candidate, promised.
Federal education policy is not the only public sphere in which reverse racism is being employed. In Connecticut, a new law declares racism a public health crisis. It sets up a large committee to reduce “disparities” by a whopping 70% in education, health care, criminal justice and income. While it is long on ambition and short on specifics and, ultimately, may suffer the fate of many committee-driven initiatives, the 70% target is enormous. If the law has even half the intended impact, that impact will be enormous, mostly for the good.
However, at least one veteran Connecticut state legislator sees the law’s reverse-racism as a potent negative force in public sector employment. Janet Lockton, former state representative for the 149th district, says “Each state agency executive, legislative, judicial and higher education shall … prepare a plan to hire and retain at least 70% more people of color.” She concludes that “if you are white, the likelihood of getting a job with any state agency, higher education or judicial branch in the future is unlikely.”
Lockton raises the specter of white flight. Indeed, why wouldn’t white workers depart the Nutmeg State in search of better job prospects elsewhere, in states where they do not face the obstacle of reverse racism?
Connecticut cannot afford any outmigration. It has suffered an exodus for many years. Yesterday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released monthly data for May showing that the state has the worst employment statistics in the nation with the highest drop-out rate from the pre-pandemic civilian workforce and the 6th highest current unemployment rate of 7.7 %.
Employment in May of 1.62 million is 16% below the state’s pre-pandemic civilian labor force of 1.93 million in February 2020. The next biggest gap is in Hawaii at 11%. Thirteen states have registered workforce gains.
Clearly, there’s a severe jobs crisis in Connecticut which can only have devastating consequences: inevitably, a shrinking workforce means a shrinking economy.
The jobs crisis should be the primary focus in Hartford, yet the Lamont administration offered only happy talk about May’s painfully slight improvements over April.
Among CRT’s many faults is that it seems to have distracted Connecticut officials from this priority. That is not to detract from the legitimacy and importance of concerns about racial disparities, income inequality and social justice. It is to say that CRT’s prescription of reverse-racism is wrong both as a cure and as a distraction from an essential part of any cure – jobs. There can be no social justice without jobs and a healthy economy.