The Pervasiveness of Critical Race Theory in Our Schools Demonstrates Why We Need School Choice

Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is a term that seems to have exploded onto the scene in the last couple of years, and it’s taking our schools by storm. But what exactly is CRT, where did it come from, and why should parents be concerned about it being taught in our schools?

To understand CRT, you have to understand its Marxist origins. CRT is to Marxism what branches are to a tree trunk. 

Marxism views society as a fundamental conflict between oppressors and the oppressed. Karl Marx viewed this dynamic through the lens of class, where the bourgeoisie were the oppressors and the proletariat were the oppressed. CRT takes that Marxist outlook and teaches that white people are the oppressors and people of color are the oppressed. 

In the 1970’s, many Marxists became law professors, and a group of Marxist professors at Harvard Law School developed what’s known as Critical Legal Theory.

Critical Legal Theory teaches that American law inherently favors the powerful, is fundamentally resistant to change, and inevitably marginalizes groups who are not at the top of the power structure.

Derrick Bell, who started teaching at Harvard Law in the 1970’s, looked at Critical Legal Theory and decided it didn’t go far enough to address race. So he, along with other law professors, developed Critical Race Theory, which takes the Marxist dynamic of the oppressors and the oppressed and applies it directly to race. 

In fact, CRT so clearly borrows from Marxism that Critical Race theorists explicitly draw a direct line from Marxism to CRT, as demonstrated by Critical Race theorist Tara Yosso in a graphic she calls “an intellectual genealogy of Critical Race Theory.”

Tara Yosso: An intellectual genealogy of critical race theory.

Well, a few things have happened. As a nation, we have had profound racial tensions following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The New York Times’s 1619 Project emerged, setting off great debates about the history of our founding. We are also coming through a pandemic where schools closed and children were taking classes at home, which enabled their parents to overhear directly what their children were being taught. 

1619 Project

It’s important to focus clearly on the 1619 Project, because it is Critical Race Theory at work. 

The 1619 Project is a series of articles written for a special edition of the New York Times Magazine, led by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. In the words of the New York Times, the 1619 Project explicitly “aims to reframe our country’s history.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones started the 1619 Project by writing, “our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written,” and “conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” 

In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if some of the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue.

Despite complaints by renowned historians about the repeated false claims in the 1619 Project and multiple corrections by the New York Times, Nikole Hannah-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize in 2020 and is now going to be a tenured professor at Howard University. The 1619 Project is also being explicitly taught in schools in Washington, D.C., Buffalo, Newark, and Chicago.

In Buffalo, New York students in grades 7 through 12 have been taught the 1619 Project since February 2020, and the Chicago public school system is teaching the 1619 Project using curriculum guides provided by the Pulitzer Center.

There’s no question that all students need to learn about the evils of slavery, about Jim Crow, and about the horrible racial discrimination we’ve suffered throughout our history. But to reinvent the story of the American founding away from 1776, away from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and to instead characterize slavery as the central aspect of the United States is to fundamentally distort what America is all about. 

Teachers unions are pushing CRT in schools

On top of all of this, liberal teachers union bosses are also aggressively advocating for teaching CRT in schools. 

Just this year, the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the United States, adopted a platform that expressly states the National Education Association will push both Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project.

This is why we need school choice now more than ever

I’ve long said that school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, and the spread of CRT in our schools powerfully illustrates that point. Not only does CRT seek to divide our children along racial lines, it teaches them a warped history. Now more than ever, every student should have the opportunity to receive an excellent education, and it shouldn’t matter that child’s race, ethnicity, or zip code—every single child deserves an opportunity to achieve the very best. 

School choice would give every parent the freedom to choose the school that best fits their children’s needs and provide them with the chance for an excellent education. They wouldn’t have to settle for a subpar school that forces them to be taught the lies of Critical Race Theory. 

When I entered the Senate nine years ago, I made it my goal to be the leading advocate for school choice in the Senate. From passing landmark legislation to expand 529 College Savings Plans to include K-12 elementary and secondary school expenses for public, private, and religious schools, to introducing legislation to expand elementary, secondary, and vocational education opportunities for students by providing a federal tax credit to encourage individuals and businesses to donate to non-profit scholarships funds, I have worked relentlessly to enact far reaching school choice in the Senate.  

That’s also why I respect my dear friend Stan Herzog so much. Stan founded the Herzog Foundation, which produces The Lion. He is sorely missed, and he dedicated his life to making sure children receive an excellent education, particularly an excellent Christian education. At Christian schools, students are encouraged in their faith, encouraged in their freedom, and encouraged to stand up for the principles that define us. As a student, I was blessed to receive a Christian education, and Stan fought to provide American students with the same opportunity to receive a Christian education. 

And I very much believe that as more and more people learn what Critical Race Theory is and develop a working knowledge of how it’s being used in schools across the country, we can activate and effectively push back against it and defeat it. At the same time, I believe we can do much more than just be on the defensive against Critical Race Theory—instead we must make sure that all students can receive an excellent education, steeped in our shared values.