June 26, 2021

Critical Race Theory and Other Political Wedge Issues

by Hal Gershowitz

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A well-devised or contrived political wedge issue is pure political gold. Anyone who has ever managed a political campaign knows that.

Political wedge issues often force voters to make political decisions, even when the issue does not represent an impending public policy decision. The undecided voter is often swayed by being for or against an issue that is imputed to be favored or opposed by one of the political parties or by one of the candidates for office.

Some wedge issues are entirely legitimate. Even before there was a United States of America or any American political parties, Thomas Paine, in 1775, created a world-changing political wedge issue when he published Common Sense. Common Sense made the case that the American colonists should be focusing on independence from rather than reconciliation with England. While they were not yet voters in national elections, the colonists were presented with a choice. Were they for allegiance to England or for self-determination. At the time, that was about as controversial as any wedge issue could be, but it was a legitimate issue. Independence rather than reconciliation was a wedge issue for the ages.

Critical Race Theory is not really an issue that school boards in America are pursuing. Some politicians, however, have erected it as a great American bugaboo, creating angst among voters way out of proportion to any existing reality. Critical Race Theory has become a raging wedge issue.

Political wedge issues are commonplace in American political discourse. For example, most Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, today, support universal access to quality healthcare, especially after our long COVID-19 ordeal. However, a dozen years ago, access to healthcare became a magnet for wedge issues. Republicans, led by Sarah Palin, created a compelling wedge issue in fighting the Affordable Care Act by raising the specter of “death panels.” There were no such provisions in the Affordable Care Act, but it dominated much of the debate a dozen years ago. Republican criticism of the Affordable Care Act isn’t heard much today, but wedge issues such as the death panel controversy fanned the flames of discord when the Affordable Care Act was being debated.

So, today, politicians and others are rallying citizens to fight against a rather non-existent public-school movement to teach Critical Race Theory. Political apoplexy over Critical Race Theory presupposes that teaching it is on public school board agendas all over the country. It isn’t.

Critical Race Theory is a forty-year-old movement that focuses on the root causes of racism, the pervasiveness of racism, the alleged centrality of racism, and the considerable lingering impact of systemic racism. Critical Race Theory has become a revisited topic in some academic circles, among various civil rights scholars and activists, and more recently, spurred on by Black Lives Matter activists.

However, few, if any, school boards are pushing to incorporate Critical Race Theory into public school curricula. Creating a controversy over the teaching of Critical Race Theory even though there is little to no teaching of Critical Race Theory in America is a textbook exercise in wedge-issue creation. It forces voters to decide for or against a happening that isn’t happening.

Does race, including racism, have any place in American education? Of course. It would be irresponsible (and impossible) to sidestep an integral part of our own history. Should we teach Americans, especially young white Americans, that they are, by definition, guilty of racism or guilty of the sins of their forbears? No, of course not. Should Americans be taught the lingering effects of racism? Why not? Ignorance is not bliss. It is the handmaiden of demagoguery. Is stigmatizing any cohort of Americans for the behavior of any other cohort of Americans ever justified? No, never. Should a more just society be an essential American ideal? Always. If America means anything, it means justice for all. Without justice for all, there is no justice at all.

And there you have a reasonable way to address the complexities of the generations-old and now rapidly evolving question of race in America. Teaching American history should not embrace an obsession with race or racism, but, at an appropriate grade level, an understanding of the role and toll of racism in the American experience. We should neither avoid it nor should we obsess over it. We should simply be determined to learn from it and to continue to pursue that more perfect union; that work in progress that was the promise of America.

To pretend that racism doesn’t exist in America is absurd. To pretend that we haven’t made substantial progress in confronting racism in America is equally absurd.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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7 responses to “Critical Race Theory and Other Political Wedge Issues”

  1. Susan Duman says:

    As usual, you understand the issues. Your reference to history reminds your readers who expressed what and when.
    I’m more informed after your columns than I was before.
    My appreciation.

  2. Larry Fox says:

    A friend was just required to attend in-service training on “Racist Math.” She was told that it was racist to teach that many math problems have one right answer, and she was taught that it is racist to ask students to show their work as it communicates that there is only one way to truth. This, of course, is nuts. Sarah Palin wasn’t compelling attendance and developing the curriculum. LASUSD was doing so,

    Yes, we have racist institutions and cultural norms, and, yes, these are stupid and should be condemned and driven out. But in today’s world being called a racist or being accused of racist speech or behavior is a career ender, and a basis of exclusion. Name calling may fulfill some human need, but it is destructive.

    When our pols and educators fail to call illogic anything but illogic, we are on the highway to hell in a rocket. So-called “Racist math” and “Racist logic,” and “Racist discourse,” though they may be truly felt, each of construct is a belief without a (specific) foundation, other than examples.

  3. Perry says:

    To even consider such a theory is racist on it’s core. In today’s
    world of racism, one must ask who is benefitting by the constant
    harangue of racism,racism?

  4. Steve Hardy says:

    It is a mistake for state governments to pass any laws forbidding or mandating what should be taught in public (government) schools. I believe that teaching critical race theory, both the arguments for and against, is consistent with the goals of education. I also think that American history classes should include the good with the bad and can’t ignore our original sin of slavery and Jim Crow. But I disagree that the current controversy over CRT and mandated ethnic studies are not critical wedge issues.
    Despite the case that the liberal media downplays this controversy, I believe that there is more indoctrination and not education based on many first-hand reports and numerous articles. However, I accept the possibility that my own limited experience biases me. Therefore it behooves parents to get involved and find out exactly what their kids are being taught.

  5. Susan Duman says:

    Steve Hardy, if we had a contest for the most intelligent analysis of today, you win hands down.

  6. Steve Hardy says:

    Thank you Susan

  7. Robert borns says:

    How does anyone know how many school boards are pushing critical race theory before we say just a few. How about teaching real us history-the good and bad-instead of no history or hate history. Prof kendi is an enemy of Jews and Israel. Jews called people of white privilege? During my lifetime we dug ourselves out of the hole by hard work and a fearce desire for education. I remember the companies banks schools hospitals etc with no Jews wanted. The south shore country club-no dogs or Jews. The legal business and social conditions for blacks has dramatically improved. Great! But for Jews in many ways things are headed down. I believe in following the feet. They are coming here not going away. That sums up our nations quality. Can we get better under our existing system? We always have and are today and will tomorrow. But education is the way to success for our population.

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