Critical Race Theory in Civics Education

Last month, Stanley Kurtz accused two Republicans, Senator John Cornyn and Representative Tom Cole, of being “hornswoggled” into backing the Civics Secures Democracy Act, which would appropriate $1 billion for federal grants to support curriculum development and teacher training in K-12 civics education. Kurtz and others argued that the key words in the bill all but assured the Department of Education would use the money to promote critical race theory (CRT).

We no longer need to take Kurtz’s word for it. This week, the Department of Education proposed a regulation that eliminates all plausible deniability, directing civics grant programs to prioritize applications that “support the development of culturally responsive teaching and learning.”

“Culturally responsive” is one of CRT’s favorite terms. For many, it might sound like the melting-pot pedagogy that centrists have long held dear: finding elements in students’ diverse backgrounds that could be used as hooks to bring them closer to the spirit of E pluribus unum. But the creators of “culturally responsive” education actually mean the opposite.

According to New York University professor David Kirkland, author of “Culturally Responsive Education: A Primer for Policy and Practice” and key architect of New York State’s culturally responsive framework, the old approach to diversity facilitated “assimilation by dominant systems and ideologies which centered Anglo-European-Christian-Judeo-cis-hetero-male whiteness as the normative reference point.” Culturally responsive education, he says, “challenges this doxa.” How far does that anti-assimilationist challenge go? Kirkland has declared that expecting class to be conducted in American standard English reinforces “narratives of white supremacy.”

The Department of Education’s proposed rule does not go quite that far, but it does put what it wants in remarkably plain language. As an example of a work showcasing the “vital role of diversity in our Nation’s democracy,” the Department of Education lauds the “landmark” 1619 Project, which scholars have heavily criticized for its factual and interpretive distortions.

The proposed rule also applauds that “schools across the country are working to incorporate antiracist practices into teaching and learning,” and invokes Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Anti-Racist, which declares, “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.”

The proposed rule would also prioritize civics programs that foster “an ‘identity-safe’ learning environment.” But what, according to the rule, puts students in danger? The idea that teachers should treat them equally, regardless of race. Teachers who “try to be colorblind,” explain the authors of a book cited in the proposed rule, “inadvertently [are] creating an unsafe environment.”

No one paying close attention should be surprised to see the Department of Education turning its grantmaking apparatus into an engine to promote CRT and foster “anti-racist” racial discrimination in the classroom. Unfortunately, moderates and conservatives in Congress typically don’t pay that much attention.

Or perhaps they really do believe that our country was founded as a “slavocracy;” that our schools should engage in “antiracist” racial discrimination, and that “colorblindness” endangers student safety.

Whatever the case may be, the Department of Education has done Americans a favor by making its intentions clear: it will use any money Congress gives it for civics education to promote critical race theory.

Photo: Jeff Kingma/iStock

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Canceled at Georgetown | City Journal

Social justice activists routinely demand that we “see race,” call out disparities and feel personal shame about them, and commit to improving outcomes for minorities. But William Treanor, dean of the Georgetown University Law Center, has sent a clear message to those who try to answer that call: verbalizing your commitment to social justice won’t protect you—and may even destroy your career—if an angry activist decides to “cancel” you.

Last month, Georgetown Law adjunct professor Sandra Sellers told a colleague privately on Zoom, “I hate to say this—I end up having this angst every semester that a lot of my lower [graded] ones are blacks.” Some black students, Sellers said, did well, but the overall pattern made her “feel bad.” Sellers was not aware that her conversation was being recorded and uploaded to the aptly named “Panopto” software system. If someone had chosen to, he might have clipped her words and posted them to Twitter with the caption: “We need more white professors like this, who feel shame about how badly law schools are failing students of color. Thank you, Professor Sellers!” Instead, Sellers’ words were clipped and posted by Georgetown Law student Hassan Ahmad with the caption: “.@GeorgetownLaw negotiations professors Sandra Sellers and David Batson being openly racist on a recorded Zoom call. Beyond unacceptable.

That day, without speaking with Sellers, William Treanor condemned her “reprehensible statements,” which he declared “abhorrent.” The next day, against his own university’s policies, Treanor fired Sellers without an official investigation.

The firing attracted national attention, from the New York Times and the Washington Post to NBC News and Newsweek, every headline a variation on “Who Is Sandra Sellers? Georgetown Professor Fired over ‘Abhorrent’ Comments on Black Students.” Then, as all “cancellations” do, the episode faded from the headlines days later as journalists hunted for the next destroyed life and career.

Curious as to why Treanor violated his university’s policies and the American Association of University Professors guidelines by firing Sellers without due process, I reached out to him with some questions. Why did he condemn Sellers without speaking to her first? Is it true that black students at Georgetown Law disproportionately score below the median GPA? If true, could he explain why verbalizing that truth is “abhorrent”? Clipping and posting private conversations are major violations of university policy. Had an investigation been opened? I also asked him to consider the chilling effect his decision has had on the law school community: one student had told me of now being nervous to speak in class, for fear of suffering reputational damage.

Treanor offered no response to my questions.

He has, however, publicly vowed to explore requiring a critical race theory unit for all students and making professor tenure contingent on “diversity, equity, and inclusion”; reminded Georgetown Law that under his leadership the share of students and staff “of color” has grown substantially; and insisted that he was “dedicated to the important work that lies ahead.”

Treanor is the latest in a long line of American university administrators who has knuckled under to the pressures of the cancel culture mob. All it would have taken was for the dean to tell the Twitter mob, in effect: “Hold on a moment, let me speak with this woman first to understand what’s in her heart before I decide whether to act on your impulse to destroy her professional life.”

Treanor said nothing of the kind. He has saved his position as dean—at least for now—but to do so, he has traded due process and the presumption of innocence for mob justice, made students reluctant to express themselves, and destroyed a woman’s professional reputation. And in all this, Treanor has proven himself the very model of a modern university administrator.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Biden’s Troubling Pick for Deputy Secretary of Education

Joe Biden’s nominee for Deputy Secretary of Education apparently does not believe that it’s necessarily a serious issue if a child gets sexually assaulted at school. Nor does she believe that educators have any moral duty, beyond their bureaucratic obligations, to report such abuse to the authorities. These conclusions can be drawn from simply reading Cindy Marten’s own words—spoken under oath, on penalty of perjury.

Under Marten’s leadership, the San Diego Unified School District became notorious for sweeping sexual abuse under the rug. In 2019, the school district paid a $375,000 settlement to Michael Gurrieri, a former school district investigator who claimed that he was fired for refusing to self-censor additional allegations of sexual assault in a report about an incident between two kindergarten students at Green Elementary School. The parents of the alleged victim claimed that the school district stalled its investigation, and that the principal allowed the alleged assailant to remain in the same classroom as their child.

When Gurrieri’s lawyer deposed Marten, he asked her about the incident:

Lawyer: In your opinion, is an incident between two boys—two kindergarten boys in the school bathroom where one of them forces oral copulation on another a serious incident?

Marten: It depends.

Lawyer: What does it depend on?

Marten: The individuals and the circumstances.

Lawyer: So that may or may not—

Marten: Are other disabilities involved? Are there other things? What—I need to know all of the facts before I would determine the seriousness of it.

Lawyer: So it may or may not be serious to you?

Marten: It depends.

Imagine being the mother of a sexually violated five-year-old and hearing the woman in charge of his school system say that.

The lawyer also asked Marten whether such incidents should be reported to the authorities. She said “of course,” because “we’re mandated reporters as educators.” The lawyer then pressed Marten about whether there might be any other reason beside the strict letter of the law to report sexual abuse.

Lawyer: Why do you think it would be important to report incidents of that nature to CPS?

Marten: I just explained that we were mandated to report incidents of that nature; so that’s why it’s important to follow the mandate that is required under our credentials.

Lawyer: Any other reason why it’s important to report?

Marten: I’ve already answered that.

Lawyer: Okay. I’m asking if there’s any other reasons besides it being mandated.

Marten: No.

This exchange was hardly a secret. ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN were all sent this deposition months ago by an organization named Kids First.

If Marten were a Republican, it’s almost inconceivable that the mainstream media—not to mention national education beat reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post—would have ignored it.

Kids First also sent the deposition to Kamala Harris’s senate office, so it’s all but certain that the Biden administration was well aware. But perhaps they reckoned—correctly, it turns out—that the mainstream media and education reporters would not dare expose a Democratic nominee.

At her confirmation hearing last week, Democratic senators predictably sang the praises of yet another Biden nominee. More perplexing, however, was the behavior of Republican senators. At least three Republican senate offices were aware of the contents of this deposition and how it fits into the broader pattern of the handling of sexual assault and abuse cases in Marten’s district. Yet none of them saw fit to raise questions about it. Nor did any of them ask why her school district subjected staff to training that declared that white teachers are guilty of “spirit murdering” black students.

It’s hard to imagine that any American parent could look at Marten’s statements on the sexual abuse of children and conclude that she is morally fit for the number-two position in public education. But it’s not clear at this point whether Republican senators will support her nomination nonetheless.

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