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Column: Debate over critical race theory is a con game

  • Steve Nelson

For the Valley News
Published: 7/16/2021 10:20:00 PM
Modified: 7/16/2021 10:20:07 PM

Letters and opinion pieces in the Valley News demonstrate that the heat over critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion programs in schools has not dissipated.

The conservative right wing’s campaign over the teaching of critical race theory in schools rages on despite the fact that its political critics don’t have the faintest idea what it is. There is also the inconvenient truth that critical race theory is not being taught in schools — but truth, regardless of convenience, is not the current GOP metier.

Critical race theory is a theoretical framework through which to view the indisputable facts of racial bias. Its prime architect, the late New York University law professor Derrick Bell, was a guest at my former school, Calhoun School in Manhattan, and was an elegant, thoughtful intellectual, not a strident polemicist. Critical race theory is taught and debated in law school (not elementary school) as a way to examine legal theory and social policy in order to better understand systemic racial problems.

A well-orchestrated campaign suggests that millions of angry parents are rising up over the “indoctrination” of their children into an antiracist ideology that preaches hate for America and believes all white people, including pre-schoolers, should hang their heads in deep shame because of their complicity in the brutality of slavery. This propaganda seems the catalyst for New Hampshire’s absurd HB 544 and scores of similar laws proposed in many states.

There is indeed a campaign, but it is not led by millions of angry parents. It is led by conservative con artists who hide behind the screen of credibility provided by “think tanks,” a gross misrepresentation of “think.”

One such con man is Christopher Rufo, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who persuaded the Trump administration to issue an edict prohibiting diversity training at federal agencies. I suspect it didn’t take much convincing.

Rufo has written prodigiously about critical race theory, school curricula and much else — employing what New York magazine described as “dodgy reporting” — and has also served as a research fellow at the Discovery Institute, another “think” tank that promotes “intelligent design.”

It is true that some parents object to diversity work in schools. Of course they do, as they object to school lunches, the grade Suzy got in geometry or the books Billy is reading in freshman English. But they are reacting to the phony conservative campaign; the campaign is not a response to widespread parent concerns. And shouldn’t we aspire to raise children who will work toward a more just society than we leave them?

I began this post with an additional intention, to which I turn posthaste. Exactly who is indoctrinating whom?

The objections to diversity, inclusion and equity programs really take the cake, given that they are coming from the right wing of the right wing.

How about the untold millions of children, including my entire generation, who were indoctrinated into the myth of white, Christian exceptionalism? Or about how we learned that the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars were fully justified as “manifest destiny,” rather than the brutal conquests they were? Or how Native Americans were dismissed as primitive savages and that the taking of their ancestral lands was our divine right? Or that the Civil War was about states’ rights, not slavery?

When I was a young boy, why did my school never mention racism or Jim Crow? I was “indoctrinated” every morning into believing there was “liberty and justice for all.”

Why do all public schools in America require students to pledge allegiance to concepts they are too young to understand? Why must they stipulate that they live “under God,” despite that the existence of God is far more theoretical than critical race theory? The Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion but doesn’t say much of anything about critical race theory.

Every day the most vocal and influential GOP leaders are pledging allegiance to the most prolific political liar in American history and perpetuating the “Big Lie.” This indoctrination threatens the future of our democratic republic.

The political charlatans who lie about critical race theory describe an insurrection as tourism. They are indoctrinating gullible partisans into believing vaccines are more dangerous than the disease they prevent. A conservative commentator on Fox News opposes vaccines because he thinks the coronavirus is part of natural evolution and is nature’s way of culling the flock.

Conservatives spend millions producing propaganda asserting that climate change is a hoax. But they object to teaching children the undeniable truth of racism.

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” I think he was too generous.

Steve Nelson lives in Boulder, Colo., and Sharon. He can be reached at

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