PEN America claims it is committed “to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide.” But PEN has taken a radical left turn in defending the teaching of critical race theory concepts even to elementary and secondary school students. PEN believes that bills introduced in at least 24 state legislatures against such racially divisive teaching are akin to censorship in violation of the teachers’ First Amendment rights.
“These bills appear designed to chill academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning. In short: They are educational gag orders,” PEN stated in its introduction to a report entitled [“Educational Gag Orders: Legislative Restrictions on the Freedom to Read, Learn, and Teach.”](https://pen.org/report/educational-gag-orders/)
Far from legitimately defending free expression under the First Amendment, PEN is defending racially charged indoctrination of impressionable public school students as young as four or five years old. It is the students whose constitutional rights are being violated when they are pressured in class to internalize dogma that pits race against race and to even recite such racially charged rhetoric in front of other students.
K-12 teachers are perfectly free to advocate for critical race theory on social media and in whatever discussions they may have with other adults outside of the classroom. But the courts have not accorded educators the same freedom to force feed lesson plans based on critical race theory precepts upon elementary and secondary public school pupils.
These pupils are a captive audience. As one federal Court of Appeals decision put it, “Children who attend school because they must ought not be subject to teachers’ idiosyncratic perspectives.” The educators are not entitled under the Constitution “to present personal views to captive audiences against the instructions of elected officials.”
Under America’s federalist system, state elected officials have the authority to regulate public school education within their jurisdictions, including setting reasonable limits on public school curricula. State legislators can certainly use this authority to pass laws shielding children from being indoctrinated in public school classrooms, where they are captive audiences, with racial group identity ideology. Applicable statewide laws preempt left wing local school board decisions that are in direct conflict with those laws.
Leftists claim that critical race theory is not being taught to K-12 students in the public schools. This is misleading to say the least, as is the fuzzy language leftists use to cloak the racist indoctrination of students. “Inclusion, diversity, equity, and cultural responsiveness” are among the euphemisms they use.
For example, Virginia’s Loudoun County Public Schools – the epicenter in the debate over teaching critical race theory ideas in the public schools – hired a leftist social justice consulting firm known as the Equity Collaborative. Among other things, the Loudoun County Public Schools agreed to pay The Equity Collaborative for providing a systemic “equity” assessment, “equity” development planning support, and “equity” coaching for the school district’s leadership.
The [contract](https://defendingedstg.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Equity-Collaborative_Loudoun-County-VA_2019.pdf) with The Equity Collaborative, valued at more than $240,000, used the term “equity” over and over again, not critical race theory. A [line item in The Equity Collaborative’s June 2020 invoice](https://defendinged.org/report/the-equity-collaborative/), however, was more direct with its explicit reference to “follow up meetings focused on Critical Race Theory Development.” Loudon County Public School educators were being primed to teach CRT-influenced lessons to their students, no matter what label they attached to the lessons.
It is true that the original legal doctrine of critical race theory developed by legal scholars decades ago “is not being taught to tots,” as Columbia University associate linguistic professor John McWhorter put it. However, McWhorter went on to explain, in his [New York Times column entitled “If It’s Not Critical Race Theory, It’s Critical Race Theory-lite,”](https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/09/opinion/critical-race-theory.html) that the quibble over the precise definition of critical race theory obscures the larger point. The developers of critical race theory have handed down a legacy of thought that influences what is being taught in public school classrooms today.
Indeed, [one of the co-founders of critical race theory, Richard Delgado, boasted](https://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1039&context=faculty) in an interview that “Critical race theory is in some ways livelier in education right now than it is in law, where it is a mature movement that has settled down by comparison.”
Children are being taught to identify themselves by racial status as oppressor or oppressed in a country said to be built on and to perpetuate white supremacy. McWhorter expressed the legitimate concern of parents “that kids will absorb the idea that it is enlightened to see white people as potential oppressors and Black people as perpetual victims of an inherently oppressive system.”
The First Amendment right to “free expression” does not give public school educators the right to discriminate on the basis of race, which is what they do when they classify their students as good or bad based on the color of their skin. The First Amendment does not give teachers the right to spook white children into feeling guilty because they are white.
Making white students get up in front of the class, for example, and [apologize for being white](https://ladyliberty1885.com/2017/06/20/nc-teacher-forced-apologize-white-privilege/), as a North Carolinian middle school teacher allegedly did, is a racist abuse of the teacher’s authority.
There is no First Amendment protection for a teacher to recklessly expose her students to public humiliation because they are of a particular race. The teacher’s alleged action infringed on her students’ own First Amendment right of protection against compelled speech.
[The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943](https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/319/624) that children cannot even be compelled by public school authorities to stand, salute the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. That is still the law today. Surely, then, children should not be compelled by their public school teachers to participate in lessons denigrating their own race.
“Free public education, if faithful to the ideal of secular instruction and political neutrality, will not be partisan or enemy of any class, creed, party, or faction,” Justice Robert Jackson wrote for the majority in the 1943 case. “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
This means that public school educators should not be prescribing their race-centric orthodoxy influenced by critical race theory for their students or making one group of students the enemy based on the color of their skin.
Nevertheless, public schools across the country are doing just that. They are force feeding their racist orthodoxy to their captive audiences of students.
“To be white is to be racist, period,” [an Oklahoma high school teacher told his students](https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/10/19/to-be-white-is-to-be-racist-period-a-high-school-teacher-told-his-class/), for example. An offended student recorded this teacher’s outrageous statement and shared it with a local TV network affiliate.
When interviewed by the TV outlet, the student’s father asked, “Why is it okay to demonize one race to children that you are supposed to be teaching a curriculum to?”
Such racially divisive demonization is never okay. It is evil.
Teaching students the unvarnished facts about the nation’s past, including slavery and Jim Crow era segregation, can be done in a responsible manner without making white students today wear the albatross of past wrongs around their young necks. Raising students’ consciousness of racial issues to help them become better human beings does not require them to bear collective guilt for the nation’s historical misdeeds in which they had no part.
Condoleezza Rice, who has experienced racial segregation firsthand, hit the right note during her recent appearance on ABC’s The View. “I would like Black kids to be completely empowered, to know that they are beautiful in their Blackness,” Rice said, “but in order to do that I don’t have to make White kids feel bad for being White.“
Rice added a distinction between honestly teaching students historical fact and teaching them to demonize people based on their racial identity. “We teach the good and we teach the bad of history,” Rice said. “But what we don’t do is make 7- and 10-year-olds feel that they are somehow bad people because of the color of their skin. We’ve been through that, and we don’t need to do that again for anyone.”
It’s too bad that PEN America and other advocates of teaching children to judge themselves and others solely through a racial lens do not understand the distinction that Rice so elegantly expressed.