Letter: Matthew Johnson, Dulles

Editor:  When I read the opinions of parents and activists opposed to the alleged teaching of Critical Race Theory in Loudoun County (and beyond), I wonder if the irony is lost on them: They are not seeking to end indoctrination in schools but reinforce it. 

I attended American public schools from first grade until 12th, and at no point was I presented with any material that questioned the basic assumption that the United States was an exceptional country that all other countries aspired to become. It is obvious that those who are opposed to any contemporary educational challenge to this basic assumption were indoctrinated just as I was—and it is equally obvious that they (unlike me) want to maintain the status quo at the expense of truth and justice.

I can empathize to an extent. Critical inquiry isn’t easy. No one wants to be told by Howard Zinn, Nikole Hannah-Jones or anyone else that most of their founding myths are just that. And certainly no one, especially now, wants to be perceived as a racist or the beneficiary of racist policies and institutions.

But there’s a middle ground: You can be an American (young or otherwise) and admit that the United States isn’t perfect—that it was founded by racist slaveholders, that it made room for its White settlers via genocide, and so on—while still respecting and loving yourself. And, yes, this is possible even if you are White. I like to think that I’m living proof of this.

College helped me understand that history—and even education itself—can be viewed from many lenses. I never stopped wanting to learn, so I became a teacher. The essence of education to me was illustrated in the scene from the 1999 movieThe Matrixwhen Morpheus asks Neo (technically before he becomes Neo) whether he wants to take the blue or the red pill. I can still remember how Morpheus frames the choice: “If you take the blue pill, the story ends: You wake up in your bed believing whatever you want to believe. But if you take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

My students, in both private- and public-school settings, resoundingly preferred the red pill. They did not want to simply accept the rated-G version of American history. They wanted to explore whether the atomic bombing of Japan was truly necessary or if White supremacy continues to rule in America. As an older Millennial, I was not even given the choice—it was blue pill all the way—and I am quite certain this was the case for generations that came before me.

Honest conservatives can quibble with the way diversity is framed or discussed in schools, and they can prefer certain historical narratives over others. I have no problem with that—the “rabbit hole” can go too deep at times. I might even be considered conservative by today’s standards, so it would be hypocritical for me to shut down debate.

But I will shut down this notion that opposition to the alleged teaching of Critical Race Theory is opposition to indoctrination in schools. It clearly is not. It’s the promotion of a different kind of indoctrination—and a stale one at that.

As I wrote before: Critical inquiry isn’t easy. But it’s critical. We cannot return to an idealized (and delusional) version of American education just as we cannot return to an idealized (and delusional) version of America.

Matthew Johnson, Dulles

17 thoughts on “Letter: Matthew Johnson, Dulles

  • 2021-10-13 at 6:41 pm
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    Define CRT please before you defend it. Critical inquiry is not CRT.

    LOL…What a word salad.

    • 2021-10-18 at 7:42 pm
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      The folks bringing up the non-sequitur Critical Race Theory–despite the fact that no school is embracing that idea and no segment of the LCPS is promoting it–are pretty easy to understand. They’re the folks who tried mightily to keep Black students from attending Virginia’s public schools and now they don’t want their grandchildren to learn about that.

  • 2021-10-13 at 6:52 pm
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    Couldn’t agree more. I’m so tired of hearing the fear-mongering about CRT. Thankfully, it was on the back-burner at last night’s LCSB meeting. But I worry it will rear its ugly head again. I love studying history. But we can’t remain frozen in the past. Everything changes in life. And Loudoun County is no exception. We must acknowledge the devastating legacy of racism on this county. And do our best to get out from under it. Please vote Loudoun!

  • 2021-10-13 at 7:29 pm
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    So is it the position that a student should have a choice to take CRT classes or not? Is it the position that teachers should have the option to take CRT training or not? Should everyone have the option to use pronouns when referring to another individual or are pronouns mandatory? If everything is a choice I’m in favor but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    A teacher was suspended because he said he would refer to a student by his or her biological pronoun. Certain school districts require CRT classes in order to graduate. That doesn’t seem like a choice of pills.

  • 2021-10-13 at 7:30 pm
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    Well said.

    I would only add to this that cognitive dissonance is hard. But worthwhile.

  • 2021-10-14 at 9:03 am
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    Shaming children who happen to be white, and reinforcing victimhood in children who are not white IS WRONG.

    All day. Every day.

    Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the crux of the matter: History.

    Slavery has been a global institution for millennia. There’s no disputing that. Nor is there any possible way for a reasonable person to think that it is/was anything other than a terrible, miserable, disgusting, inhuman(e) institution.

    The colonies and the United States that followed participated in the ownership of human beings. Again, awful. Outlawed by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

    So, we’re 156 years past the time of slavery in this country. One Hundred Sixty Five Years.
    Which pretty much guarantees that every current student in LCPS wasn’t directly involved in slavery. Nor were their parents. Or grandparents. Or great grandparents. Or great, great grandparents. You get the idea.

    Again, trying to keep this brief… back to the issue of victimhood and oppression. If skin color is the primary determinant of status within the CRT belief system, then how do we deal with these historical facts?

    Blacks owned other blacks in this country.
    American indians owned slaves in this country.
    Blacks owned whites in Africa.
    Asians are STILL being held as slaves within China and possibly other countries.

    I don’t believe it’s possible to trace every human being’s ancestral involvement in slavery. So why are using broad brush strokes and generalizations on these innocent children?

    EQUALITY is a fair and easily understood concept, even for small children. Why aren’t we focusing on that?

    One final thought… we’re seeing more and more denials and quasi-denials that CRT is present in our schools. As if we haven’t seen the training presented to teaching staff. As if we haven’t heard stories from parents. As if a reasonable person cannot determine what is and what is not appropriate for their children.

    Please, just stop it. We’re not stupid and children don’t deserve to be exposed to this garbage.

    • 2021-10-14 at 2:50 pm
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      Oh for Heaven’s sake. The only time anyone makes mention of shaming children for being white, they are being ironic. This doesn’t happen, it’s not what CRT teaches, and CRT isn’t taught in elementary or secondary schools anywhere, nor is anyone trying to make it be taught.

      So the fact that this was literally your first reaction to a sensible letter communicates to everyone you are not a serious person who has a grasp on reality.

      Or more to the point: Eyeroll emoji.

      • 2021-10-14 at 5:47 pm
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        Your reply to my comment offered zero, zilch, nada in terms of meaningful analysis or insight. Just a couple of personal attacks.

        But since you appearing to be holding yourself out as an authority on what CRT is and is not, please go ahead and give us all a full and complete explaination.

        Go on, you can do it. In your own words, preferably.

      • 2021-10-14 at 7:25 pm
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        You are in denial. Parents have provided piles of evidence, both video and material, obtained during the Covid closure that tenants of CRT are embedded in instruction at both the elementary and secondary level. The current Second Step program is sponsored by a CRT advocacy group under the guise of “Committee For Children.” The writer is not an LCPS teacher. What evidence, aside from an emoji, do you have proving it’s not being taught?

        • 2021-10-15 at 12:21 pm
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          The fact that you used the word “tenants” instead of the correct word “tenets” and expect me to prove a negative tell me everything I need to know about your analytical capabilities.

          Critical Race Theory is a graduate level class taught in some law schools that is a framework for looking at how systemic racism has shaped public policy. It explains how historical things like redlining affects outcomes today for Black people. The classic example is the discrimination Black GIs faced obtaining the benefits of the GI bill and the ripple effects of that on generations later.

          Setting aside the obvious fact that these things SHOULD be taught in schools and that the whitewashing of history should be erased, it actually is not. The so-called “evidence” you are hyperventilating about is the valid guidelines to teachers vis a vis diversity and inclusiveness, which by the way are entirely consistent with the values of American businesses operating in the global economy.

          Thank you for attending my Ted talk.

          • 2021-10-15 at 6:57 pm
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            Can’t tell if you’re lying or just misinformed. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose.

            A leaked memo dated Feb 22, 2019 from VA DoE’s Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane, with the Subject line: “Resources to Support Student and Community Dialogues on Racism,” SPECIFICALLY lists the following book as a resource for teachers:

            “Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education” by Edward Taylor, David Gillborn, and Gloria Ladson-Billings

            And then in another leaked Va DoE document going back to 2015 (when Mcauliffe (D) was in office), we see a training program which included the SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS to “embrace critical race theory.”

            Documents don’t lie. But people sure do.

          • 2021-10-16 at 9:05 am
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            Fair point, but the two have been conflated in current instruction. There is nothing wrong with teaching different perspectives of our history, but making one group of students feel guilty for something with which they had nothing to do is wrong, particularly when terms like “privilege,” “systemic,” and “fragility” are intentionally embedded to sway opinions. Simply stating that CRT is a concept taught in law school is a Joy Reid talking point which is baseless when compared to the county-purchased instructional materials teachers access in conjunction with teaching factual history that assigns guilt to one group for actions of unidentifiable ancestors.

  • 2021-10-14 at 9:13 am
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    Such a virtuous letter from an “older Millennial” and teacher. Describing exactly what is wrong with our education system and those who are involved/employed with the incestuous education system.

  • 2021-10-14 at 12:00 pm
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    As a parent of 2 Kids who have graduated from LCPS. I am one of the silent majority of parents who’ve no issues with teachers teaching “real” History as it happened, and not the “good” History some of these vocal CRT parents want.

    If you don’t learn from History you’re doomed to repeat it. But these days a segment of the population think they know better than the professionals (Teachers, Doctors, list goes on and on) and don’t want their children “Indoctrinated”, which from the display that I saw at the board meeting, they themselves are.

  • 2021-10-14 at 12:47 pm
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    “And, yes, this is possible even if you are White. I like to think that I’m living proof of this.”

    Stopped reading right there. The writer can join racist Chris Croll’s self-loathing support group.

  • 2021-10-14 at 12:58 pm
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    Great letter. You’re just the kind of teacher I want bringing the next generation along.

    Nuance isn’t clean and neat, but those who ponder the unclear and the complicated are most often richer for doing so. I feel for those who can only see in black and white.

  • 2021-10-14 at 2:54 pm
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    In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think . . . but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators. — William F. Buckley, Jr.

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