Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other “woke” ideologies, having swept higher education out to sea, now seem to be flooding our elementary and secondary schools. There are daily reports of parents and teachers complaining bitterly about the rising tide, pushing back against the entrenchment of hyper-politicized school boards, and suing school systems for violating students’ civil rights. Sad to say, not even Catholic schools are immune to the latest schoolhouse fad. When the Sacred Heart Network, which runs 25 posh schools across the United States, pledged to work “to end systemic racism in our institutional structures,” shocked parents found themselves fighting to keep CRT away from their children, as well as fighting to protect the souls of their Catholic schools.
Miami’s Carrollton School is a case in point. An architectural gem on Biscayne Bay, the all-girl school is independent of the Miami Archdiocese and boasts tiny class sizes and the highest academic standards. But a growing number of parents recently started noticing an insidious narrowing of views considered acceptable at school. Their daughters complained that expressing opinions contrary to “woke” orthodoxy, especially on racial and sexual issues, was becoming impossible — even when these opinions aligned with Catholic teaching.
In a recent letter to the school’s board (later leaked to the press), almost 200 parents of current students and many graduates pointed out that girls were being “targeted and ostracized by the very teachers who should be defending the students’ rights to express” traditional Christian views. The signatories were promptly smeared as racists and homophobes and (gasp!) Cuban Republicans, all for daring to expect that at a Catholic school, their children would receive an education centered not on politics but on Catholic social teaching.
The central tenet of that teaching is, of course, the inherent and equal dignity of all people, regardless of race, condition, or developmental stage. This precept is founded, in turn, on the revolutionary Christian proposition that we are made by God in his own image, and that when God came to Earth, he chose to be born a pauper in a cave, marginalized and vulnerable. It is impossible to overstate the effect of this upon our culture’s “conception of law and its duties to the poor and outcast,” as G. K. Chesterton wrote in his book The Everlasting Man, adding, “It is profoundly true to say that after that moment [of God’s arrival on Earth] there could be no slaves.”
In short, the absolute brotherhood of man across all divides is a Christian, Catholic concept. It properly undergirds every endeavor marked with the sign of the cross. It is the beginning and the ultimate end of every moment of instruction on diversity and tolerance in a Catholic school. Or should be.
The letter’s signatories, and the many parents who share their concerns, asked that racism be rejected on these noble grounds, not on the grounds of a political ideology (CRT) that is deeply problematic. CRT teaches children to divide the world into oppressors and oppressed, based on racial and ethnic categories. It seeks to address historic, present, and future injustices through a kind of reverse discrimination as well as through the dismantling of the market economy and institutions of democracy. It also sees traditional morality as simply another tool with which oppressors can control their victims. And its champions enforce this “wokeism” by aggressively tarring dissenters as bigots and demanding their “cancelation” from polite society.
The administrators of any Catholic school should recoil from such tactics in their laudable quest to instill charity and human solidarity in their students. As the parents wrote in their letter, “we should be redoubling our efforts in following Church teaching (which already knows racism and discrimination to be sins) rather than embracing tired atheist tropes of division and hopelessness.” The alternative — categorizing humans as either victims or oppressors — does psychological damage to children, and is contrary to the Catechism, which teaches that all people “have the same nature and the same origin.”
It’s hard to imagine a more pressing need than that of clarifying the mission of a Catholic school. Orderly hallways, a cross in each classroom, and plaid uniforms do not equal an authentic Catholic education. Such an education comes, above all else, from embracing the entirety of Catholic doctrine, even its unpopular but life-saving teachings on the family, marriage, and the dignity of human life. Dangerous political and ideological fads are no substitute for the timeless wisdom of a faith that confronts injustice armed with the powerful simplicity of the commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”