Biden’s Department of Education Signals Support for Critical Race Theory

Public comments on the proposed rule, which purports to advance “racial equity throughout our society, including in our education system,” must be received by May 19.

The U.S. Department of Education building stands in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 17, 2020.
The U.S. Department of Education building stands in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 17, 2020. (photo: Erin Scott / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Biden administration’s Department of Education signaled its plans to promote critical race theory in American History and Civics education through the awarding of grants for projects that “take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.”

The proposed rule, Proposed Priorities-American History and Civics Education, was filed on April 19, the day before the jury handed down a guilty verdict in Derek Chauvin’s closely-watched murder trial for the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody. 

Citing the pandemic’s “disproportionate impact on communities of color — and the ongoing national reckoning with systemic racism,” the authors build their case for a new initiative that will advance “racial equity throughout our society, including in our education system.”

The initiative would update priorities for the Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics (Academies) and National Activities programs,” giving greater weight to “culturally responsive teaching and learning and the promotion of information literacy skills in grants under these programs.”

The document suggests that would-be grant recipients will find inspiration in the New York Times’ 1619 Project, though leading historians have criticized its inaccurate depiction of “American history in which slavery and white supremacy become the dominant organizing themes,” suggesting “a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”

Likewise, the document directs readers to the work of antiracism advocate Ibram X. Kendi, bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist.

The document approvingly cites Kendi’s belief that “an antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences — that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities.” 

In fact, Kendi is primarily concerned with reversing racial disparities in all aspects of national life, not in addressing individual acts of discrimination. And there is no position of neutrality in his moral framework.

“There is no such thing as a not-racist idea,” he writes, only “racist ideas and antiracist ideas.” (More on Kendi here, here and here.)

Reacting to the initiative in the pages of National Review this week, Stanley Kurtz warned that the administration’s move should be taken seriously.

The programs immediately targeted by Biden’s new priority criteria for American history and civics grants are small. Once in place, however, those criteria will undoubtedly influence the much larger and vastly more dangerous “Civics Secures Democracy Act.” That bill would appropriate $1 billion a year, for six years, for history and civic education. Support for leftist “action civics” is already written into the priority criteria of the bill itself. 

Kurtz argues that “priority criteria in the Civics Secures Democracy Act — criteria favoring grants targeted to “underserved” populations and the mitigation of … achievement gaps — would be interpreted by the Biden administration as a green light to fund Critical Race Theory in the schools. The new draft federal rule for grant priority in American history and civics education makes it clear that this is indeed the Biden administration’s intent.”

Max Eden, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, echoed Kurtz’ assessment, in a column for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. But Eden suggested the proposed rule had a silver lining: “the Department of Education has done Americans a favor by making its intentions clear: it will use any money Congress gives it for civics education to promote critical race theory.”

The document in question calls for projects “that incorporate teaching and learning practices that reflect the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students create inclusive, supportive, and identity-safe learning environments.”

In practice, as the authors explain, this means that proposed projects must “take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.”

The authors also prioritize “information literacy skills” which will arm students against the scourge of “misinformation” threatening our democracy, and prepare them for “advocacy positions.” 

Thus, a successful project in this category will help young Americans address “their own biases when reviewing information, as well as uncovering and recognizing bias in primary and secondary sources.”

Here, perhaps, is where the 1619 Project comes in, offering a framework for students to dispute established historical facts as the product of a white supremacist ideology.

The Department of Education document notes that these proposed priorities could be changed or modified after it reviews public comments. The final rule will be published in the Federal Register. Comments must be received by May 19.

Meanwhile, parents and teachers at private schools that have adopted versions of Critical Race Theory, in which students are taught to pre-judge their classmates by the color of their skin and to accept that systemic racism defines our national culture, have spoken out against this pedagogy in a series of viral news reports here, here and here.

The irony is that our educational system has long been criticized for failing to effectively transmit basic facts about American history and government. And in recent decades, educators and political leaders from both parties have launched a series of initiatives to address this shortfall. 

Now, American students are encouraged to deconstruct and critique historical events that they barely understand. This exercise may be a recipe for activism, but it is equally likely to provoke cynicism and polarization in our classrooms.

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