CRT (Lite) Is Taught in Schools

Good Sunday morning from the snowy north woods. This is a special week; the week leading up to the opening of Wisconsin gun deer season at dawn on Saturday. Denny Burke’s Sunday jazz pick is “Mumbles” by Clark Terry.

This week we’re going to highlight a column from another YSDA favorite, New York Times columnist and Columbia University Linguistics Professor John McWhorter. McWhorter makes a vital point that liberals and Democrats ignore to their peril: Critical Race Theory-inspired teaching, what he calls CRT Lite, is happening in our public schools — and it’s absolutely toxic for Democrats next fall.

This piece originally appeared in the Times on November 9th.

Here goes.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe lost last week’s Virginia race for governor in part because the victor, Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin, pledged, “On Day 1, I will ban critical race theory in our schools.” This followed an October CBS News poll that found that 62 percent of likely Virginia voters considered “school curriculums on race and history” a “major factor” in how they’d vote.
Yet for some who see racism at play in much of life today, the wokest insight about the result is that a racist backlash against our national racial reckoning cost McAuliffe the election: MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace concluded “that the real ominous thing is that critical race theory, which isn’t real, turned the suburbs 15 points to the Trump-insurrection-endorsed Republican.” By ominous, I assume she means that racism was the background issue. On the eve of the election, Fox News’s Juan Williams wrote that Republicans have seized on critical race theory as “a boogeyman to excite racial divisions and get their base to the polls.”
A common justification for this view is the observation that critical race theory is in fact not being taught in Virginia’s schools or anywhere other than law schools and university seminars and that political opposition to it is cover for something smaller and meaner. That a critical mass of white people doesn’t want schools to teach about the realities of slavery or America’s past racist injustices at all, favoring instead a glossed-over, triumphalist apple-pie-and-Chevrolet narrative.
John McWhorter
The pessimism in this take on America’s racial progress can seem almost fantastical considering clear advances in attitudes about race in recent years: A 2020 Monmouth University poll found that 76 percent — including 71 percent of white respondents — considered racial and ethnic discrimination in this country a “big problem,” compared with just 51 percent who said the same in 2015. Gallup found that from 1958 to 2021, approval of marriage between white and Black people has gone from 4 percent to 94 percent. A July Reuters-Ipsos poll found that 78 percent “support teaching high school students about the impacts of slavery” and 73 percent support teaching high school students about the impacts of racism.
It’s reasonable, yes, to note the partisan divide on some of these questions, but less reasonable to suggest that there’s a consensus against any discussion of slavery and racism in schools. Let’s give that suggestion its weight, however: If critical race theory isn’t being taught to children — and in a technical sense, it isn’t — then it’s hardly illogical to suppose that some other concern may be afoot.
The problem lies in the name “critical race theory.” It’s a no-brainer that the legal doctrine developed decades ago by scholars such as the Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell and the Columbia University and U.C.L.A. law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw is not being taught to tots. (Even one of critical race theory’s principal critics, the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo, has acknowledged that he’s tried to make “critical race theory” a catchall term.) But today, this isn’t what most voters mean when they object to critical race theory, and to participate in this debate as if otherwise is quibbling at best, and a smoke screen at worst.
Sunday night, Crenshaw defined critical race theory this way to MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan:
A way of looking at the world that we have inherited after a legacy of segregation, of slavery, of Manifest Destiny, of genocide. It basically links contemporary issues around racial inequality to the laws and policies that produced those very inequalities in the past. So, it’s basically looking at the grounds upon which we stand, excavating those aspects of our history that have produced many of the problems that we still deal with.
OK. But consider the cultural critic Helen Pluckrose’s — fair, I think — summary of the original body of critical race theory work:
C.R.T. is not just talking about historical and contemporary racism with a view to overcoming it — something that all approaches to addressing racism do — but a set of core beliefs that racism is ordinary and/or permanent; that white supremacy is everywhere; that white people don’t oppose racism unless it suits them; that there is a unique voice of color that just so happens to be the one that agrees with C.R.T.; that lived experience and story-telling are primary ways of revealing racism; that liberalism and the civil rights movement approach are bad; and that working for social justice means using the critical theories of race set out above.
It’s difficult, certainly, to imagine a grade-school teacher in front of a classroom teaching this kind of thing. However, this “critical” approach has trickled down, in broad outline, into the philosophy of education-school pedagogy and administration — call it C.R.T.-lite or, if you prefer, C.R.T. Jr. — and from there migrated into the methods used by graduates of those education programs into the way they wind up running schools.
Under this approach, what alarms many parents and other observers is that kids will absorb the idea that it is enlightened to see white people as potential oppressors and Black people as perpetual victims of an inherently oppressive system. That it is therefore appropriate to ascribe certain traits to races, rather than individuals, and that education must “center” the battle against power differentials between groups and the subtle perceptions that they condition.
An implication some educators draw from these tenets is that various expectations of some of their students, based on what are generally thought to be ordinary mainstream assumptions, are instead onerous stipulations from an oppressive white-centric view. Hence an idea that it is white to be on time, arrive at precise answers and reason from A to B, rather than holistically, etc. Again, this is not what decades-old critical race theory scholarship proposed, but yes, the idea is descended from original C.R.T.’s fundamental propositions about white supremacy.
In Virginia itself, the Department of Education’s website has a page devoted to “Anti-racism in Education,” and at the end of a long list of “Terms and Definitions” it reads, “Drawing from critical race theory, the term ‘white supremacy’ also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.”
In the 2022 draft revision of the California Department of Education’s “Mathematics Framework,” the chapter on “Teaching for Equity and Engagement” includes this language: “Empowering students with mathematics also includes removing the high stakes of errors and sending the message that learning is always unfinished and that it is safe to take mathematical risks. This mind-set creates the conditions for students to develop a sense of ownership over their mathematical thinking and their right to belong to the discipline of mathematics” — a truly artful way of saying that “diverse” kids should not be saddled with the onerous task of having to get the actual answers.
In February, the Oregon Department of Education sent an update to math educators that linked to a document titled “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction/Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction.” It contains a section on “Deconstructing Racism in Mathematics Instruction” positing that “white supremacy culture in the mathematics classroom can show up” in a variety of ways, including when “Preconceived expectations are steeped in the dominant culture,” “Superficial curriculum changes are offered in place of culturally relevant pedagogy and practice” and “Students are required to ‘show their work’ in standardized, prescribed ways.”
Perhaps a reasonable objection would be that these are only teacher guidelines and that we cannot know exactly how, or whether, teachers are adhering to them in classrooms. But these guidelines, apparently sanctioned by state departments of education, contradict the notion that concepts derived from critical race theory — or are, at least, C.R.T.-lite — is nowhere near our schools, that the C.R.T.-in-schools debate “isn’t real,” merely a fiction designed to cloak racism.
In some cases, evidence of C.R.T.-lite is easier to spot at various private schools. Granted, governors can’t “ban” private school curriculums, but the experience at some tony New York prep schools, for instance, demonstrates how C.R.T.-lite isn’t simply found in teacher trainings but can make its way into the classroom and schools’ educational philosophy. As The Times reported earlier this year:
The Brearley School declared itself an antiracist school with mandatory antiracism training for parents, faculty and trustees, and affirmed the importance of meeting regularly in groups that bring together people who share a common race or gender.Kindergarten students at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx are taught to identify their skin color by mixing paint colors. The lower-school chief in an email last year instructed parents to avoid talk of colorblindness and “acknowledge racial differences.”
Some of those who say that critical race theory isn’t being taught in schools may not be aware of these developments. Others most likely are, and suppose that they are healthy, that this is indeed how education should be.
That’s a respectable stance, but one ought not harbor it in disbelief that any intelligent, morally concerned person could feel differently. One can ardently support that students learn about racism and its legacies in a way that doesn’t crowd out obvious lessons about the history of undeniable racial progress. One can do that while questioning whether students should be immersed in a broader perspective that offers overbroad, clumsy and, frankly, insulting portraits of what is inherently white and what is Black, Latino, Asian American or Native American, and fosters — even if unintentional — a sense of opposition between the groups in question.
To be sure, voices on the political right, including Youngkin, must do better when it comes to specifying what they oppose. They, and we, would be better off if they explained that they oppose philosophies influenced by critical race theory, rather than claiming C.R.T. itself is being taught. Bills intended to ban the teaching of C.R.T.-lite shouldn’t be worded as if the intent was to ban the teaching of anything about race at all. And if that’s what any of these bills do mean, they should spell it out in clear language in order to expose that intent to debate — one within which I would be vociferously opposed, I should note. The horror of slavery, the hypocrisy of Jim Crow, the terror of lynching, the devastating loss of life and property in Tulsa and in other massacres — no student should get through, roughly, middle school ignorant of these things, and anyone who thinks that is “politics” needs to join the rest of us in the 21st century.
But the insistence that parents opposed to what is being called critical race theory are rising against a mere fantasy and simply enjoying a coded way of fostering denial about race is facile. It is an attempt to wrest a woke object lesson from the nuanced realities of life as it is actually lived, in which the notion of a white backlash against racial progress may appeal as narrative, or as analysis of an electoral upset, but rarely tracks with on-the-ground reality.

Welcome to the 270th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

14 thoughts on “CRT (Lite) Is Taught in Schools

  1. This is such a bunch of baloney that it would take multiple hours to unpack and disprove each and every statement. If only I didn’t have a day job and a family….
    That’s one of the things about propaganda machines, it’s their full time job. Not enough time to fight back against every statement when you have to work for a living. That’s also a tactic of the dominant culture – throw so much at them that it’s impossible to address every attack.


  2. Ok, let’s just focus on measurable outcomes: once we can no longer correlate race with economic or social outcomes we will have earned the privilege to move past race in our discourse. Until then we have two options: there are inherent superior races or there are structural issues that prevent the equality of races.

    I won’t bother with specifics in respect for time and will hope that the general case is sufficiently convincing.


    1. In defense of all of the black people who occupy some of the top positions in business, sports, entertainment, the arts, popular culture, public service, politics, the military, and every other facet of American life, (not to mention millions more who are home and business owners, working hard to give their children a better life), I offer a THIRD option. Perhaps there are inherently superior INDIVIDUALS, who do not allow issues,structural or otherwise, to stop them from achieving their goals.

      When you tell ANY group of people that they aren’t strong enough, smart enough, or that the deck is stacked against them, there will be a certain portion of them who don’t get the message, or simply refute it outright. There are an awful lot of successful people, and they are under the impression that they made it on their own. Without the benefit of “woke” benevolence. So just for them, would you set them straight? “The general case is not sufficiently convincing”, so be “specific”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The existence of some successful people of color does not negate the clear disparities we see in so many measurable outcomes. For example, 47% of black families own their own home while 76% of white families do. Your argument is akin to saying that because some black families own homes this disparity is meaningless and should never be discussed or examined.

        It appears that you might be saying that the percentage of “successful” individuals just so happens by chance to be higher for white Americans compared to Americans of color.

        This is literally the same as saying that there is something within whiteness that makes white individuals “successful” more often than other races.

        Or maybe that’s not what you really meant? How come the percentage of “successful” white people is higher than persons of color? Why is there a disparity in home ownership, for example?

        These types of questions are ALWAYS dodged because they circle back to those two options which make people uncomfortable. The response often ends up “but some black people own homes”, ignoring the statistics and dodging the question – because that third option that you put forth is not logically connected to what I’m saying: I’m talking about commonly, repeatedly measured disparity in overall outcomes across racial groups and you reply with “but what about that successful person right there?” To repeat, just because some black families own homes does not mean that there’s not a disparity in home ownership.

        I agree with your second paragraph, it will be better when there are less people saying that there’s something inherently inferior about people of color. “The Woke” are saying the opposite: that all humans are on average equally capable across all races and cultures (in other words, created equal) and currently observed disparity in outcome is not due to inherent inferiority of individuals whom make up these groups. That this idea is met with so much hostility is astonishing to me.

        And I bet anyone that tries to refute that statement will immediately skip over the term “on average” to create a straw man argument, because none of what I wrote means that individual hard work isn’t a great thing that can lead to great individual outcomes, regardless of race, and that there aren’t some hard working and some lazy people within all races.

        Or try this response: life isn’t fair. I agree with that. What that doesn’t mean to me is that we shouldn’t work to make life closer to being fair through critical examination of ourselves and the societal structures we have built.


  3. From the article – In Virginia itself, the Department of Education’s website has a page devoted to “Anti-racism in Education,” and at the end of a long list of “Terms and Definitions” it reads, “Drawing from critical race theory, the term ‘white supremacy’ also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.”

    You see this kind of statement over and over again but its like saying you see ghosts that nobody else sees. Specifically where are these “structural advantages”? SPECIFICALLY. How did you find them? Did you start with the assumption that racism is everywhere and that all light skinned people are white supremacist and THEN prove it by looking at statistical disparities? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t we look at disparities for the location of the problem and THEN attack the causes?

    Please don’t use the excuse that – pffft, you can’t see them because you are white person. I can listen, explain.


    1. In short, after the Industrial Revolution many black families flooded to cities to try and get good blue collar jobs. Some were successful, many were shut out in their efforts by discriminatory hiring practices. The same went for housing; as blacks moved into urban centers, white families moved out to the suburbs, the infamous “White Flight”, into new subdivisions that often actually forbade black families from buying homes or moving there in the property covenants.

      As deindustrialization escalated in the post-war era, black employees were generally the first to be let go, whether owing to outright racism or “last-in first-out” policies. Thus, most urban cores became populated with primarily minority populations with precious few jobs to go around. Desperate for income, theft and drug dealing grew more rapidly than in the affluent suburbs. Public schools declined and money for college was in short supply. So began the vicious cycle of endemic poverty and crime in the inner-city which continues through today, just a generation or two later.

      It’s extremely easy to look up any of those statistical racial disparities in historic or contemporary US Census data. They are present in home ownership percentages, poverty rates, education levels, median incomes, employment rates, etc. Just google it. While not 100% deterministic, both the community and household you grow up in have huge ramifications in the trajectory of your life course and how safe, educated, and successful you’re likely to be. These legacies of past institutional racism are real and tangible.

      All that said – I absolutely think this promotion of lowering standards, or creating double standards, for things as objective and concrete as accuracy of math problems and expectations of punctuality, to mention nothing of possibly treating all white people as oppressors or discouraging hard-work and resilience, is beyond the pale.

      But the disparities do point to obvious problems and a need for open debate about what the solutions are. After learning the history I’ve summarized above is the point at which I became more open to options such as affirmative action (though again not teaching CRT in schools).

      Historically speaking, US society spent centuries pushing black citizens deep into a proverbial hole through discriminatory laws and culture. While the Civil Rights era ensured from that point forward our laws wouldn’t permit actively discriminating against people based on race, many of those people (and now their descendants) still remained mired in desperate circumstances. Targeted programs like affirmative action meant to alleviate those wrongs are simply an attempt to hand persons of color a ladder to get back on equal footing – not give them an unfair advantage. Progress has obviously been made, but more can and needs to be done.


      1. Yeegads,
        I appreciate many of your points. Some things I would question.

        Black educational level, small business ownership and two parent families was much higher prior to the “war on poverty” so that should provide us with some direction.

        Affirmative action apparent has not helped. That can direct our future solutions.

        As you say “disparities do point to obvious problems” but they don’t establish the cause of the problem completely. Until we are honest with ourselves and sure about all the causes, we should not be about disassembling and rebuilding all of our “systemically racist” educational systems while we ignore other reasons for failing.

        All of these should point us away from a CRT based solution. Blaming one person for another person’s failure is almost always a mistake. So many examples of that.


      2. “Blaming one person for another person’s failure is almost always a mistake.”

        Sure, but individuals are different than an entire society that actively discriminated against an entire group of people for centuries. This is not to diminish the role of personal responsibility; I detest that some on the far left seem to be discounting the value of this principle, but even the most driven person can only get so far on their own. And if two people are equally driven, but only one faces racial discrimination, the one who doesn’t is far more likely to be more successful.

        Two questions:

        1. Do you not believe the racial disparities in all the quality of life metrics we’ve mentioned are at least in part due to historic codified legal discrimination? If not, why not?

        2. Regardless of question 1, what strategies do you believe would be most successful to help remedy these disparities?
        (and again, I agree with you that CRT-lite measures are not a good solution)

        Thanks in advance for the healthy discussion!


      3. I completely agree that racial disparities impact a person’s life prospects. It’s just that the hard-left will accept no other explanation. Imbedded racism is real, but it does not explain 100% of every problem. People are complicated. As regards the second question, I think more of what works is the answer. America has been struggling to live up to its ideals of a meritocracy since its founding. Progress has been slow and in fits and starts, but we ARE, in fact, more of a meritocracy today than we were two centuries ago. Finally, I have not heard those who say that American democracy is inherently racist suggest what the alternative is. If the answer is to openly discriminate now to correct past discrimination that went the other way, well then, who gets to decide when the ledger has been balanced and we can resume not discriminating against anybody?


    2. The quote seems like a reasonable definition of that term. But the main thrust of what I think you’re asking is what proof there is that our society has elements of white supremacy?

      I think you’re exactly in line with my thinking. The starting point is data. And there is tons and tons of data across many disciplines (health, economics, education, etc.) that show similar disparities between white outcomes and those of people of color. So how can we explain the observations? We could look at each one individually – maybe there’s a behavior, maybe there’s a gene, maybe there’s this or that. Then for each one it would have a particular assigned cause. Going down that path of thinking brings the cause to the people themselves – there is something wrong with these groups of people, and not just one thing but many things that lead to all these various negative outcomes.

      But that then means that there are groups of people, grouped by race, who are in their nature more disposed to having a bunch of thing “wrong” with them then people of other racial groups. I, and many other people, don’t believe that certain races of people are naturally disposed towards having so many things “wrong” with them because it then logically follows that members of these racial groups are on average naturally and inherently inferior people. So we try to find another cause to explain these disparities.

      Speaking for myself, Occam’s Razor leads me to the conclusion that there is likely a single, common cause for most of these observations. I believe that cause is our societal structure and our structural and individual racism. It’s not at all far fetched, since so little time has passed since laws have changed to force some level of equality in the law. There’s no doubt that racism created negative outcomes for minority communities 400 years ago, 200 years ago, or 100 years ago.

      It’s not reasonable to believe that people’s basic frames of reference (racism is a basic frame of reference) completely changed over the course of 50 or even 100 years. These societal changes take time; incremental change over generations. It would be akin to a widely practiced religion suddenly disappearing in 50 years – I myself have never heard of such a thing occurring in human history absent total societal collapse.

      To recap: we start with the data. I can only think of two ways to explain the data: there’s a problem with the people or there’s a problem with the environment/society. I reject the idea that there’s a problem with the people. This leaves me with only one remaining conclusion.

      I’d love to be convinced that there are other ways to explain the data but nobody has convinced me yet. If people reject the hypothesis that there’s something wrong with the environment/society I wish they would be more forthright with their explanation for the data. Since both explanations are uncomfortable lots of people avoid thinking about it.

      Once the data no longer shows these disparities there will be nothing to attempt to explain and we can stop taking about this fake construct called race. We’ll finally be post-racial.


      1. Rollie. Yes when the data shows the disparities are gone or are diminishing we will know we are on the right track. Why are we going forward with a new race-centric pedagogy that has no to history of success, no trials, to back it up? We are talking about our children here.


      2. There is no blueprint. Any strategy we attempt will have no track record of success. This has never yet been achieved in any society I know about, but granted this isn’t my field of study. I also think this topic has been wildly exaggerated in the media for political purposes, so I’m not really that worried.


  4. Rollie,
    Your quest for “equity”, or equal outcomes, is not only futile, but also foolish. You begin your argument with statistics for home ownership, ” this disparity is meaningless”. In a group of people, both white and black, of modest economic means, given a choice between two options; some would buy a trailer on a tiny plot of land, at the end of a “no name” gravel road, several miles outside of town, with no cable service, trash pick up, etc., thus becoming a “home owner”. Others would opt for government subsidized low rent housing with nicer accommodations and a large screen TV. There is nothing wrong with either choice. Home ownership entails lawn care, maintenance, the ability to perform major repairs, (or the money to pay someone else to do them),etc., all in compliance with building codes and community statutes. While the majority of citizens would claim a desire for home ownership, fewer are willing to take on the responsibilities, preferring for it to be the landlord’s problem. Anyone who is gainfully employed, with a stable income, and willing to take on up to 30 years of loan payments can find a property to own. Inability or unwillingness to make the necessary sacrifices is not proof of racism.

    Rollie, I would like to refer to paragraph #3 of your comment about the idea that there is “something within whiteness that makes white individuals “successful””, and paragraph #6,with the notion “that there’s something inherently inferior about people of color” . You then hold up “THE WOKE” as champions in the fight against these lines of thought. Rollie, the soft racism of “the woke” is RESPONSIBLE for most of them.

    In the summer of 2020 some of the “wizards of wokeness” produced the so-called “Whiteness Chart”, and subsequently had it published by the Smithsonian National Museum Of African American History And Culture. (just type “Smithsonian whiteness chart” in your browser’s search bar to read it for yourself) This racist manifesto purports to be an overview of white culture, however, the bulk of it would be better represented as “habits of successful people”. Some of the “white traits” are individualism, traditional family, rational thinking, good work ethics, respect for authority, goal orientation, time management, (things recognized world wide as the pathway to success). The traits are presented as being exclusively “white”, as any traits common to both black AND white cultures would not be included. (note the absence of eating, breathing, and liking Reese’s Cups, on the list) So in the best tradition of “the racism of low expectations”, we learn that these admirable attributes are not shared by our black brothers and sisters. Perhaps their values are the opposite, it doesn’t say, but white culture should acknowledge that possibility.

    Stop seeing the world in terms of racial disparities, and realize that “superior individuals”, of all races rise to the top through their own efforts. Also, just as importantly, be aware that personal happiness and success depends on TWO things: First, there is a line that is your aspirations, “what you’re willing to work for” in life, Second, somewhere below the first line is another line, that is “what you are willing to settle for”. The closer the two lines come together, the happier you are. Thus, some who are “rich, but extremely driven, are never happy with their lives. And some who are of very modest means, are content and fulfilled. Do you spend YOUR days noting all the “disparities” between yourself and “those who have more”?


    1. I’m not on board with that whiteness chart, so I’m not going to defend that. And I don’t know what the soft racism of the woke is so I can’t address that. But the example you gave:

      One of the fun parts of breaking systemic problems into small pieces is that it makes it easier to explain away the individual parts, but then you eventually create a collection. So you propose that the home ownership disparity is a matter of personal preference, and black people just decide not to own homes more often than white people. That’s a fine explanation.

      Then we’ll keep working down the list of disparities, and keep assigning individual failings or preferences to each one. Then we end up with a really long list of ways that black people make themselves “less successful”. But that is saying that there are things more common within black people themselves that leads to less successful outcomes. That’s where I have a problem, because that’s essentially a racist viewpoint – it’s saying that if black people would just “do better” everything would be fine; this situation is entirely their own fault.

      Because it does seem like we at least agree that there are indeed only two possible explanations: individual failings or systemic discrimination. In reality nothing is 100%, and there’s always some mix in each case. I just believe that the far bigger factor is systemic discrimination and you believe that the far bigger factor is individual failings.

      If the world is as you say, and systemic and individual racism does not materially impact racial disparities, and superior individuals of all races naturally rise to the top, the logical conclusion is literally white supremacy. Because if there are more whites “at the top” under this premise there are by definition more superior individuals within the white race.

      I don’t see any way around the connection that ascribing to the individual failings premise is synonymous with white supremacy. I guess one can tell themselves that they are not a white supremacist and tell themselves that there’s fundamental commonalities within non-white racial groups that causes this host of disparities, but I see those two ideas as contradictory. I can’t hold this thought in my head: “I don’t think white people are superior but I believe that white people on average make far better life choices than non-white people.”


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