NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T he danger in the current fight over CRT isn’t that the right overreaches, but that it settles for too little.
To believe the critics, the anti-CRT forces have already gone too far — they’ve established speech codes, they’ve trampled on the free-speech rights of public-school teachers, they’ve banned the teaching of slavery and Jim Crow.
None of this is true, even if some of the state anti-CRT laws could be drafted more carefully.
The new laws are important prophylactic measures against the “anti-racist” fever running high throughout the land, but it would be a shame and a gigantic missed opportunity if all conservatives came away with from this moment was some rules against teachers going out of their way to make white kids feel uncomfortable.
It is a common conservative lament that almost all the institutions in American life are arrayed against us, and so it is. In this context, taking control of the K–12 schools in a swath of America would be a very big deal, involving the partial recovery of an enormously influential institution.
We obviously aren’t taking back the universities, the philanthropies, the media, and all the rest.
The schools, it turns out, are much more achievable. All it requires to make enormous progress is winning school-board seats in low-budget, low turnout (at least for now) elections in communities around the country.
Because education is still largely a local affair, much of the fight for schools can be carried out on markedly more favorable terrain than is found at the federal level. There are red areas in every state in the union, and the hyper-localism of school-board races gives angry parents a lot of sway.
The beauty of this moment, of course, is that there are many such angry parents.
The anti-CRT campaign is the most potent grassroots movement since the Tea Party, and has many of the same trappings — activists are showing up in droves at public meetings, the anger and passion are genuine and deeply felt, and spontaneous organizing has led to a mushrooming of national, state, and local groups.
There have been education controversies before, obviously. There was major agitation over Common Core during the Obama years, the AP history standards caused a flare-up in 2015, and Lynne Cheney fired the first shot in a battle over history standards in the 1990s.
But the breadth of the organizational effort this time is different, and promising.
For the grassroots ferment to reach its full potential, it will require sustaining the energy of the current fight and directing it more broadly than just pushing back against CRT in its various iterations.
The goal should be to occupy a position of enduring strength in the schools in as much of America as possible, writing the curricula and acting as a check on the bureaucracy and teachers.
To paraphrase Bill Buckley, it’d be better if the schools were run by the first 50 pissed-off people standing in line to get to the microphone at a contentious school-board meeting than by the faculty of any education school in America.
Education is too important to be left to educators. The education schools, the administrators, and the teachers’ unions are all beholden to progressive orthodoxies and will drag instruction in even the most conservative areas to the left, unless someone is paying attention.
The on-the-ground organizing should be buttressed by work by think tanks, scholars, and conservative donors to develop model curricula that school boards can draw on. There are a number of efforts already under way. Ideally, there should be an organization devoted to developing conservative teachers as well (a Federalist Society for teachers, if you will, although conservatives had a presence in the law schools when the Federalist Society started — they have nothing in the education schools).
In sum, the viral moments at meetings and the instant blowback against CRT are heartening, but organizers shouldn’t seek only to play defense but to make this an inflection point in the control of K–12 education in this country.