The recent ire over Critical Race Theory has once again placed school curricula under the spotlight. While I myself am neither conservative nor liberal, the debate has become so heated that I fear attaching my name to even a centrist article mentioning it. Having no stake in the stake in neither political ideology gives me a unique perspective. As part of the debate, I have seen many conservatives propose bans on CRT, yet this solution comes with problematic consequences.
First, because the government maintains so much control over curricula that schools become central battlegrounds in the first place. States have faced major political battles over what should be taught in schools for quite some time now. Many will remember the debates over evolution and abstinence in schools. The debate over CRT is only the most recent chapter.
Yet, conservatives are misguided if they think a ban will magically make CRT go away. It’s undeniable that many teachers lean left and are products of a university system that embraces CRT if not directly, then indirectly. As such, even if CRT is banned, many teachers will still teach content through this lens. It will still exist in the de facto curricula even if it is not codified in the de jure curricula.
If the ban were to be effectively enforced in a way to prevent teachers from even teaching through the lens of CRT, it would require the government to monitor everything teachers do – even what teachers say in a lecture. Such enforcement mechanisms would create dangerous dystopian infrastructure that could easily be used against conservative teachers when Democrats control the state. If a conservative teaches against gender fluidity, such government power could be used to punish the teacher.
While many conservatives look to CRT bans as the answer, another solution lies before them: school choice. If parents detest CRT, let them take their children to a school where it is not taught. If parents want their children exposed to CRT, let them take their children to a school where it is taught. If local autonomy is combined with choice, it provides freedom that can make the left and right happy – or one would hope.
The left will argue that their tax dollars should not be going towards religious education or institutions that teach things they detest. Yet such a position places them exactly where the right is now. They detest their tax dollars going to pay for an institution that teaches what they disapprove of. So what’s the solution? Allow parents and students to take their money where they see fit.
Again, the left will argue such educational choice will only further segregate America by creating pockets of echo chambers. Private schools do tend to be more conservative. However, the public school system we’ve had for over a century has not been able to prevent today’s crippling political polarization. While we like to think of academia as an arena for competing ideas to be respectfully debated, sharpened, and critiqued, this is a fantasy in reality. The left and the right have both proven from time to time that they haven’t been able to tolerate each other even in academic settings. Perhaps it is only human nature.
If conservatives felt the classroom was tolerant enough for their children to dissent and have their opinions respected, they may not feel the need to ban it. It is unsurprising that conservatives feel their only solution is in taking control of the government curricula via the political process. But increasing the power of government to further your own agenda is like upgrading a weapon of war. It is only great when you are in control.
Yes, school choice and privatization may exacerbate the already pertinent issue of echo chambers, but decentralization of our education system will prove more peaceful. Centuries ago, many people were forced to attend one state-sponsored denomination with one state-approved doctrine. Religious differences quickly became political battles for influence over the centralized state. That led to wars and brutal persecutions, all in an attempt to crush their “enemies.” America’s embracement of religious freedom and decentralization did not result in chaos or more violence. If anything, freedom of religion enabled us to avoid much of that violence. With decentralization comes a greater sense of ownership, and out of that comes a greater chance for innovation.
The battle over education needs a similar prescription. The solution is not a ban on CRT. The solution is freedom and decentralization. The solution is a separation of education and state. Conservatives must take advantage of their political momentum to make significant change instead of just sticking it to the left.