Following the lead of lawmakers in Tennessee and Idaho, my state of Florida has become the latest state to ban the teaching of critical race theory in its public schools.
As adopted by the Florida State Board of Education, the amendment banning the teaching of critical race theory states in part:
Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with State Board approved standards include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.
One reason this is such a controversial issue is that if you ask twenty professors, politicians, and pundits to define critical race theory, you will get twenty different answers.
According to the unapologetically left-leaning CNN:
Critical race theory recognizes that systemic racism is part of American society and challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish.
Critical race theorists believe that racism is an everyday experience for most people of color, and that a large part of society has no interest in doing away with it because it benefits White elites.
“Critical race theory is a practice. It’s an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founding critical race theorist and a law professor who teaches at UCLA and Columbia University.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which maintains that “the realities of systemic racism are still alive and well,” characterized the bans on teaching critical race theory as an attempt to teach a version of American history “that erases the legacy of discrimination and lived experiences of Black and Brown people.”
Conservatives see things differently.
“Students in our universities are inundated with critical race theory. This is a Marxist doctrine holding that America is a wicked and racist nation, that even young children are complicit in oppression, and that our entire society must be radically transformed,” said former president Donald Trump. “Critical race theory is being forced into our children’s schools, it’s being imposed into workplace trainings, and it’s being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors and families.”
Back in May, several Republican members of Congress introduced a bill banning the teaching of critical race theory in federal institutions and a resolution highlighting “the dangers” of teaching the theory in schools.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who spoke before the Board of Education meeting, said that critical race theory would teach children “the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate.” “That is not worth any taxpayer dollars,” he said. In a statement on Twitter, DeSantis said the amendment protects students from being “indoctrinated to think a certain way.” “Critical Race Theory teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other. It is state-sanctioned racism and has no place in Florida schools,” he wrote.
The leftist National Education Association (NEA) acknowledges that critical race theory is being taught in public schools and defends it as “reasonable and appropriate.”
Some conservatives and libertarians have posited school choice as the answer to the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. This is nothing new, as these same conservatives and libertarians generally present school choice as the answer to nearly every problem with public schools.
Whether it is low test scores, violence in schools, Common Core, high schools graduating functional illiterates, the decline in discipline and standards, the power of the teachers’ unions, restrictions on free speech, biased textbooks, school shootings, sex education, or the promotion of Islam, environmentalism, socialism, political correctness, evolution, homosexuality, or transgenderism—the answer always seems to be school choice.
Many religious conservatives are still lamenting the elimination of prayer and Bible reading from schools. The solution to them, of course, is school choice, so their children can go to a school that does have prayer and Bible reading.
There are five things that can be said about all of this that are not being said.
First of all, although public schools should not exist, as long as they do, there is nothing wrong with parents objecting to what they teach and trying to improve them. This is no different than wanting cities and counties to keep their parks and recreational facilities clean and free from homeless encampments even though these things should be privatized.
Second, just because a school is a private school does not mean that it won’t also teach critical race theory. Just recently, for example, a private school in Ohio sent a letter to parents of two students informing them that their children will not be reenrolled at the school because the parents launched a public campaign against the school’s woke curriculum and promotion of critical race theory.
Third, all parents have school choice right now. They don’t have to wait for a voucher from the government to remove their children from public schools that are pushing critical race theory. They can homeschool their children or enroll them in a parochial school, a Montessori school, or an independent private school. That most parents don’t have the money to send their children to the private school of their choice doesn’t negate the fact that they have school choice right now that doesn’t involve choosing where to spend other Americans’ money
Fourth, the answer to a failed government program is never another government program. The answer is always the free market. The reason why private schools are expensive and not available in every community is because “free” and ubiquitous public schools have distorted the market. Government vouchers distort the market even more by establishing a floor below which tuition will not go because they remove incentives for schools to compete on cost.
Fifth, all arguments about school choice ignore the real issue: government involvement in education. Education is a service that parents can provide their children with just like health care, recreation, organized sports, music lessons, cultural activities, religious instruction, and haircuts. If they can’t provide these things on their own, or can’t fully provide them, then it is up to them to seek providers, with assistance from family, friends, organizations, associations, and like-minded other parents, but never from the government. As the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises pointed out in his book Liberalism: “There is, in fact, only one solution: the state, the government, the laws must not in any way concern themselves with schooling or education. Public funds must not be used for such purposes. The rearing and instruction of youth must be left entirely to parents and to private associations and institutions.”
School choice is not the answer to the teaching of critical race theory in public schools or the answer to anything else that is wrong with public education.