Excerpted from The New York Times' Opinion Page: We Disagree on a Lot of Things. Except the Danger of Anti-Critical Race Theory Laws.
By Kmele Foster, David French, Jason Stanley and Thomas Chatterton Williams
The authors are a cross-partisan group of thinkers who have written extensively about authoritarianism, liberalism and free speech.
What is the purpose of a liberal education? This is the question at the heart of a bitter debate that has been roiling the nation for months.
Schools, particularly at the kindergarten-to-12th-grade level, are responsible for helping turn students into well-informed and discerning citizens. At their best, our nation’s schools equip young minds to grapple with complexity and navigate our differences. At their worst, they resemble indoctrination factories.
In recent weeks, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and Texas have passed legislation that places significant restrictions on what can be taught in public school classrooms and, in some cases, public universities, too.
Tennessee House Bill SB 0623, for example, bans any teaching that could lead an individual to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” In addition to this vague proscription, it restricts teaching that leads to “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people.”
Texas House Bill 3979 goes further, forbidding teaching that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States.” It also bars any classroom from requiring “an understanding of the 1619 Project” — The New York Times Magazine’s special issue devoted to a reframing of the nation’s founding — and hence prohibits assigning any part of it as required reading.
These initiatives have been marketed as “anti-critical race theory” laws. We, the authors of this essay, have wide ideological divergences on the explicit targets of this legislation. Some of us are deeply influenced by the academic discipline of critical race theory and its critique of racist structures and admire the 1619 Project. Some of us are skeptical of structural racist explanations and racial identity itself and disagree with the mission and methodology of the 1619 Project. We span the ideological spectrum: a progressive, a moderate, a libertarian and a conservative.
It is because of these differences that we here join, as we are united in one overarching concern: the danger posed by these laws to liberal education.