A scorched-earth campaign by Woke “anti-racists” is laying waste to America’s education and future. Part I offers an overview of the philosophic underpinnings of a calamity in the making.
America’s education system is at the edge of the abyss. Warning signs are flashing red. The sustained focus of Woke elites on purportedly “rooting out systemic racism” is destroying American education and with it the hopes for children of all races.
Because the Woke class asserts that any disparity in racial outcome is the product of racism, they are ruthlessly attempting to eliminate all disparities. Their main weapon used to be racial preferences through affirmative action. Their tactics have evolved. Progressives are now eradicating the evidence (testing) and loci (difficult courses) of disparities, while ensuring outcomes for selected minority races through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
Concurrently, the elites are indoctrinating the next generation of Americans by introducing Critical Race Theory, The 1619 Project, and anti-family, anti-capitalist philosophies into K-12 curricula under the guise of Black Lives Matter, so-called “anti-racist” teaching, and mandates.
The inevitable consequences are everywhere, from America’s plummeting performance in global rankings in science, technology, engineering, and math, to the rapid pre-COVID decline in per capita college enrollment and the number of foreigners attending America’s universities.
In the most recent Program for International Student Assessment rankings for math and science, the U.S. ranked 38th in math and 24th in science. National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP) math scores show long-term improvement, including by blacks and Latinos, though progress largely stopped in 2009. For science, NAEP scores have declined among fourth graders and lower-performing eighth graders, though white-black and white-Latino gaps have steadily closed since 2009. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2020, nearly four out of five black and Hispanic eighth graders were not proficient in math or reading.
In 2021, for the first time, America fell out of Bloomberg’s top 10 most innovative countries. When Bloomberg launched the index in 2013, the United States was first. A toxic political environment and skyrocketing crime rates in major cities attest to the broader consequences.
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This article briefly discusses the background of racial preferences and the radicalization of philosophies that are driving ever more extreme actions. Part II will focus on the rapid implementation of Woke policies and programs since 2020 and the insidious impact on K-12 and university education.
Though most authors credit President Johnson’s executive order in 1965 with launching affirmative action, that recognition should go to President Kennedy, who on March 6, 1961, issued Executive Order 10925, directing government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” This likely was the first time the term “affirmative action” was used in any official government policy.
President Johnson followed up on September 24, 1965, issuing Executive Order 11246 pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. EO 11246 required that every government contractor “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, color, religion, or national origin. Such action shall include, but not be limited to the following: employment, upgrading, demotion, or transfer; recruitment or recruitment advertising; layoff or termination; rates of pay or other forms of compensation; and selection for training, including apprenticeship.”
From those humble beginnings requiring that employers not discriminate on the basis of race, our universities at first, then other institutions and more recently corporations, adopted racial preferences that favored less qualified or even unqualified applicants for admission, promotion, and faculty positions, based solely on the color of their skin.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) originated in the 1970s and later gained attention as a philosophy that asserts ostensibly colorblind laws are usually and inevitably applied in racist ways to serve the interests of white people. It took a while for CRT to percolate. By the late 2000s, though, CRT teaching in universities was in full swing. Within the last few years, school boards and teacher unions have begun integrating CRT into K-12 school curricula.
Long before DEI, early affirmative action morphed into racial preferences propelled by manipulation of test scores and GPAs for favored minority applicants, racial goals, and quotas. From the 1970s, this led to widespread litigation by white students denied admission to college and medical school. In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Supreme Court upheld the use of race as one factor in choosing among applicants for admission, but rejected explicit quotas. In a pair of 2003 cases, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court held that there is a “compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body” and that the use of race, among other factors, is constitutional if the program is narrowly tailored, flexible, and provides for a “holistic” review of each applicant.
In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2013), the Supreme Court held that colleges may not employ racial preferences unless “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” The Court remanded the case for further review, and it returned in 2016. In Fisher II, the Court held that there should be strict scrutiny of affirmative-action admissions processes, but it improbably deferred to the university’s judgement, undoing strict scrutiny, and required the use of race to be narrowly tailored. Because only seven justices participated in the 4-3 decision, opponents of racial preferences have sought another opportunity to reach the Supreme Court. The Court is presently considering whether to hear an appeal filed by Asian-American students of lower court decisions affirming racial preferences at Harvard.
The 1990s through the 2000s also saw the first efforts to change testing so that disparities could not be measured. Starting in the 1990’s, the College Board began watering down the content and adjusting the scoring of the SAT to boost minority results and diminish the granularity of higher scores. In 1996 and 1997, ACT Inc. and the College Board declared their acronyms no longer stood for anything, thus excising the words “assessment” and “achievement.” In 2019, the College Board announced that an “adversity score” would be included with SAT scores. The initial idea was to include a range of socioeconomic factors, but after objections from universities, the plan was modified to provide only data that correlates closely with race to support racial preferences.
For decades, polls have shown Americans of all races overwhelmingly oppose the use of race in college admissions decisions. Recognizing this, the Regents of the University of California voted in 1995 to end affirmative action programs at all University of California campuses. The following year, Californians passed Referendum 209, which ended all public-sector affirmative action programs in employment, education, and contracting. Last year, Californians overwhelmingly rejected an effort to rescind Proposition 209. Eight other states also have adopted prohibitions on racial preferences in public university admissions.
Over the last several years, affirmative action-based racial preferences have given way to DEI, which substitutes socially engineered pre-determined outcomes for mere preferences. With DEI, each favored demographic group is siloed, with a separate selection process. A university might seek the best-qualified applicants within each silo, but there is no cross-over between siloes. It could be—and often it is—that the least qualified successful applicants in the white or Asian silos are more qualified than nearly all of the successful applicants in the black or Latino silos.
As a result, after controlling for other attributes, SAT scores for Asian‐American applicants to elite universities have to be 140 points higher than scores of white applicants and 450 points higher than scores of African‐American applicants to have the same chance for admission. Similar disparities exist in graduate education. One result is that black students in elite law schools cluster in the bottom 10% of their classes. Another is that the drop-out rate for black students in four-year colleges is 70% higher than that of white students, despite the availability of tutoring and other support programs not available to white students.
Against this backdrop, progressive supporters of racial preferences have radicalized their calls to combat purported white supremacy and systemic racism. August 2019 was a bellwether month for this effort. On August 13, 2019, One World published Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. The next day, The New York Times Magazine published The 1619 Project. Together, these publications have received deference reminiscent of The Communist Manifesto.
Kendi’s writings are both personal and a polemic based on CRT. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi writes: “When I see racial disparities, I see racism.” He explains: “The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
Kendi also opines: “The use of standardized tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies ever devised to degrade Black minds and legally exclude Black bodies . . . The acceptance of an academic-achievement gap is just the latest method of reinforcing the oldest racist idea: Black intellectual inferiority.” Though there is evidence to support a wealth-effect on test scores, Kendi never successfully explains why skin pigmentation alone so interferes in the reliability of test outcomes that tests have to be abolished.
Spearheaded by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.” To achieve its objective, The 1619 Project announced numerous ventures with other non-profit institutions and a K-12 curriculum developed with the Pulitzer Center. The 1619 Project spins dubious and false history to delegitimize America’s underpinnings and provide a rationale for DEI and reparations. Peter Wood’s 1620: A Critical Response to The 1619 Project, published late last year, skewers The 1619 Project with aplomb.
After overwhelming criticism of the falsehoods and other flaws in The 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones began her retreat. In September 2020, she tweeted The 1619 Project “does not argue that 1619 is our true founding,” blithely ignoring multiple interviews in which she had claimed the contrary. She later tweeted: “The crazy thing is, the 1619 Project is using history and reporting to make an argument. It never pretended to be a history. We explicitly state our aims and produced a series of essays. Critique was always expected, but the need to discredit it speaks to something else.” She also admitted The 1619 Project is merely a metaphor for the Left’s emotional perspective on America. Yet, to this day, the large-type introduction at the top of the homepage for The 1619 Project falsely asserts that it is “truth,” and for more than a year, Hannah-Jones and New York Times editors unqualifiedly insisted that was so.
Despite its proven and admitted flaws, not only have progressives continued to defend The 1619 Project, but by mid-2020, more than 4,500 U.S. schools had adopted The 1619 Project as part of their history curricula.
As described in Part II, over the last 18 months, these Marxist-trained and anti-capitalism activists have embraced Karl Marx’s admonition that indoctrination must start with the youngest students. They are now focused on incorporating CRT, The 1619 Project, and other anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and intersectionalist dogma in K-12 schools, even as they pursue ever-stronger DEI quotas in higher education. Targeting young children has awakened parents to the threat. They have begun to resist. In private schools, efforts are hampered by accreditation standards that silence dissent, while in public schools there have been some successes. To date, eight states have passed laws barring the teaching of CRT and discriminatory concepts, and at least 10 other states have taken some action, or are considering doing so.
Despite nascent resistance, 2020 and 2021 have seen stunning government and private action in the name of anti-racism that, if left unchecked, will destroy our educational system and the opportunities for minority students to learn. Meritocracy is being replaced with demographically-siloed ranking. If a course, test, or standard is too difficult for minority students, or just some minority students, it is being abolished or adulterated to avoid requiring students to master difficult subjects. Courses and schools for gifted students are being shut down.
A war can proceed for 20 years, or more, without any outcome in sight. But, once opposing forces are in position and resistance is sufficiently weakened, collapse can occur swiftly. As will be described in Part II of this article, we are nearing that point.
Image: CDC, Public Domain