Parents of children in Montgomery County Public Schools were just informed that the district thinks “race and culture have a direct influence on teaching and learning” and that is why their children are subjected to “culturally responsive teaching.”
The recent email from Michael A. Durso, president of the county’s Board of Education, was titled “Safe and Welcoming Schools for All Students.” It was a warning that MCPS will not tolerate the “hate-based incidents” between students of different races that have affected the district since Donald Trump was elected president.
The email came one day before then-President Obama said in his farewell address that “race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society” and quoted George Washington’s admonition to reject any attempt “to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.”
The problem is that “culturally responsive teaching,” or CRT, enfeebles those ties. It’s not about seeking colorblind education but obsessing about color differences. That perpetuating separate “values, cultures and traditions” among students may fracture their sense of cohesion seems to be lost on proponents of CRT.
Durso’s school district is the 17th-largest in the nation and includes students from 157 countries and who speak 138 languages. Students and educators have reported incidents related to Trump, originating from both sides. The email included a note that MCPS would not help in the deportation of “undocumented” students.
Montgomery County is home to excellent schools that cater to the children of Washington bureaucrats, think-tankers, journalists and Beltway bandits — and not-so-good ones that cater to the children of the immigrants. The gap in achievement irritates educators, as it should. The problem is that they insist they can eliminate the gap through CRT.
Culturally responsive teaching is a self-styled pedagogy that insists that students be taught all subjects in a manner that responds to cultural traits and that furthers social justice.
Social justice in CRT, incidentally, is not the garden-variety goal of shrinking inequality. As two academics describe it, “Social justice must always be a motivation behind CRT research. Part of this social justice commitment must include a critique of liberalism, neutrality, objectivity, color-blindness, and meritocracy as a camouflage for the self-interest of powerful entities of society.”
Montgomery County goes much further than most in the literature in affirming that the race of a child predicts how he or she learns. CRT academics usually emphasize cultural habits rather than race, which can never be unlearned.
CRT, of course, opposes abandoning traits even when they are barriers to education, but it relies heavily on patronizing stereotyping that should induce cringes. Mexican Americans, says ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), “are comfortable with cognitive generalities and patterns” and prefer “broad concepts than component facts and specifics.”
Armed with a raft of academic papers, ASCD, a global organization with 125,000 members who are superintendents, principals and teachers, also observes that African Americans “value oral experiences” and “physical activity.”
American Indians “perceive globally” and “have reflective thinking patterns.” Whites, lastly, value “independence, analytic thinking, objectivity, and accuracy. These values translate into learning experiences that focus on competition, information, tests and grades, and linear logic.”
The problem, according to CRT, is that these white patterns “are prevalent in most American schools.” It is this pattern that CRT seeks to dispense with. So we must teach all subjects free of the baggage of accuracy and analytical thinking. Even mathematics.
Just ask Omiunota N. Ukpokodu from the Division of Curriculum and Instruction of the School of Education at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. (In short, she teaches teachers.) As she put it when describing a study, “culturally responsive mathematics must first begin with the classroom teacher deconstructing beliefs about mathematics as a culturally neutral subject, as universal truth, as a non-reasoning system, and, as an exclusively European and Western discipline.”
Small wonder that the stubborn gap persists and there’s a growing absence of solidarity. Focusing on CRT prevents educators from looking at other solutions, from school choice to greater parent involvement.
The United States took the opposite approach in the past. From the 18th century on, it taught immigrants and the native-born alike a common culture, something historians call “The American Creed.” As John Fonte and Althea Nagai put it, “Could anyone imagine Presidents Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson importing ‘cultural competency’ specialists from Italy or Poland?”
Policymakers, including, importantly, Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and those she will bring in, could do worse than to ask themselves whether drilling differences into the very young really does help them with their “’readin’, ’ritin’ and ’rithmetic,” or help society.
The writer, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is a parent of children in Montgomery County Public Schools.