Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
Department of Education officials were embarrassed recently when it was revealed by multiples sources that a guide it had made available to more than 13,000 school districts to help schools reopen in the wake of Covid 19, “ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs,” included a link to a radical education organization, the Abolitionist Teaching Network (ATN).
Bettina Love, University of Georgia professor and a founder of the ATN, has been very clear that modest modifications in the schools will be insufficient for the type of change she desires, that an entire dismantling of the racist system she and her fellow travelers believe created and controls public education must take place. “We are not interested in reform or small measures that do not target the root of the problem,” she said, “which is racism and ‘whiteness’ that is deeply embedded within education.”
In her 2019 book, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom, Love revealed that, in her mind, racism was systemic, destructive, and endemic in schools, and that disruptive steps have to be taken to tear down the old system and replace it with a new, post-racial one. “To even begin to attack our destructive and punitive educational system,” she wrote, “pedagogies that promote social justice must . . . help educators understand and recognize America and its schools as spaces of Whiteness, White rage, and White Supremacy, all of which function to terrorize students of color.”
An ATN publication, its “Guide for Racial Justice & Abolitionist Social and Emotional Learning,” is a resource for “abolitionist” teaching and asserts, ludicrously, that current teaching in public schools “can be a covert form of policing used to punish, criminalize, and control Black, Brown, and Indigenous children and communities to adhere to White norms” and that these “frameworks are weaponized against Black, Brown, and Indigenous children and communities.” While there is exhaustive discussion in the guide of ways schools should be restructured to serve the needs of non-white students, white students are completely ignored, the assumption being that white supremacy has been in place too long and an upending of the old paradigm needs to take place. How would that happen? The guide suggests, for a start, eliminating “all punitive or disciplinary practices that spirit murder Black, Brown, and Indigenous children” and providing “Reparations for Children of Color stolen by the school-to-prison pipeline.”
The guide also includes a number of flighty, essentially meaningless “Abolitionist Teacher’s Demands,” including: “Curriculum that reflects People of Color and their contributions, humanity, and joy;” “Teaching standards, learning standards, and teacher evaluations that are grounded in the pursuit of Black, Brown, and Indigenous liberation, criticality, excellence, and joy;” “School-wide culture committed to restorative justice for all members of the school community;” a bucket of Age of Aquarius-like empty language meant to help woke teachers envision a new age of education dedicated to non-white children.
Tellingly, however, there is no discussion in this guide about how the educational needs of white students will be addressed in this brave new world of public education, no mention of how any of these paroxysms of liberation will help black children learn and achieve more academically, how any of this tearing down of the existing system and replacing it with a kinder, gentler model of race-focused instruction will help either white or non-white students learn math, history, writing, science, and other fundamental knowledge that public schools were presumably created to impart.
When did school boards and parents decide that the central role of contemporary public school education—at a time when test scores and overall achievement in basic academic skills have been in decline—is to focus on race, to obsess about racial and social justice, to indoctrinate children about their respective roles as either oppressors (if they are white) and oppressed victims (if they are black), and to use schools as training camps for grooming activists to try to reshape society through restorative justice, social equity, critical theory, and the demonization of whiteness and the notion of white supremacy?
The simple answer is that such decisions were never made, and that graduate schools of education, teacher’s unions, social activists, the Black Lives Matter movement, and assorted race hustlers who profit from forcing well-intentioned people to see everything through the lens of race have taken it upon themselves to deconstruct existing public school education and to attempt to transform schools into places where identity politics are promoted, refined, and used as a way of galvanizing power and influence, both within school systems and outside in the broader American society.
Public school education was not created as a way of facilitating social engineering, other than its desire to create citizens who were literate, familiar with history and science, and who could become productive voters, workers, and parents in later life.
But no one ever assumed, nor was permission given, for teachers to radically shift the emphasis from the important basic knowledge of writing, reading, and math to radically and relentlessly focusing on race, tolerance, bigotry, victimization, oppression, white supremacy, and social justice and trying to shape the moral and social values of young minds.
Why is this even important in the first place, other than when it is part of a discussion about historic racism and current events? Who decided teachers have the responsibility or even the right to teach this theory—which is what it actually is, a theory, not fact—that white children are by virtue of their skin color alone irredeemable racists and black children, also by virtue of their skin color, are permanent victims of white oppression and white supremacy?
Who decided that it is a fact that racism is so systemic that black children, as a result, are plunged into a pipeline that leads directly from schools to prisons, so punishment for errant school behavior –truancy, assaults on teachers and other students, carrying weapons—should be abolished and school resource officers (SROs) should be prohibited in schools?
The abolitionists assume, naively, that the mere presence of SROs in schools causes the bad behavior of black students, making it more likely for them to be expelled and thus hampering their lives and condemning them to criminality and prison as adults. But metal detectors, SROs, and zero tolerance for weapons policies exist in schools because there was obviously a problem that had to be addressed and school systems implemented measures to protect students and staff from misbehavior and criminal activity of some students. The abolitionists, of course, are reversing cause and effect: the criminal activity of some students preceded the presence of tactics to confront and punish such behavior, not the other way around.
The question that should be being asked is, why is it that black students are more likely to be punished, expelled, or pushed toward a life a crime and possibly prison, too? A 2021 report from the Brookings Institution found that black students were overrepresented in arrests compared to their percentage of the population. While the Brookings report likely wanted to expose latent racism in the higher incidence of arrests among black students, it is also possible that they are arrested in greater numbers because they commit offenses on school grounds in greater numbers, not that they are selectively arrested based on race. “Black students comprised 36 percent of arrests in the 2015–2016 school year, despite accounting for only 15 percent of the student body,” the report found. “Meanwhile, 33 percent of those arrested were white, despite representing 50 percent of students. In Washington D.C., Black girls are nearly six times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls.”
Is it the very presence of school resource officers in the schools and zero tolerance for certain offenses that results in higher numbers of black offenders, or is it possible that black students are more likely, for a host of other reasons, to be both the perpetrators of the in-school crimes and the victims of punishment for that behavior, something that has nothing to do with the race of the child who committed the offense and everything to do with personal responsibility and the parenting and values of that particular child?
Even the 3-million-member National Education Association (NEA) has entered the discussion of racial equity and restorative justice in schools and made some unproven assumptions about systemic racism. In its “Racial Justice In Education” resource guide, for example, the NEA claims that racism is pervasive in schools, resulting in inequitable treatment of minorities. “The persistence of deep racial disparities and divisions across society is evidence of institutional racism,” the guide suggested, “the routine, often invisible and unintentional, production of inequitable social opportunities and outcomes. When racial equity is not consciously addressed, racial inequality is often unconsciously replicated.” And in discussing the school-to-prison pipeline, the guide promised that, in language similar to that heard in the current defund-the-police campaign, the NEA would “Deliver trainings for educators and students on the school-to-prison-pipeline (STTP) . . , trainings for board members, educators and students on mass incarceration and criminal justice reform . . , [and] Develop restorative justice campaigns aimed at reducing suspensions, expulsions, zero tolerance policies and disciplinary referrals among students of color . . ,” including “a campaign to eliminate resource officers from schools and initiate agreements between schools and police departments.”
The American public school system was created and designed to educate all children, regardless of race. The notion that the existing educational system should be abolished, reimagined, and radically transformed into something that has as its motivating mission to be anti-racist, anti-white, and serve primarily the psychological, emotional, and educational well-being of children of color is ludicrous. Blacks comprise some 13% of the U.S. population and, much like other minority groups in America, they deserve to be protected from any bias or discrimination in their school experience; but the entire public school system obviously cannot and should not focus almost exclusively on their cultural and intellectual needs, any more than it should on the white majority of this nation. It is perfectly acceptable for educators to want to teach children to be tolerant of other races and to promote learning that helps eliminate bias, bigotry, and hate. But that is not the public school system’s primary role, nor, obviously, is creating a new paradigm of reverse racism where hatred of white people and whiteness is taught and justified and the coddling of non-whites is seen to be not only just but a moral necessity. Parents of white children clearly will not find that new way of dealing with race acceptable—nor the appropriate role of educators to promote—and many thoughtful black parents, it would seem, might also take offense at having their children labeled as permanent victims of institutionalized racism.
CRT and the current trend in education embodied in the Abolitionist Teaching Network, the NEA, Black Lives Matter in School, and other race-obsessed organizations to racialize everything to do with learning and then divide children—and teachers—based on race is an example of counter-productive, divisive racial narcissism that reflects a struggle for political and social power as part of the currency of identity politics.
That these efforts are masked by good intentions and the expressed desire to foster tolerance and the end of racism in schools and the society outside the schoolyard cannot disguise the true motivation of these ethnic machinations and the destructive ideology behind it. Parents, elected officials, school boards, and valiant teachers have to stand up to this hijacking of instruction and push back against the interests who are attempting to tear down a whole system in a disingenuous effort to promote what, ultimately is clearly a radical agenda of reverse racism.