Marxist Critical Theory and Education

By James C. Sherlock

Perhaps my biggest concern for our society is that Marxist critical theory ideologues have taken over the Graduate Schools of Education.

From Jim Bacon’s post earlier:

“The new cultural elite is envious and would like to reappropriate much of that wealth for redistribution as it sees fit. Even more alarmingly, the cultural elite has a totalitarian instinct. Convinced of its righteousness, it is bent upon imposing its values and priorities upon the rest of the population.”

Critical theory was a primary creation of Karl Marx.

It rejects capitalism, property rights, individual freedom and democracy without as far as I have been able to find in my research offering an alternative.

Communism, socialism and fascism all attempted to achieve these goals. All three have proven practical and moral failures.

“Socialism” only works with a capitalist economy and the person freedom to innovate and public welfare programs to redistribute some of the profits of capitalism.  That was the successful concession of the post-Mao communist party leaders in China that is being eroded today by the restrictions on personal freedom.  The Chinese economic miracle was capitalist, not communist.

Communism and fascism have resulted in unprecedented human cruelty and suffering and ultimately societal destruction.

Critical theory, of which critical race theory is but an offshoot, demands redistribution without considering what happens the day after redistribution, when, if unfettered, talent and effort will instantly start reinstating unequal distribution of property.

It does not address what happens when self interest as expressed in capitalism is no longer permitted to be a motivator. Therefore it does not predict where future wealth will come from. The reason it does not address those issues is that there is no answer.

To quote Irving Kristol, one of the most prominent critics of capitalism in the late 20th century:

“Our youthful rebels are anything but inarticulate; and though they utter a great deal of nonsense, the import of what they are saying is clear enough. What they are saying is that they dislike–to put it mildly–the liberal, individualist, capitalist civilization that stands ready to receive them as citizens. They are rejecting this offer of citizenship and are declaring their desire to see some other kind of civilization replace it.” …

“Our young radicals are far less dismayed at America’s failure to become what it ought to be than they are contemptuous of what it thinks it ought to be. For them, as for Oscar Wilde, it is not the average American who is disgusting; it is the ideal American.”

So that is what they are against – capitalism, individual freedom, property rights and democracy. It is yet to be seen what they are for.

They do not hesitate to insist, however, that this bridge to nowhere be taught to our young people.

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24 responses to “Marxist Critical Theory and Education

  1. Change is hard, no matter the generation and they always play the Apocalypse card.

    • “It rejects capitalism, property rights, individual freedom and democracy without as far as I have been able to find in my research offering an alternative.”

      Define capitalism, property rights, individual freedom and democracy.

      What is amazing is that none of these exist as he thinks they do, and quite possibly never did.

      BTW, do have any idea of what are the goals he thinks have not been achieved? Liberté, égalité, fraternité?

    • “Change is hard, no matter the generation and they always play the Apocalypse card.”

      Yes, indeed.

      Charge is hard and typically major change results in Apocalypse for those involved, often killing millions and destroying whole cultures and civilizations.

      For example, the European Wars of Reformation, comprising some 26 conflicts, and several dozen sub-conflicts, blazed from 1517 to 1702, a bloodletting lasting nearly 200 years. Take only one of those many conflicts, the Thirty Years War:

      “The major impact of the Thirty Years’ War, in which mercenary armies were extensively used, was the devastation of entire regions scavenged bare by the foraging armies. Episodes of widespread famine and disease devastated the population of the German states and, to a lesser extent, the Low Countries and Italy, while bankrupting many of the powers involved. The war ended with the Treaty of Münster, a part of the wider Peace of Westphalia.

      During the war, Germany’s population was reduced by 30% on average. In the territory of Brandenburg, the losses had amounted to half, while in some areas an estimated two thirds of the population died. The population of the Czech lands declined by a third. The Swedish army alone, which was no greater a ravager than the other armies of the Thirty Years’ War, destroyed 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns during its tenure of 17 years in Germany. For decades armies and armed bands had roamed Germany like packs of wolves, slaughtering the populace like sheep. One band of marauders even styled themselves as “Werewolves”. Huge damage was done to monasteries, churches and other religious institutions. The war had proved disastrous for the German-speaking parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Germany lost population and territory, and was henceforth further divided into hundreds of largely impotent semi-independent states. The Imperial power retreated to Austria and the Habsburg lands. The Netherlands and Switzerland were confirmed independent. The peace institutionalised the Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist religious divide in Germany, with populations either converting, or moving to areas controlled by rulers of their own faith.

      One authority puts France’s losses against Austria at 80,000 killed or wounded and against Spain (including the years 1648–1659, after Westphalia) at 300,000 dead or disabled. Sweden and Finland lost, by one calculation, 110,000 dead from all causes. Another 400,000 Germans, British, and other nationalities died in Swedish service.” From Wikipedia.

      These wars of Reformation led into the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799 killing tens of thousand of innocents, that ignited the Napoleonic Wars, killing millions of innocents from the Atlantic Ocean coast of Europe across the blood lands of Southern and Eastern Europe through the gates of Moscow into the burning city.

      The Napoleonic Wars spawned by the French Revolution endorsed for a time Thomas Jefferson, led to another series of revolutions and reformations in Europe, climaxing in the Franco – Prussian War. That in turn lead to the 20th Century Russian Revolution, Chinese rebellions, War War 1, Stalin’s genocides, the Chinese wars and revolutions to and including World War 11, Mao’s genocides and near constant bloody revolutions thereafter during 20th century, throughout Asia, Africa, and the Americas that killed and maimed hundreds of millions of innocents, and countless civilizations worldwide.

      • Quite likely, history will record that the actual leftist rebellion working on the ground in US cities in concert with the leftist ruling elite (who refuse to quell those rebellions), but to instead work to promote the rioters interests, and thus enlist the rioters as allies, so as to weaponize those rioters against the long established opposition party, began in earnest in the spring and summer of 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

        These growing clashes sanctioned by the leftist ruling elite now have been ongoing since the first Charlottesville events in the spring of 2017, having spread around the county in coordinated fashion, including in Washington DC.

        I also suspect that historians later will record that these leftist assaults on law and order were sanctioned for nearly 3 years by the leftist ruling elite as a corollary action in support of their efforts to impeach Donald Trump, and that this effort came to maturity summer of 2020, sparked by May 25th death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and Covid – 19.

        Proof of these assertions have come quickly in the form of the ongoing collapse of law and order, and functionality, of several major American cities. These include Seattle, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York City, all major progressive ruled cities that are now significantly dysfunctional and threatened with collapse by leftist tactics such as de-funding, demoralizing, and refusing to support the police in those cities. These tactics are now spreading to lesser cities.

        Compounding and turbo charging the gravity of these ongoing threats are Covid-19. It is being weaponized in conjunction with impairing the functionality of the nation, and its upcoming November Presidential election. This is accentuated by increasingly serious concerns over the health and capacity of the assumed Democratic nominee for President.

        What we are witnessing in real time is the growing threat of a perfect storm for revolution.

  2. Sweden might disagree. World is changing. It’s not simple, and simple systems are insufficient.

    • The world is changing? Its not simple? Systems need to be adaptable? Evolve? Like markets? Surely, you jest. Its almost as if Darwin was on to something.

      • I dunno, I missed the target briefing. I’m still tryin’ to figure out the goals that the “leftists” governments failed to achieve that we have. We have?

        I have my theory on K-12. Every graduate should be proficient at balancing a checkbook, filing a 1040, changing a tire, putting on a condom, and rolling a joint. How hard can that be?

  3. Well, here we go again. This earlier posted in wrong place.

    Good post, Sherlock.

    I will add that America’s higher education as infected by the rot of post war (WW2) European intellectuals, was the engine driving American Higher education over the cliff, taking the entire nation along with it.

    History will record that America’s higher education was the fountainhead of all the ills and disease that destroyed America over a period of some sixty years. It will take a very long book to describe all the ways.

    America will not escape this fate without its total reformation of American Higher Education, a daunting but necessary task. No decent society can last with a despoiled youth.

  4. re: ” So that is what they are against – capitalism, individual freedom, property rights and democracy. It is yet to be seen what they are for.”

    In K-12, what do they teach you with respect to getting good grades?

    What’s the point of achievement? Why try to do good academically?

    Is that a “liberal” or “conservative” or “radical” or some other value?

    Inherent in most people is a drive to do a job well, whether it’s art, or engineering or medicine or just about any endeavor. We tend to take pride in doing a job well – and for getting recognized for that achievement. We hang stuff on our walls attesting to such accomplishments – out of vanity and pride and some of us look at our bank accounts as proof we have done well.

    Even sports, or entertainment or even crime – people strive to be good at it and to get rewarded. What is the real “value” to being really good at something like football or shooting goals?

    Most folks, no matter their politics, are not this way: ” opposed to capitalism, individual freedom, property rights and democracy.”

    What some ARE opposed to – is a system where some people are effectively denied the opportunity to pursue these things by the fact of where or to who they are born.

    Some folks say that’s not their problem – that they did not cause it. Others demand that we do what it takes to set things right.

    Therein lies the dilemma. How it gets to be left/right is a puzzle sometimes

  5. Snore. More ignorant comments from individuals who have never lived in a “so cia list” country.

  6. Can you identify these “Marxist critical theory ideologues [who] have taken over the Graduate Schools of Education”? Also, please provide links to some of their writings.

    By the way “critical theory” is not limited to Marxism. The definition of critical theory is: the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture to reveal and challenge power structures. It argues that social problems are influenced and created more by societal structures and cultural assumptions than by individual and psychological factors.

    Are you denying that social problems are influenced by societal structures and cultural assumptions? Are you denying that many of the racial problems we are facing today were rooted in the cultural assumptions of racial inferiority and resulting discrimination that predominated much of the 20th Century?

    Another example of critical theory is feminism. It sounds like some people don’t like their power structures challenged.

    • Dick,

      Just one example from Harvard Graduate School of Education: (link to full article) Excerpts to follow:

      Lecturer Houman Harouni, Ed.M.’08, Ed.D.’15 opens his fall course, Critical Theory: Identity, Politics, and Practice,

      ….yet somehow the discussion moves, in substantive and surprising ways — from the value of education, to who has the power to determine that value, to what it means to work in relationship to systems of power, and finally to the students themselves and their own desire to change those systems.

      …for his spring offering, Power and Pedagogy: Self, Society, and Transformation

      ..Frustrated, Harouni turned to education as a lever for political mobilization and social change.

      …As a doctoral student, Harouni looked at the field of mathematics education. Rather than just being a vehicle for teaching basic arithmetic and critical thinking skills, Harouni found that math instruction is rooted in the same power systems — social and economic — that govern daily life. In 2015, he began to teach a class that would serve as the foundation for Critical Theory, where students could engage with and question their own theories of power.

      ..He will also be offering a new course in the spring of 2020 called Alternative Modes of Education: Non-European, Radical, and Utopian.

      I think it is safe to assume that Harvard Graduate School of Education is a leading school and the excerpts above show that Critical Theory is welcomed there and students are steeped in it. It should be apparent that Dr. Haroumi sees Critical Theory as the foundation of his goal of producing political and social activists in the classroom. It is clear that HGSE approves of and promotes Critical Theory and its political and social implications. If you look closely at the Columbia University School of Education, the Curry School and others you will find that Harvard is not atypical in this regard.

      Research on the scope of a doctoral dissertation would not detail the entire influence of Critical Theory on American (and Canadian) education. I would suggest that rather than being dismissive about James’ proposition without having contrary evidence, that his critics do a bit of research find information which debunks his premise.

      • Yeah, math instruction is so deeply rooted in white privilege and power that Asian students internationally (and Asian American students in the U.S.) out-perform whites and all other groups in standardized math exams.

  7. The appeal of America from the get go was that, in theory, anyone could come here and with hard work and perseverance – do good – not true in some other countries.

    Right now, we have this “immigration problem” which is people coming here without a penny to their name – hoping to work hard and have a better life.

    There are always ideologues left and right but most folks want to believe that if they learn, put effort into work – there is opportunity. NO they don’t want to work in a “collective’ nor “destroy” capitalism.

    Some of this stuff that folks read is just beyond the pale.

    The vast majority just want an equal chance at making a life.

  8. Jim, I have no reason to doubt your assertion that “Marxist critical theory ideologues have taken over the Graduate Schools of Education.” But I don’t know it to be true, and I have not seen it documented anywhere. I share Dick’s sentiment that I’d like to see links to their writings.

    This is a big, bold, incredibly important assertion, and it’s worthy of documentation. In particular, if true, we need to document the takeover of critical theory in Virginia’s education schools. If we can’t document the claim, then we set ourselves up for the kinds of comments you see in this post.

    If we can document your claim, then the ramifications are momentous. We truly are in the midst of a culture war, and we need to fight it with every means at our disposal.

    • In my mind, and reading, there no doubt about the validly of Jim’s claim, although the takeover by critical theorists of the academy does embrace components far beyond Marxist critical theory.

      Hence, I am confident Jim will find this as well as confirm his initial assertion, as his research continues, broadens, and deepens. Jim is on a vitally important topic, one that will take numerous posts and much time to fully develop, as does yours Jim on “Who rules America.”

      The real question, to my mind and many others far more knowledgeable than I, is not the validity of Jim’s basic claim (which is beyond doubt), but whether it has now has proceeded beyond the point of return before fatal damage is done to our republic, and democratic way of life in America.

      For example,

      This take on the widening threat that Jim raises, consider this fine recent article on the threat that critical theory now poses to STEM, the hard sciences of physics, biology and like sciences, taking them back to before the Enlightenment. To, for example, the Mumbo Jumbo of shamanism, a subject deserving respect in many places, but not in overriding the laws and theories of physics, and to where to object to Mumbo Jumbo as a scientific method is to be shunned, defrocked and ostracized from the academy and your profession.


  9. We’ve seen and are seeing the effects since the 60’s. A sampling of online indicators:
    Forbes, Dec 27, 2016,12:00pm EST
    Quoted from A Marxist Education In ‘Hypersensitivity’ As A Cause Of Violence On American Campuses

    “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” writes Marx in the opening sentence of his Communist Manifesto.

    “In this light, the ideological agenda driving the rise of hypersensitivity on campus becomes clearer. It also becomes more frightening, given the demonstrated connection between hypersensitivity and violence.
    And the new education on campus is having its intended effect: Today’s Social Justice Warriors are largely Marx’s heirs, with universities cranking out more yearly. …
    “Where will this lead us? Consider these tactical instructions from Marx to Social Justice Warriors: “[T]here is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.”

    “Thus, the deepest effect of the Left’s success at transforming teaching and learning into consciousness raising and hypersensitivity is missed if we dismiss it as merely in the service of graduating a fresh batch of “little snowflakes” every May. Its full project, instead, is to nourish resentment in order to liberate us from the “old society.”

    In sum, sensitivity has been weaponized.”
    The neo-Marxist takeover of our universities
    Quoted from The Spectator, magazine issue: 8 September 2018

    “…But reading between the lines, it’s clear that the real problem on college campuses is not the whiny, neurotic students, but the post-modern neo-Marxist professors who are manipulating them. After all, the people being no-platformed are not disciples of crackpot post-structuralists like Jacques Lacan, whose psychoanalytical theories about castration are weird enough to disturb even the most robust students, but mainstream conservatives such as Heather Mac Donald and Ben Shapiro.

    “The domination of US universities by the left, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, is well documented. In 2016 a survey carried out by Econ Journal Watch looked at the voter registration of faculty members at 40 leading US universities in the fields of economics, history, law, psychology and journalism/communications. It found that Democrats outnumber Republicans by an average of 11.5 to one. In psychology, the ratio is 17.4 to one; in history, 33.5 to one.

    “This helps explain a phenomenon identified by the French economist Thomas Piketty whereby university graduates have drifted to the left over the past 50 years. In a paper last February, he analysed post-electoral surveys from 1948 to 2017 and found that, from the 1940s to the 1960s, the more educated voters were, the more likely they were to vote Republican. Today, the opposite is true, with 70 per cent of those with a master’s degree voting for Hillary in 2016.

    “This phenomenon has coincided with the growth in the number of Americans attending university. In 1948, just 6 per cent of voters had a university degree; by 2016, 13 per cent had a master’s degree or a PhD. Piketty also looked at British and French election data and found the same developments there: a drift to the left among university graduates that went hand-in-hand with a large increase in the percentage of the population obtaining degrees. ‘The trend is virtually identical in the three countries,’ he wrote.

    “If more people are going to university in Britain, France and America, and graduates are more likely to vote for left-wing parties, why have right-wing parties continued to win elections in those countries? The answer is simple: Piketty discovered that voters without university degrees have moved in the opposite direction. They used to skew to the left, but now skew to the right. To a lesser extent, the same pattern is discernible among high-income and low-income voters, with the two groups switching their political allegiances over the past 50 years — something that Piketty, a socialist who believes in redistributive taxation, finds baffling.

    “My take is we owe the survival of western capitalism, and the fact we haven’t been bamboozled by socialist snake-oil salesmen, to the innate good sense of the ordinary working man. As Bertrand Russell said: ‘Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.’
    EDUCATION; The Mainstreaming of Marxism in U.S. Colleges
    By Felicity Barringer Oct. 25, 1989
    Jordan Peterson on neo-Marxist professors who dominate our colleges and universities
    Quoted from The Neo-Marxist Legacy in American Sociology

    “A significant group of sociologists entering graduate school in the late 1960s and 1970s embraced Marxism as the foundation for a critical challenge to reigning orthodoxies in the discipline. In this review, we ask what impact this cohort of scholars and their students had on the mainstream of American sociology. More generally, how and in what ways did the resurgence of neo-Marxist thought within the discipline lead to new theoretical and empirical research and findings? Using two models of Marxism as science as our guide, we examine the impact of sociological Marxism on research on the state, inequality, the labor process, and global political economy. We conclude with some thoughts about the future of sociological Marxism.”

    Cultural Marxism Is Real
    Jan 4, 2019 Allen Mendenhall
    “Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, scholars like Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson were explicit in embracing Marxism. ”
    — — — — Wikipedia:
    Formerly the Thomas Warton Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford (1992–2001) and John Edward Taylor Professor of Cultural Theory at the University of Manchester (2001–2008), Eagleton has held visiting appointments at universities around the world including Cornell, Duke, Iowa, Melbourne, Trinity College in Dublin, and Yale.[10]

    Fredric Jameson (born April 14, 1934) is an American literary critic, philosopher and Marxist political theorist. He is best known for his analysis of contemporary cultural trends, particularly his analysis of postmodernity and capitalism. Jameson’s best-known books include Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism[3] (1991) and The Political Unconscious (1981).

    Jameson is currently Knut Schmidt-Nielsen Professor of Comparative Literature and Romance Studies (French) and the director of the Center for Critical Theory at Duke University.[4] In 2012, the Modern Language Association gave Jameson its sixth Award for Lifetime Scholarly Achievement.[5]

  10. Well, I say most young rebels could really care less about what Irving Krystol has to say.

  11. You kinda have to at least ask yourself is this country is so bad, how come others from around the world step on top of each other to come here.


    • Uh, that’s so less true than it was just 4 years ago. But that has nothing to do with our education system.

      • Well, the post itself is really about using education as an implementing tool to foster socialism in receptive students who will then ostensibly go forth to convince and recruit others to implement it in Government, institutions and society.

        It’s an old and well-used boogeyman in American politics over the decades.

        The Red Scare of 1919-1920, McCarthyism in the 40’s-50’s . Hoover was convinced that Martin Luther King was “card carrying Communist”.

        Thousands of our young died to try to stop it in SE Asia.

        That fear just keeps coming back in various mutations. It’s almost like Capitalism must have that devil in the closet to keep it honest.

  12. Good post and deserving of an in depth examination of the concept of re-distribution of wealth.

    Re-distribution of wealth is more native to America than the concept of Capitalism as brought to this land by the first European immigrants (illegal immigrants by the way, since they did not seek permission from this land’s inhabitants and refused to respect their language and customs, and began seizing land by force). Many tribal communities throughout the North American continent practiced “Give away” in their economic and cultural balancing for centuries. The term “Potlatch” refers to this practice and is used to demonstrate in native culture that the greatest leader is one who “gives away” much of their wealth to all around them, including many chiefs and tribes that would be invited to a Potlatch give away celebration that may last days. In these societies, accrual of wealth was not admired necessarily unless it was used for the many and given away. The Potlatch has more recently been practiced by American Northwest tribes. This practice also provides for a lessening of the gap between the haves and have-nots and allows for some of the natural resentment to be released and many of the disadvantaged were able to then receive some of the newly redistributed wealth. Re-distribution is inherent in the game of Monopoly, which ends when one of the players ends up with all the property and/or wealth in the game. For the game to continue, the “banker” must collect the money and redistribute the wealth to the players for the game to be reset and start anew. In a native society, for a successful trader or hunter to acquire food or wealth and not share it would be considered an imbalance and possibly a mental or emotional loss of connection to the tribe. In a society where many may struggle just to survive and a few hoard the wealth and food, this can be an indication of serious imbalance and loss of empathy by the wealthy individual. Jesus Christ taught the same principle…that the point of wealth was to use it to serve the poor, homeless, and disadvantaged. Wealth is also a huge attachment, and considered an obstacle to spiritual growth wherever it divides one’s deep human connection to others, since holding it may lead one to consider others who do not have it as undeserving, losers, or simply not willing to work for it as hard as the wealthy.

    Now to address whether re-distribution of wealth is simply “mumbo jumbo” or has its place in a form of re-balancing and creating a wider platform of sharing the benefits of distributed capitalism. The Center for American progress noted in 2008 the following:
    “For many years in this country it was understood that as worker productivity rose, the benefits of that increase should be shared equally between workers and their employers. That is exactly what happened during the 30 years between 1950 and 1980. Worker productivity rose by 93 percent during that period, and wages rose by 89 percent. It wasn’t that the corporate leaders of that period or Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter were socialists, or even that some of them had a particular commitment to economic equity. They simply respected one of the cardinal rules of economic growth—if you want output and profits to grow, you have to have consumers with the buying power to purchase those products.” I contend that this is logical and makes common sense.

    So redistribution of wealth is not simply a “communist” theory nor one just developed by modern liberal elites to control others and the economy. It is a long proven process of economic re-balancing and social stabilizing for a society that finds that the “Monopoly game” has reached its natural conclusion and requires a resetting to again engage the greater society in the benefits of shared capitalism and allow the game to continue with more players.



  13. Even progressives should be concerned by the totalitarian ideology that passes for critical thinking in our education system. Whatever happened to dedication to free speech, inquiring minds, open debate, etc.? To say nothing of hard work, practical problem-solving, respect for others?

    Like any fundamentalist religion, the totalitarian ideology is irrational and intolerant. Once it infects our institutions, it will spread beyond extremist progressives to other political leanings.

    On the other hand, our conservatives claim to support important abstractions, but they have difficulty applying them in real life. Which programs extending liberty, property rights and democracy have conservatives actually supported over the decades?
    End of slavery? No
    End of Jim Crow laws? No
    End of school segregation? No
    Right of blacks to vote? No
    Right of women to own property? No
    Right of women to vote? No
    Right of gays/lesbians to marry? No
    Eight-hour work day? No
    Occupational health and safety? No
    Environmental protection? No
    Amelioration of climate change? No

    Celebration of defenders of slavery and treason? Yes
    Gerrymandered districts? Yes
    Limiting voting booths in minority neighborhoods? Yes
    A trillion dollar handout to the wealthy? Yes
    Restrictions on support for the poor? Yes
    Right to discriminate against people who are ‘different’? Yes

    Where does this record demonstration a commitment to democracy, individualism, liberty, or private property?

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