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