by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Those who oppose critical race theory (CRT) tend to focus on how it informs curricula and instructional practices. As long as there is evidence that educators consume scarce classroom resources on CRT-inspired activities that try to brainwash children to “end racism by seeing it everywhere,” parents and advocates should continue to monitor assignments, projects, and assessments disseminated to children in public schools.
But how do educators learn about the principles of critical race theory and decide that it is an instructional approach that provides a desirable framework for classroom instruction? In most cases, the answer is teacher training programs in university schools of education. Like all states, North Carolina requires teachers to possess a license or certification. While alternative pathways to license exist, the most direct way to obtain a teacher license is to receive an education degree from a state-approved, university-based educator preparation program. This provides a captive audience for schools of education and a pipeline for transmitting leftist ideology from the university to the next generation.
Today, most schools of education use vague terms and phrases to describe the philosophical underpinnings of their teacher training programs. For example, the North Carolina Central University College of Education explains in its mission statement that its “inquiry and practice reflects a commitment to social justice and the value of diversity in a global society.” Disciplinary mission statements are woke enough to satisfy progressive faculty and ambiguous enough to avoid unwanted attention from lawmakers, taxpayers, alumni, and others who provide ongoing support to the institution.
In a 2020 white paper titled, “Becoming Anti-Racist ELA Teachers,” NC State College of Education professors Michelle M. Falter, Chandra L. Alston, and Crystal Chen Lee outline an approach to transforming prospective English language arts (ELA) teachers into racial justice warriors in five easy steps: 1) listen and reflect, 2) read, 3) interrogate, 4) act, and 5) repeat.
Prof. Falter and her colleagues urge future educators to commit to “fight racism wherever it is found, including within yourself.” For white teachers, this includes dealing with “white emotionalities” (whites’ emotional investment in whiteness) and “white fragility” (whites’ defensiveness to questioning or challenging their racial worldviews, positions, or advantages). This requires deep psychological exploration. The authors write, “To begin this process, it is helpful to consider the types of interactions you had with people who were different from you when growing up, if you have ever harbored prejudiced thoughts towards those from different backgrounds and what effects those thoughts have on students who come from different backgrounds.” I wonder if professors demand that white students confess such transgressions to their classmates or just the Almighty.
Step Two is straightforward. Prospective English teachers are told to immerse themselves in acceptable books and materials. The link to the list provided by the authors is broken, so it is not possible to evaluate the list. Regardless, there is nothing objectionable about asking teachers to read a diverse selection of fiction and nonfiction texts so long as they are encouraged to consume them critically. Indeed, Step Three requires educators to “interrogate” or question curriculum materials, instructional practices, and other aspects of teaching children to read and write. Shouldn’t educators subject the CRT canon to the same scrutiny as the Western literary canon? Interrogation cuts both ways.
Step Four urges action. As I have written in a previous article, critical race theory is not merely a benign concept occupying the minds of university professors and pages of obscure academic journals. It is a movement that demands its adherents transform these supposedly racist institutions, structures, and ideals through hardline activism. For teachers, it means professing critical race theory in the classroom, the teacher’s lounge, and beyond. The authors proclaim, “Educators should use texts to address and discuss inequities, unpack privilege and racism today, celebrate cultural knowledge and assets, and disrupt status quo and long-held norms and institutional practices that prevent or thwart equality for all.” Spending so much time “raging against the machine” probably leaves little time for spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar.
The final step is to “repeat,” that is, to commit to critical race theory throughout one’s career (or at least until the next education fad arrives). And it may come sooner rather than later. Before the pandemic, only 57% of public school students earned grade-level proficiency on state reading tests. When state education officials release test results next month, the expected drop in test scores may inaugurate the next iteration of “cutting-edge” teacher training at our revered state universities.