Monday, July 5, 2021


 The Washington Post   

Education   Perspective

Let’s celebrate Florida’s critical race theory student survey

By Jay Mathews, Columnist 
July 4, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT

I rejoiced at Florida’s decision to survey college students to see if they have been corrupted by critical race theory being taught on their campuses. Some people criticized the initiative, but I think it can only enrich the debate. I hope it spreads to other states.

The Florida law that took effect July 1 says universities must assess “viewpoint diversity” on campus each year through a survey developed by the state board of education. The law’s signers fear critical race theory, which examines systemic racism, gives an inaccurate view of the race issue in America.

Do Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and state legislators know what they’re in for with this innovation? I love hearing students that age discuss their studies, but it can be exhausting for the listener. DeSantis’s children are very young, so he may not have gotten a dose of this yet.

The governor said after he signed the bill: “We want our universities to be focused on critical thinking and academic rigor. We do not want them as basically hotbeds of stale ideology.”

I sought samples of what viewpoint diversity surveyors might find in Florida and other states by sending questions to academically talented high school and college students. They are all authors of papers in The Concord Review, whose publisher, Will Fitzhugh, seeks scholarly writing by high school students. Their views seemed to me typical of undergraduates interested in such issues.

The students reminded me that college professors and college reading list authors — the likely culprits in any effort to inject critical race theory into young minds — are often not regarded by this age group as purveyors of revealed truth. They indicated if their college had such a survey they would try to give the surveyors their honest view, no matter how complicated.

This is from Isabella Rosario-Blake, about to start her freshman year at the University of Chicago: “Critical theory originates from the Frankfurt School’s philosophical approach, which was led by notable philosophers and sociologists such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Critical race theory specifically began in legal studies (e.g. Derrick A. Bell Jr., Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Richard Delgado), but the terminology has trickled into other analysis. The new political definition of CRT is alienated from its original context and has become a catch all for various teaching reforms that attempt to include more discussions of race.”

Viewpoint diversity questionnaires will likely ask students if they are being taught that White people are responsible for institutional racism. Rosario-Blake rejected that suggestion.

“So-called anti-racist education is not the sort of traumatic experience that parents, politicians, and journalists seem to think,” she told me. “First of all, most of the teachers at my school are White, so they are not going to teach us to hate other White people.”

Such surveys may need a way to measure this generation’s distrust of the people carrying on the debate. Caleb Lee, entering his freshman year at Yale University, said that “the way Critical Race Theory is discussed in the media is often not very academic and is typically used alongside buzzer words such as ‘reverse-racism’ to evoke a visceral response from its audience. It is seldom ever defined in many shows and articles.”

The students I contacted made points I don’t hear discussed much on cable news. Walter Liu, a sophomore at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., connected the debate to the harm done to his grandfather during the 1960s Cultural Revolution in China. Because Liu’s great-grandfather was an official in the Manchukuo Japanese puppet state before and during World War II, Liu’s grandfather was labeled a “posterity of class enemy” even though he was, Liu said, “a diligent mine engineer.”

“He missed out on many promotions in his career and was abused a few times by people,” Liu said. “It is unfair for people to be responsible for the actions of their previous generations. It is also wrong to assume that all individuals of the same race will have the same mind-set.”

I acknowledge many college students won’t be interested in this issue and won’t encounter critical race theory in their classes. The most popular major at the University of Florida is business and management. But the university does require three credits in “diversity” classes, which might mention the theory. And just being surveyed could spark an interest.

The students I contacted said they heard little or no talk of critical race theory in high school. They said they don’t fear brainwashing in college. But they also don’t like some of what they’re hearing about the theory’s alleged academic effect. Austin Sarker-Young, a senior at the Wilmington Friends School in Wilmington, Del., said he opposes Princeton removing the Greek and Latin language requirement from its classics department. If that was to attract more Black students, it should be mentioned that “W.E.B. Dubois, one of the principal founders of the NAACP, taught Greek and Latin,” he said.

When Florida completes its survey, I hope it releases the results, with quotes from those surveyed. That may be a thick volume, but we all could use a better sense of what our young people are thinking.

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