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Rachel Cohen: How Advocacy Groups Are Refuting the Critics of CRT

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Rachel Cohen wrote an interesting post about how progressive advocacy groups, teachers, and activists are responding to broad-brush attacks on schools teaching Critical Race Theory.

There’s been dozens of articles written about Chris Rufo, the man responsible (and who is quite proud to take credit for) turning “critical race theory” into the latest villain in the culture wars. (For examples see: here, here, and here.)

Rufo has been quite explicit about his strategy, saying “We have successfully frozen their brand—‘critical race theory’— into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.” He also said, “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’ We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire race of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”

But despite “critical race theory” being in the news so much, I felt very unclear of how, if at all, liberal and left groups were organizing to respond to these new attacks, given that they aimed to take down virtually all equity and anti-racism work along with it.

In my new story for The Intercept, I spent some time reviewing the plans of teacher unions, education advocacy groups, left-leaning think tanks and liberal legal organizations, to find out. I obtained four messaging guides circulating around the liberal universe with professional talking points on how to respond to the barrage of attacks, and I interviewed authors of those guides.

These organizations are trying to walk a tight, and sometimes awkward rope. Most progressive groups have opted to distance themselves from critical race theory — attempting to “reframe” and “redirect” the conversation — while still hoping to affirm that they want to teach about systemic racism, which Critical Race Theory is all about. They’re also emphasizing the need to trust students to learn about racism, while insisting CRT is not ‘age-appropriate’ and is a law-school level concept irrelevant to K-12.

I expect this story and associated strategies to continue to evolve in the coming months. There are some broad similarities embraced by the various liberal groups, but I also found some competing visions and disagreements over what would be the best way to fight back. There’s a lot of fear right now, because people are trying to figure out how to push back without actually amplifying and strengthening bad faith arguments on the right. It’s tough, and this is a common problem in liberal politics not unique to education. See: policing.

There’s a lot of emphasis right now on teaching “truth” and “honesty” in schools. And to the extent that means opposing censorship, and a willingness to confront dark parts of our past, that’s all good. But a lot of this debate really is about something else; it’s about what’s the right way to narrate and spin the same set of general facts. And the fact is even professional historians disagree on that. As education historian Jon Zimmerman says in the piece, “We should have the courage to let kids in on that little secret that we don’t all agree on what the correct historical narrative is.”

You can read the story here.

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