The current debate over critical race theory might be the best thing that ever happened to education in this country.
During orientation at an Ivy League university, Yeonmi Park mentioned that she loved the literature of Jane Austen. She was told, by a university staff member, that the beloved author was an example of a writer with a “colonial mindset,” a “racist” and a “bigot.”
To Park, who happened to be a North Korean defector eager for a Western education, that kind of suffocating groupthink sounded familiar. “Even North Korea is not this nuts,” she told FOX News.
This episode brings to mind the highly politicized debate over critical race theory in this country. At times, it all sounds positively Kafkaesque, with an emphasis on group identity over individualism and notions of discrimination that creates equity and thereby becomes anti-racist.
The concept that America hasn’t yet atoned for its past, that racism is not an individual evil but is instead embedded in American culture and politics, seems to be a slippery slope into a kind of collective guilt. Telling students that mere inaction can make one a racist is like telling Yeonmi Park she’s not a good socialist because she wasn’t singing loud enough at the May Day parade in Pyongyang.
Yes, opponents of CRT shouldn’t bristle when reminded that this country hasn’t lived up to its ideals on issues of race. Not in 1619, and not today. Kids ought to learn that, but CRT isn’t the same thing as culturally relevant teaching. No, the banning of critical race theory seems like the wrong topic for a special legislative session when Missouri’s failure to extend a Medicaid tax is about the obliterate the entire budget.
But the debate over CRT is coming, and you can see how it would prove exasperating to the Yeonomi Parks of the world, or anyone who wants to read and study out of academic interest, not a political agenda. In the current climate, you’re always going to be racist or not antiracist enough, depending on who’s calling the shots.
During the Cold War, east bloc countries produced a stagnant economy and a culture that was as bland as a concrete block apartment. They also produced their share of scientists, engineers and technologists, because many students were smart enough to avoid the political snake pit of law, literature and political science. You’re always going to offend someone’s sensibilities.
Today, you can’t blame a few students for feeling that our country is steering toward this same dogmatic path.
Maybe more U.S. students will throw up their hands and choose the path of science, technology, engineering and math, which this country needs anyway. One plus one is two. We still agree on that, right?