The CRT Debate Is Not About Trust, It’s About Curriculum

Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.–Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws A. Lincoln, 1837

Kristof in The Times,

In terms of our well-being at home and competitiveness abroad, the blunt truth is that America is lagging. In some respects, we are sliding toward mediocrity.

Kristof’s point seems all at once, true, addressable and reversible, and a place where education should broadly play an instrumental role. Lincoln’s? Maybe too soon to tell?

Two quick follow-ups on Wednesday’s post. It focused some on independent women and, yes, a lot of independents are actually just weak partisans but it is how these voters see themselves and they are more politically in play.

About my general optimism that our culture wars can be transcended, which some feel is misplaced. Here’s one reason why. In a recent YouGov poll, only 28 percent of respondents said racism is a small problem or not a problem at all. 71 percent said it’s a big or somewhat big problem (45% said big). Meanwhile more than 60 percent said the criminal justice system and police operate in racist ways. These days 60%+ on almost anything is a lot. For context, about a third of voters still think the election was fraudulent.

Yes, the “CRT” brand is toxic and confused and people (and not just conservatives and that’s key to understanding what’s happening) don’t like “wokeism,” but it seems there is a way through that addresses the substantive issues without riots at school board meetings becoming a regular thing. Like most things the poles are driving the debate, social media is skewing our sense of prevalence, and day-to-day American life is, thankfully, nothing like Twitter.

I do worry if the frame becomes whether or not we “trust” teachers to do this well, as Secretary Cardona suggested this week, we’re headed for trouble. At least insofar as “trust” is code for leave it alone. It’s not about trust. It’s about support and curriculum. It seems almost certain if you take a lot of teachers who themselves didn’t get a good grounding in history, especially but hardly exclusively in the elementary grades, and don’t have good materials that we’re going to see some problems of the kind that animate social media. Cardona, of course, can’t develop curriculum in his role as Secretary of Education, but we should use the bully pulpit to challenge the field to do better here. At least insofar as you think what we’re seeing here is in part about implementation and curriculum and support for teachers.

Less optimistically, it seems like the best outcome of this new Florida law about viewpoint diversity at colleges is that it becomes a bureaucratic nothingburger. It’s all downhill from there, and it’s not hard to see how it can all go badly wrong.

There is already a robust array of non-government groups that do great work protecting student rights and speech on campus and monitoring these issues now. And, yes, there are issues. Still, it’s unclear how or why the answer to illiberalism is more illiberalism. Besides, you want viewpoint diversity of a political kind in some departments, in others you want viewpoint on methods or key questions the field wrestles with and politics or political ideology shouldn’t come directly into play. We should be careful to avoid this trap that everything must be political. In the end, seems like there is no way around the need for strong campus leadership that is willing to steadily and firmly protect core liberal values.

A few years ago I watched “Milk” with my kids. The Anita Bryant stuff was so out of their frame of reference they didn’t quite get what was happening. So, it’s frustrating to see this sort of thing bubbling up again. If you missed this series on rural education at AOTH, recommend.

Finally, data on teachers union membership. They’re playing a weak hand well, but the long term contours seem challenging absent a lot of help from Washington.

Is it the end of the word as we know it?