Posted on July 20, 2021

Governments Have a Right to Ban Critical Race Theory, But It Doesn’t Matter If They Do

Richard Hanania, Substack, July 13, 2021

In the early 2000s, there was a controversy about teaching “Intelligent Design” in public schools. The ID crowd said that they didn’t want to ban Darwin, only that we should “teach the controversy.” Nobody considered this a free speech issue; while the ID movement officially lost in courts because judges decided that the doctrine was religious in nature, not many disagree with the idea that schools should not teach ideas without empirical support.

Few things in American politics are getting as much attention as the debate over whether Critical Race Theory should be taught in schools, and whether Republican legislators should try to ban it. {snip}

Some, like Andrew Sullivan, take the position that CRT is a pernicious and false doctrine, but that legislators should nonetheless do nothing about it. I’m struck by the discrepancy between his discussion of what’s being taught and his ultimate recommendations. {snip}

Liberals want to teach Critical Race Theory because they think it is true, while others want to ban teaching it because they think it’s false. I can understand both positions. In contrast, the position “this is all pernicious lies but nobody should do anything about it” is puzzling to me. Nonetheless, I don’t think banning CRT will have much of an effect, and may actually make the ideas behind it more popular in schools, given the political preferences and attitudes of teachers and administrators.


Legislators tell schools what to teach and not to teach all the time. It’s sort of a basic function of government. Illinois just mandated “Asian American History” and California requires teaching of “LGBT History,” cementing the idea that American history should be understood through the lens of groups of people defined by their sexual preferences or racial characteristics (or, in the case of “Asian American History,” a made-up census category). As of 2019, California mandated “LGBTQ+ inclusive sex ed,” which includes teaching kids about newly discovered genders and sexual identities. {snip}


Notice that by mandating one thing, you ban another. A classroom that is required to teach gender is fluid and homosexuality should be accepted is banning traditional sexual morality. One that teaches that every major racial census category has its own history decides which groups are singled out for official identities (“Hispanic” and “AAPI,” but not “Jewish” or “Italian”), and denigrates the idea that American history should be taught from a more unified perspective.

The idea that government schools teach some things, but not others, and that a government school curriculum is set by government, has never been controversial. It’s only causing such debate now because instead of Democrats mandating that you teach identity politics and gender fluidity, it’s Republicans wanting to teach their own ideas.


That being said, I think that the movement to ban Critical Race Theory is naive if it thinks it’s going to change much about public schools. While people have pointed out that some of the Critical Race Theory bans are written in ways that allow absurd interpretations, many laws are like this. Here’s a 2011 story from the LA Times asking “How to Teach Gay Issues in 1st Grade?,” showing that current standards do not always have straightforward applications. As I wrote in my piece on civil rights law, vague standards like “discrimination,” “stereotypes,” and “disparate impact” are everywhere in statutes and regulations, and how they get interpreted by relevant government agencies is the essence of law. Maybe in tax law or budgets you can rely on the literal words in statutes, but on hot button social issues you often can’t.

People are only noticing that laws can have absurd interpretations if they are read literally because once again, the idea that conservatives might actually do something about cultural liberalism seems fundamentally illegitimate to the left and many centrists like Sullivan.

This highlights what is so strange about David French and other writers arguing that if CRT discriminates against whites, that’s already illegal under the Civil Rights Act, and people can just sue. As I have pointed out, the Civil Rights Act has been interpreted to not only allow anti-white discrimination, but actually mandate it in the form of affirmative action. As it turns out, people interested in enforcing civil rights law think discrimination against blacks is a major problem society has to constantly be on guard against, while discrimination against whites isn’t really a thing.

More important than what CRT bans say is who will be interpreting them. A 2017 survey of school teachers and education bureaucrats showed that they voted for Hillary over Trump, 50% to 29%. That’s actually not as lopsided as I would have guessed, but there’s evidence that Democratic teachers are more committed to politics than Republican teachers, just as liberals care more about politics more generally. In 2020, educators who donated money to a presidential campaign were six times more likely to support Biden than Trump. So while Democrats may have “only” a 21-point lead in voting preferences among educators, when it comes to those who care more about politics, it’s more like an 85%-15% advantage. {snip}

With those kinds of numbers, there’s really nothing conservatives can do to make the schools friendlier to their ideas and values. A CRT ban might mean a teacher won’t say “Ok, kids, today we’re going to learn about Critical Race Theory!,” but they’ll still teach variations of the same ideas. Neither Robin DiAngelo nor Ibram X. Kendi, the two thinkers that seem to offend conservatives the most, identifies as a Critical Race Theorist. In fact, the American Federation of Teachers just announced a campaign to bring Kendi’s teachings to every student in the country, and they don’t appear to be deterred by CRT bans. This is their full time job, and they’ll still be at it whenever public attention has moved on from the controversy of the day.


The implication here is that the only real option for conservatives is to attack public education and encourage a larger migration to private schools and home schooling. A state can ban CRT, but if it does, kids are still being taught by the same people who thought CRT for kindergartners was a good idea in the first place. Instead of passing the right law and relying on liberals to teach things more consistent with conservative values, simply transfer money from those liberals to people who would teach something else.