It’s never a complete Idaho State Legislature session without some battling over defunding of education in general, and K-12 education in particular. This time, the fight was over the ostensible teaching of critical race theory, and its dissemination in the curriculum.
What is critical race theory? Theoretically, it’s about understanding systems of racism so that society can understand what needs to get fixed, so that all people in the United States can feel more free and be less oppressed. Or something like that.
Except, in practice, that’s not what it turns into. The practice of critical race theory is honestly more like “why white people, especially men, are guilty and generally suck.” For a professor (which I am), it’s the worst kind of research. It starts from the conclusion — “white people are guilty” — and then veers off into a lot of talk about retribution against them. Generally, I’m opposed to research as a self-fulfilling prophecy, though I’ve been in the academy long enough to know that critical race theory isn’t the only kind of research with this problem.
Now before all the proponents of critical race theory get up in arms, screaming that I’m a white guy trying to dodge responsibility, y’all better realize that I am an Asian-American. My father was actually nearly killed by CIA operatives in Iran when he was fighting for freedom there, and after he immigrated, he had all sorts of discrimination to deal with. Along with a little of that directed at yours truly. Mind you, we’re not complaining. Dad’s dead, and I am peachy keen on being an American.
Of course, the schools in Idaho aren’t teaching critical race theory. They’re lucky to be teaching anything because they’re chronically defunded. And for all you critical race theory proponents, once again, you should get out there with a clipboard and interview people in the streets on what they actually remember about American history. Note to activists — it’s good for you, and what people know is not impressive.
But it was with amazement that I got an email from the Idaho Federation of Teachers, kinda saying something like the above paragraph, while then defending critical race theory. It was cringey, and instead of just saying something like “critical race theory in theory is great, but it’s pretty awful the way these folks advocate for hating white people, so let’s talk about real issues like why kids in Idaho eat Sugar Pops for school breakfast,” they doubled down on stupid instead of putting the issue to bed.
History matters to people, even if they don’t remember the details. Lefty activists, many of whom I’ve talked to that also suffer from that knowledge of history problem, need to realize that a somewhat positive history of this country is actually in everyone’s interest. Identifying as an American with core values of decency, integrity and social progress acts like a little angel perched on their shoulder that damps down bad stuff the person might do. If that angel isn’t there, it just gets replaced most of the time with something worse. And it’s not likely to be replaced with critical race theory.
Sometimes when you move a given bugbear off the table because it doesn’t matter, regardless of how you feel about said bugbear, you win the big picture, because you start talking about things that are real. We could use a big dose of all of that across lefty politics about now, from education to racism to COVID-19 reopening. In the end, governance is about policies that affect people’s lives. Screaming about moral issues is fun for activist types, but in the end, policy is where the rubber hits the road.
Idaho Federation of Teachers — stop giving the state Legislature stupid stuff to holler about. Do a judo move and just agree with them. They’re not going to change. All of this sound and fury just leaves folks like me wondering who are the adults in the room. Who indeed?
Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical andmaterials engineering at Washington State University.