As a practical matter "critical race theory" may be little more than the assertion that nearly everybody and everything is racist and that anyone who doesn't comply with the demands of its advocates is even more racist. Whatever "critical race theory" is, it does not seem to be formally taught in schools in Connecticut.
But there is plenty of evidence that, propelled by "critical race theory," race is being injected into school curriculums in Connecticut and elsewhere with psychology and propaganda in the name of diversity and inclusion. This is what the "critical race theory" controversies in Guilford and other towns is really about, and it is fairly challenged on two fronts.
First, it's unlikely that younger students need any racial focus to learn to treat each other decently. Emphasis on race at an early age is bound to make children self-conscious and uneasy and to inflict fear, guilt, and grievance even as the basic integration of racial and ethnic groups may be the best lesson schools can provide. The normality of integration and diversity can overcome fear and erase self-consciousness and uneasiness about race and ethnicity – if schools ensure discipline and quickly and visibly punish bigotry.
Second, "critical race theory" is politically opportunistic and simpleminded. For issues of race and ethnicity, including slavery, are not peculiar to the United States. They are the fundamentals of human history. Most nations were built on race and ethnicity.
So while racial and ethnic issues must be taught, they need to be formally taught as history – world history as much as U.S. history – not raised as an insinuation that particular students or their ancestors bear special responsibility for history or that history owes privileges to particular students or their ancestors.
Since U.S. educators belong overwhelmingly to the extreme political left and are members of far-left unions like the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, parents are well entitled to be suspicious of what goes on in classrooms in regard to race and other controversial subjects like transgenderism. This suspicion is deepened because, by design, what happens in classrooms is seldom accessible to the public, and because school administrations are often as secretive, unaccountable, and resentful of scrutiny as any corporation.
Schools everywhere long have been notorious for concealing staff misconduct, and even now, at the insistence of Connecticut's teacher unions and school administrators, teacher evaluations are uniquely exempt from disclosure under the state's Freedom-of-Information law. Parents mustn't know anything that really counts.
Education's resentment of the public was reflected the other day when former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, nominated by the Democratic Party for a non-consecutive second term and supported by the education establishment, confronted school controversies. "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach," McAuliffe declared. He boasted that he had vetoed legislation to require schools to alert parents when instructional materials include sexually explicit content.
While parents don't directly tell schools what to teach, of course they elect school boards and legislators who set such policy and they comment at school board meetings. That some parents lately have been behaving badly at meetings doesn't diminish the public's right to scrutinize and be heard. Any misbehavior at meetings is easily addressed by local authorities, as by having a police officer or two at meetings where angry people are expected.
This isn't enough for the education establishment. Last month the top two executives of the National School Boards Association sent an open letter to President Biden likening the expression of anger at school board meetings to "domestic terrorism." That charge led Attorney General Merrick Garland to direct the FBI and federal prosecutors to devise "strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff," as if local police can't and don't already do that job.
The association's board quickly repudiated and apologized for the letter from its executives. Parents, the board acknowledged, must be heard. But how much the public can be permitted to know about its schools remains a question, nationally and in Connecticut.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.