Senior Fellow, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy,
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy
The Heritage Foundation
Testimony before the House Committee on Education
Louisiana House of Representatives
April 27, 2021
My name is Mike Gonzalez. I am the Angeles T. Arredondo Senior Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this testimony are my own and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation.
No issue should concern a healthy society more than the education of its children, for they truly will be the leaders of the future. Future Americans should understand what their country represents, when it has fallen short of its ideals, and how it has solved its problems when it has strived to live up to them. Pride in their country’s many accomplishments will help future Americans remain together as they strive for common purposes, just as an understanding of past mistakes will help them avoid repeating them. All healthy societies have therefore understood that a solid education in civics is required to have a healthy future citizenry.
Much of what we are doing at the present moment is unhealthy however. We are needlessly sowing dissent and hatred, when we should be healing, and psychologically damaging young children, when we should be molding them into future citizens. The so-called anti-racism curricula and trainings that are sweeping society at the moment are nothing less than forms of workplace harassment of America’s employees and of child abuse of American students.
President Trump rightly banned these trainings in the Federal workforce and among federal contractors, in its Executive Order 13950, signed on September 22, 2020. The new Biden-Harris Administration misguidedly rescinded this ban, however, in its first day in office on January 20, 2021, when it signed Executive Order 13985. It was apparently the first thing the new administration did. The new Biden-Harris EO also, incidentally, revoked the 1776 Advisory Commission, of which I was a member.
Because of the decision to revoke the ban on trainings at the Federal level, much of the energy has now gone to the states. A bill has been introduced in the New Hampshire State Legislature which prohibits the dissemination of divisive concepts related to sex and race in state contracts, grants, and training programs. The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, too, has barred the state’s civics curriculum the teaching that race is the key to all human interactions, and that all of life is just an unending power dynamic. Many other states, not just Louisiana, are considering similar actions.
All living organisms, including nations and societies, have a right to fight for self-preservation. In our federal system, the individual states have much power, and are able to do things the federal government chooses not to do, or indeed cannot do. Education is one area where the states are sovereign, and the federal government has no constitutional role. The 50 states, or better yet, the some 14,000 school boards across the country, have the power and the right to dictate educational policy. This is right, as these entities are closest to the people. In fighting against these curricula and trainings, the states are trying to find a way to prevent the dismantling of American society, which the proponents of these practices fully admit is their goal.
All of these activities are informed by an ideology known as critical race theory, and thus are known as either critical race theory trainings or critical race theory curricula. I will explain lower down the genesis of this Marxist idea. The proponents of CRT manipulate our emotions and our desire to redress past wrongs. I will also explain lower down how this militates against the closing of racial disparities. I think it is best if I, at first, give you a sense of how traumatizing CRT can be, by giving a few examples.
In Michigan, an “Educator Advisory Council” to Gov. Gretchen Whitmire produced a report called “Social Justice and Anti-Racist Resources,” which included an article that says everything that happens today in racist and the only question teachers and students can ask is “how much racism was in play?” This is pure CRT.
In Buffalo, the “Emancipation Curriculum” being taught in public schools told children that “all white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism.” After the investigative journalist Chris Rufo found out about it and publicized it, an embarrassed school system scrubbed that line from the curriculum. The message that all white people are guilty however, and sadly, permeates all the literature around the issue of racism.
In Virginia, the Department of Education Road Map to Equity claims that “racist beliefs and structures are pervasive in all aspects of our lives.” The Road Map says that such systemic racism, “requires action to dismantle those beliefs and structures. This requires that school leaders hold educators and students accountable when they say and do things that make school unsafe, and that they dismantle systems perpetuating inequitable access to opportunity and outcomes for students historically marginalized by race.” In other words, and in plain English, this means that in Virginia, a teacher that does not affirm CRT can lose his job.
In Washington DC, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, a Smithsonian institution paid by taxpayer money, until recently told the little black children that visited its portal that at the ideas that “hard work is the key to success,” the use of “objective, rational, linear thinking,” or they should “be polite” were the result of white culture. The museum, again, too took down this damaging material when conservative journalists pointed it out. This is part of a pattern. If no one had complained, and pointed out the absurdity of these practices, they likely would have left the offending material up.
In New York City, a public school principal sent parents a note encouraging them to become “white traitors” and help “abolish” the white race. The curriculum is based on work by the African American studies professor Barnor Hesse.
There are many, many examples from across the country, but these few should give you a flavor of what is taking place, and it is right for state officials to launch into action and protect Americans from this ideology. As you can see in the last two examples, the application of these practices can be quite traumatic for young children. Is there anything more heinous, and counterproductive, than to tell little black children that hard work and rational thinking is something that belongs only to whites?
First of all, that is patently false. Reason is a faculty we share as human beings, and to deny this is to deny the humanity of non-whites. But even worse, this is a demoralizing message to send to a black child. As a black mother was quoted by The Atlantic magazine (by no means a liberal publication) as saying, “My children have always been so proud of who they are. Then all of a sudden they started to question themselves because of what they were taught after arriving here. My son has wanted to be a lawyer since he was 11. Then one day he came home and told me, ‘But Mommy, there are these systems put in place that prevent Black people from accomplishing anything’.”
By the same token, is there anything more devastating than to tell a young white girl that she is personally responsible for racism in America? Being called a racist is one of the worst things that can happen to an American today, leading almost always to social cancelation. What is it that we’re trying to do to our children?
I ask this only rhetorically, as I am about to tell you. Critical Race Theory is a Marxist discipline that, as its name suggests, uses relentless criticism to undermine society, all its institutions, traditions and norms. It also uses race as the prism through which to look at all of life. What the proponents of CRT want to do is to dismantle American society, something they do not hide. They understand that most Americans seek racial justice, are troubled by racial disparities and that, some whites at least, feel a great deal of contrition over the decades of legal segregation, never mind the horrors of slavery. CRT’s intellectuals, activists and organizers manipulate these emotions to achieve the societal change they seek.
That CRT itself is of Marxist origin should not be the novelty it still is to many people. CRT is based on critical theory, which was an intellectual approach developed in the 1930s by a European school of thought called the Institute for Social Research, though known colloquially as the Frankfurt School, because it was founded at the University of Frankfurt, in Germany. The Institute was one of the first, if not the first, of the so-called Neo-Marxist, or Western Marxist, schools of thought, a term used to define the West European Marxist response to the creation of the Soviet Union in 1917.
The institute was modeled on the Marx–Engels Institute in Moscow. The historian Martin Jay, in a history of the school, wrote that, “Symptomatic of its position was the close ties it maintained with the Marx–Engels Institute in Moscow.… It photostated copies of unpublished manuscripts by Marx and Engels brought over weekly by courier the SPD’s [Social Democratic Party] Berlin headquarters and forwarded them to Moscow.”
So Marxist was the Institute that it was originally going to be named the Institut für Marxismus (Institute for Marxism) but the founders changed their mind because the name was too provocative. The scholars fled to Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1934 to escape persecution by the Nazis, they stopped using terms such as “Marxism” and “communism,” and switched to such synonyms as “dialectical materialism.”
The media never mentions the connection between critical theory and Marx, for some reason, but it was clear from the start, for anyone who reads the essay in which the Institute's third director, Max Horkeimer, first introduces the concept of critical theory, a 1937 manifesto called Traditional and Critical Theory.
“The Marxist categories of class, exploitation, surplus value, profit, pauperization, and breakdown are elements in a conceptual whole, and the meaning of this whole is to be sought not in the preservation of contemporary society but in its transformation into the right kind of society,” wrote Horkheimer.
Critical theory's links to critical race theory is also not a subject that the press mentions often, but should be very clear from the name alone. None other than Kimberle Crenshaw, the scholar who coined the term critical race theory in the 1980s, said in a 2019 panel “We discovered ourselves to be critical theorists who did race and racial justice advocates who did critical theory.”
Angela Harris, another CRT pioneer who teaches at UC Davis School of Law, also made all the links amply clear in her 2011 essay, Compassion and Critique. “Marx famously wrote, ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.’ Critical theory differs from pure philosophy in its motivation to provoke change, and thus it necessarily traffics in the emotions. Challenging power relations, as critical theorists love to do, means provoking anger, disquiet, anxiety, and even fear in those with a settled understanding of who they are and where they belong,” she wrote.
What both CT and CRT amounted to was, as can be seen from Harris' essay, a strategy for change. Derrick Bell, widely recognized as the godfather of CRT because of the pioneering work he did in the early 1970s, made it clear when he wrote in 1995, “As I see it, critical race theory recognizes that revolutionizing a culture begins with the radical assessment of it.” And the change that is sought through the intense criticism aims at America's economic principles and capitalist system, which the critical race theory scholars, like their CT progenitors, want to dismantle "Ideological critique, in turn, reveals the suffering beneath the bland façade or ideological concepts like 'capital' and 'property.' It tries to persuade us, moreover, that this suffering is unjust and unnecessary. Like Marx, critical race theorists therefore want us to care about the subordinated," writes Harris.
All the trainings we see today, all the curricula, that is so damaging America's children today, emanate from these goals. Robin DiAngelo, perhaps the best known CRT trainer today, is described in her best-seller White Fragility as "an academic, educator, and author working in the fields of critical discourse analysis and whiteness studies." Ibram X. Kendi, another well-known trainer and scholar, is also a self-avowed CRT practitioner. Barnor Hesse, the architect of the "white treason" approach that was used in the New York City curriculum described above, is a critical race theory scholar at Northwestern University.
What the trainings and curricula do not even pretend to do is to solve problems for individuals. CRT does not solve racial inequality because it does nothing to improve the background variables that lift people out of poverty: access to work, education and intact families. Such lack of care in solving problems is a feature, not a bug, of the system.
The aims of critical theory—and critical race theory—are much higher: they seek to eliminate the structures and “rules of conduct” of society. From its start in 1937, critical theorists have been very clear that eliminating instances of injustice is not the theory’s goal. “The aim of this activity [critical theory] is not simply to eliminate one of other abuse, for it regards such abuses as necessarily connected with the way in which the social structure is organized,” wrote Horkheimer in his foundational essay. Critical theory’s purpose, he went on, “is not, either, in its conscious intention or in its objective significance, the better functioning of any element in the structure. On the contrary, it is suspicious of the very categories of better, useful, appropriate, productive and valuable, as these are understood in the present order.”
Or as Derrick Bell wrote, “As I see it, critical race theory recognizes that revolutionizing a culture begins with the radical assessment of it.” Like all classical Marxists, CT and CRT proponents oppose an economy based on the free exchange of goods because in their eyes it ineluctably leads to capitalism, and capitalism in their view ineluctably leads to exploitation, the “heightening of social tensions,” unbearable inequality, constant crises, wars, etc.
Much of the impetus behind the trainings and curricula that many states are trying to cope with come from the discipline of "whiteness studies," which Prof. Kendi calls "one of the greatest offshoots of the theory." Whiteness studies, devised by such academics as the late Noel Ignatiev, at Harvard, and David Roediger (who called it "the critical study of whiteness"), at the University of Kansas, attempts to remove the "whiteness" out of whites. The thinking is that the privilege that white workers receive as a function of their race ("the wages of whiteness" in Roediger's phrase) has prevented working class unity and the spread of socialism in America. If we remove these privileges, however, by for example, shaming whites and devaluing their culture, then working-class unity could be achieved.
Ignatiev—whose best known phrases were “abolish the white race by any means necessary,” and the idea that “treason to whiteness is loyalty to the human race”—believed the answer was to squeeze all the privilege out of whiteness. “Without the privileges attached to it, the white race would not exist, and white skin would have no more social significance than bigfeet,” he wrote.
It is in this light that we should consider Barnor Hesse's curriculum and much of the traumatic trainings and other curricula we currently see spreading through the nation's schools. To whites we are saying, abandon whiteness, so the working class can unite, and to nonwhites we are saying, abandon traits, such as punctuality and hard work, that support a capitalist economy (both Horkheimer and DiAngelo have written or spoken about the traits and criteria that lead to capitalism).
There is racism in America, as there is in every country, and there are racial disparities that must be addressed. Critical race theory, as this testimony has strived to make amply clear, is however not designed to alleviate the causes of poverty, nor to close racial achievement gaps, only to, in the words of its practitioners, to problematize American society and dismantle its economic and political systems. State lawmakers have the right to act.
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