Guidance from former Trump White House official Russ Vought and his organization -- the Center for Renewing America -- appears to be helping state legislators ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools. Since January 2021, 22 states have either introduced bans or signed them into law, and Media Matters has determined that a majority of these bills have similar language to each other and to model legislation from Vought’s group and/or executive orders he authored as a Trump administration official. These bills are being used to push a right-wing education agenda, negatively affecting hundreds of thousands of students.
Phrasing in Vought’s executive orders that presented critical race theory and similar approaches as “divisive concepts” and further prohibited teachings that an individual is “inherently racist” or that the U.S. or relevant state is “fundamentally or systemically racist,” have been generally replicated — sometimes nearly identically — in measures in the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
Molly Butler / Media Matters
Here's one example of the similarities in language:
|From Vought's executive order:||From Louisiana's House Bill 564:|
|Review these trainings to determine whether they teach, advocate, or promote the divisive concepts specified in the Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping ( e.g., that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist or that an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive).||
(b) That either the United States of America or the state of Louisiana is fundamentally, institutionally, or systemically racist or sexist. That an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently or systemically racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, or has negative or positive characteristics that inhere in the individual's DNA.
Vought’s Center for Renewing America also created guidelines for states to follow, which included a section on “penalties” for schools that teach critical race theory; the Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, and Kentucky proposals all include specific financial penalties. Michigan ,Missouri, and South Carolina even go as far as to have the same pointed banning of the 1619 Project from school curricula, as suggested in the model legislation.
In September 2020, Vought, then the director of the Office of Management and Budget, authored the executive order which directed federal funding to be stripped away from “agency spending related to any training on ‘critical race theory,’ ‘white privilege,’” and other “divisive” trainings. The order identified such training as a “propaganda effort” teaching that America is “an inherently ‘racist’ or ‘evil’ country.” A second, Vought-authored executive order was issued later that month further detailing the supposed “divisive concepts” taught in critical race theory.
After leaving the White House in January 2021, Vought launched the Center for Renewing America. His group also tackles other issues such as election integrity and securing the border, but stopping critical race theory in schools is a major focal point. Its website describes critical race theory as “the imposition of state sanctioned racism by progressive ideologues.” Recently, the organization published a 33-page “A to Z guide” on how individuals can stop the implementation of critical race theory curricula in their districts, along with model legislation to combat it in schools. The model legislation and the executive orders both establish that “divisive” concepts are to be exiled from society altogether. In May 2021, Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) introduced the Stop CRT Act to defund what he called teaching of a “neo-Marxist propaganda” in schools, echoing Vought’s interview with The Federalist. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) went so far as to recently thank Vought for his part in helping to craft the bill.
While criticism of critical race theory is not new, right-wing attacks on the academic framework for examining systemic racism have risen with startling frequency. In the past three-and-a-half months alone, Fox News has mentioned critical race theory nearly 1,300 times; monthly mentions shot up from practically nothing in June 2020 to over 530 in May. People like Vought are presenting a false and manipulated explanation of the theory to argue its intention is to teach an anti-white ideology to students. In reality, the decades-old theory is a framework to understand the legacy and construction of race and racism in America. It does not attack America or white people. Anthropologist Khiara Bridges has laid out some of the core tenets:
- Acknowledgement that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicate racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.
- Recognition of the relevance of people’s everyday lives to scholarship. This includes embracing the lived experiences of people of color, including those preserved through storytelling, and rejecting deficit-informed research that excludes the epistemologies of people of color.
I would argue that one of the most important roles we have as educators, particularly social studies educators, is to help students sift through competing perspectives and develop well-rounded political views and identities. But if teachers are to play this role effectively, they will need conceptual frameworks, such as CRT, to help them lead productive discussions about this country’s history of racial discrimination, in which students come to understand that we all stand to benefit from learning about each other’s racial and ethnic identities. Choosing whose truth to teach is not a zero-sum game, and none of us should be shut out of the K-12 curriculum.