Press Misinformation on Critical Race Theory in Schools Fuels the Fight

by James C. Sherlock

Americans are at one another’s throats over critical race theory in schools.

The debate is skewed and the rage fueled by completely different understandings of the terms of reference — the actual objections to CRT in education.

Those objections have been misstated routinely by the legacy national newspapers and the education press. The misleading articles make it into most national newspapers these days with the collapse of regional reporting. And the misinformation they spread has made it into these pages.

Education Week, in a surprise change of pace for that journal, published on November 15 an opinion piece by Rick Hess titled “Media Coverage of Critical Race Theory Misses the Mark.”

Based upon a detailed study of a year’s worth of press reports, Hess finds that the national legacy media and the education press have largely and purposely ignored the core objections to CRT in schools.

Instead they have misled the public with a selective and progressive-friendly, but inaccurate definition of the terms of the debate.

Virtually every article reviewed reported that anti-CRT factions don’t want the history of racism and slavery taught in schools. For the vast majority of those who protest CRT in schools, including Virginia’s governor-elect, that is not a consideration; they do not oppose teaching the history of racism and slavery, but they want it taught accurately and in context.

These same articles have been silent on race-based separation of kids into privileged and oppressed groups as a teaching tool and head-on attacks on equality, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law. Those are in fact the crux of the anti-CRT objections.

These articles mis-define the terms of the debate to make opponents of CRT in schools look either unserious or racist or both.

They continue to build straw men in order to burn them down. This failure of journalism in support of woke dogma has poisoned the debate both in these pages and nationally.

Rick Hess is an education policy scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He opens with:

The postmortems of this month’s elections have reminded us once again of just how large a shadow critical race theory has cast over K-12 schooling this past year—even though we still can’t quite seem to agree on just what it means or whether it’s even taught in schools.

He studied 91 articles addressing CRT between Sept. 2020 and August 2021 published in The New York times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today as well as the education press (Education Week, The 74 and Chalkbeat).

Two-thirds of mainstream-press news accounts and more than 4 in 5 education press news stories mentioned the history of race or the way history is taught in schools. Most articles mentioned slavery. And the articles routinely asserted or implied that these kinds of issues are at the heart of the CRT debate, as when The New York Times reported that the CRT debate is really about how “the legacies of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow still create an uneven playing field for Black people.”

At the same time, news articles rarely mentioned CRT’s intellectual foundations, despite the contentious claims on which it rests. As Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, two founders of the CRT movement, have explained in their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” Yet, of the 91 articles examined, just two mentioned that CRT is skeptical of rational thought and only one said that CRT is skeptical of universal values or objective knowledge.

Put another way, then, one could read more than 95 percent of CRT coverage and never encounter the extraordinary claims at the heart of a raging national debate.

It turns out that the CRT fight isn’t over whether to teach about slavery (in fact, Texas’s oft-maligned anti-CRT law mandates that schools teach a unit on slavery) so much as it is about a series of controversial practices that deserve careful scrutiny.

Unfortunately, that kind of examination hasn’t been forthcoming. Indeed, it’s almost as if the media had set out to make the skeptics and critics look unserious by giving short shrift to their actual concerns about what CRT means in practice.

He has nailed it. We see all of that in the debate in these pages.

I strongly recommend to all both Mr. Hess’ article and his detailed report, “Media’s Misleading Portrayal of the Fight over Critical Race Theory,” on which it was based.

It would be useful if we were arguing over the same facts.

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38 responses to “Press Misinformation on Critical Race Theory in Schools Fuels the Fight”

    1. From your WaPo column: “The cries now are not only for book-banning but also against masking in schools and the supposed teaching of critical race theory, an obscure-until-now graduate school concept that studies pervasive racism in society, even though it isn’t used at all in Virginia’s public primary and secondary schools.

      Total confirmation of Hess’ essay.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        If that’s true then why did Sherlock publish so many BR articles, not only saying it was, but that it was Marxist?

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Hey Pete… while the Bacon doesn’t fall far from the, uh…, er.. eggs… It was Sherlock what wrote this particular piece of red-baited race baiting.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        “Red-baited race baiting”. Say that fast four times. But, nevertheless, an incisive and scintillating contribution to the discussion.

          1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            From the NAACP position:

            “The term “critical race theory” has been co-opted by opponents as a catch-all and rallying cry to silence any discussions about systemic racism, ban the truthful teaching of American history, and reverse progress toward racial justice.”

            I thoroughly disagree, but you have to admit that it aligns exactly with Hess’ report.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I do indeed.

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “They report in virtually every article that anti-CRT factions don’t want the history of racism and slavery taught in schools. For the vast majority of those who protest CRT in schools, including Virginia’s Governor-elect, that is not a consideration. They want it taught accurately and in context, but do not oppose it.”

    Well the anti-CRT crowd in TN do not want to teach history. See list of books they wish to ban.

    1. I’ve never heard of those books. I doubt you have either. This list is meaningless unless we know the reasons behind the effort to ban them. Perhaps the would-be banners are know-nothings. Or perhaps the books are total historical garbage. In either case, this has nothing to do with the debate in Virginia.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Read the complaint it is all in there. As to the so-called Virginia debate, I would point you to James’s first sentence:

        “Americans are at one another’s throats over critical race theory in schools.”

        Americans not just Virginians

      2. The letter says “History must be taught through an objective lens and complex subjects presented at an age where they can be analyzed and understood n appropriate historical context.” That fits Virginia too.

    2. Anecdotal and out of context.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Not out of context nor anecdotal. The entire complaint is included at the link.

        1. The complaint is based on the claims of one person. Therefore, it is anecdotal.

    3. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      University Park ISD, Tx. banned “The Art of Racing in the Rain” for all grades. Go figure.

      1. Wow. That’s surprising. University Park, Texas, is only about a 3 hour drive from the Circuit of the Americas, so I’d venture to guess that more than one student from their school system might have some future use for the information that book contains…

    4. Eric

      Did you even read the letter explaining why and how they were used in a curriculum for second grade children? Did you read the reactions of children who actually experienced this? Do you really think this kind of indoctrination is acceptable?

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Seems to me that (even with the anti-CRT slant of the letter) the curriculum focuses on the strength of the victims and their non-violent protest in the face of violence. Very little difference between this and how they recommend teaching the Holocaust to primary students (i.e., focus on stories of rescue and heroism, etc.) I don’t hear anyone saying that Holocaust teaching is design to indoctrinate students and train them to hate their own German ancestry.

        1. But that’s not what the teacher’s manual does, so there’s a lot of difference. It’s the lack of context and difference between then and now, as if nothing has changed in the past fifty-plus years. On the Ruby Bridges book, they point out specific points.

          “The accompanying teacher’s manual goes on to teach the following:

          “Tells students to repeatedly focus on and emphasizes the racist images”

          “Instructs the teacher to point out this word [N-word] whether
          or not the students notice it on their own [in one of the images], and to then lead a discussion about “emotionally charged language.”

          “On Day 15, a lesson on descriptive language instructs the
          teachers to describe white people with the adverb ‘rudely’ and the adjective ‘vicious.’”

          “The book makes no mention of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
          desegregation, black heroes such as Justice Thurgood Marshall, Justice Clarence Thomas, Jackie Robinson, Morgan Freeman, Glen Colin Powell, Secretary Condolezza Riche, Secretary Ben Carson or President Obama, or any of the subsequent progress America has made toward “a more perfect union.” Instead, 7-8-year-old children are left with a picture of America as a racist country, rife with injustice.”

          Of course, that is exactly what CRT maintains is today’s situation.

          1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            “But that’s not what the teacher’s manual does…” Of course you do not know what the “teacher’s manual” says as there is not a copy provided. You do have a report from an anti-CRT parent who says what the manual supposedly says. You also do not know that the Wit and Wisdom curriculum does not teach about other black heroes. I suspect it certainly does.

      2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Ok, since we are not going to teach the history of the non-violent fight for civil rights in the US because it is too heavily for 2nd graders, I assume you also believe there should be no teaching involving 9/11 to 2nd graders as well.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    For every AEI-affliated pundit criticizing the coverage, I can provide you with a non AEI-afflilated commenter in favor. Rather than your opinion piece from Education Week, I prefer this one:

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I read Sawchuk’s piece in May.

      He personally takes the progressive position. But while he dismissed the opposition positions, he was more forthcoming about the context of the conservative arguments than any other author there until Hess.

      If you subscribe to EdWeek, go to a scan through the articles there. You will see what I mean.

      I congratulate EdWeek for running Hess’s short report on his detailed study. And I congratulate Mr. Hess for doing the research and reporting on it.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Jim Bacon, I guess I am “Exhibit A.”

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I won’t hazard a guess as o what the “A” stands for.

  4. tmtfairfax Avatar

    A number of years ago, Joseph Califano was interviewed by the Washington Lawyer, a publication of the District of Columbia Bar. Among his comments was his criticism of the creation of the U.S. Department of Education as a waste of government resources and efficiency. Califano said that the only reason that a separate department was created was to appease the teachers unions.

    So why would anyone believe what a professional educrat (who probably hasn’t taught in 20 years) would write about CRT? They are totally dependent on academic waste for their livelihoods.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Resistance to critical race theory is not a new phenomenon. However, the term jumped into headlines and social media feeds in recent years when, in a Constitution Day speech at the National Archives, former president Donald Trump characterized education that takes a critical lens as “radical” and “ideological poison.” Trump went on to attack the “1619 Project” and announced an executive order establishing the short-lived “1776 Commission” to “promote patriotic education.” He also issued a subsequent executive order banning government contractors from conducting racial sensitivity and diversity training in the workplace.

    The executive orders were a reaction to educational initiatives—like the “1619 Project” or the work of Howard Zinn—designed to examine professional development, pedagogy, teaching and learning through a critical lens, labeling any approach that acknowledges American racism, white supremacy, white privilege, intersectionality, microaggressions, and the like as dangerous, unpatriotic and, ironically, racist. ”

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      educational initiatives—like the “1619 Project” or the work of Howard Zinn”.

      The 1619 project centers slavery in the founding of the United States. The author is welcome to her opinion, but even left-leaning historians dismiss much of it.

      Zinn described himself as “something of an anarchist, something of a socialist”. His work reflects his beliefs.

      Both are political initiatives.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    ‘Salright Capt’n you didn’t do anything with CRT that the Birchers didn’t do with the CRA…

    Is this your way of saying all that “CRT is Marxist” claptrap you wrote ain’t your fault ’cause nobody got it right?

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      As I have told you many times, go with whatever makes you happy.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        You certainly do. Reality? Facts? Why bother?


    Notice the Smithsonian got the US flag hanging incorrectly. I guess it doesn’t have any Boy Scouts on its payroll.

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