Hanania the Wise
By Bryan Caplan
First, talk of Critical Race Theory “bans” are silly hyperbole. The debate is about public school curricula, not censorship.
You may think high schoolers should learn such things, or not. But the fact is that if you have government schools, it is government that makes the rules. How could it be otherwise?
Notice that by mandating one thing, you ban another. A classroom that is required to teach gender is fluid and homosexuality should be accepted is banning traditional sexual morality. One that teaches that every major racial census category has its own history decides which groups are singled out for official identities (“Hispanic” and “AAPI,” but not “Jewish” or “Italian”), and denigrates the idea that American history should be taught from a more unified perspective.
The idea that government schools teach some things, but not others, and that a government school curriculum is set by government, has never been controversial. It’s only causing such debate now because instead of Democrats mandating that you teach identity politics and gender fluidity, it’s Republicans wanting to teach their own ideas.
Now maybe you think Critical Race Theory is true. In which case, you should oppose these bans. If you think it’s a false and harmful doctrine, then banning it is pretty much the job of government.
Second, de facto curricula matter far more than de jure curricula:
More important than what CRT bans say is who will be interpreting them. A 2017 survey of school teachers and education bureaucrats showed that they voted for Hillary over Trump, 50% to 29%. That’s actually not as lopsided as I would have guessed, but there’s evidence that Democratic teachers are more committed to politics than Republican teachers, just as liberals care more about politics more generally. In 2020, educators who donated money to a presidential campaign were six times more likely to support Biden than Trump. So while Democrats may have “only” a 21-point lead in voting preferences among educators, when it comes to those who care more about politics, it’s more like an 85%-15% advantage. And teachers are probably conservative compared to the kinds of people who write textbooks, design curriculums, and work in education departments.
With those kinds of numbers, there’s really nothing conservatives can do to make the schools friendlier to their ideas and values. A CRT ban might mean a teacher won’t say “Ok, kids, today we’re going to learn about Critical Race Theory!,” but they’ll still teach variations of the same ideas. Neither Robin DiAngelo nor Ibram X. Kendi, the two thinkers that seem to offend conservatives the most, identifies as a Critical Race Theorist. In fact, the American Federation of Teachers just announced a campaign to bring Kendi’s teachings to every student in the country, and they don’t appear to be deterred by CRT bans. This is their full time job, and they’ll still be at it whenever public attention has moved on from the controversy of the day.
What is to do be done? Undermine public education, of course.
The implication here is that the only real option for conservatives is to attack public education and encourage a larger migration to private schools and home schooling. A state can ban CRT, but if it does, kids are still being taught by the same people who thought CRT for kindergartners was a good idea in the first place. Instead of passing the right law and relying on liberals to teach things more consistent with conservative values, simply transfer money from those liberals to people who would teach something else.
The percentage of kids attending private schools has actually stayed quite stable for decades at around 8%, while home schooling has jumped from around 1.7% to close to 4% over the last 20 years. If you don’t like what’s being taught in schools, the goal should be to change those numbers.
Aren’t private schools just as left-wing as public schools? No.
That being said, are private schools really any less liberal than public schools? Maybe not at the most elite level, as Bari Weiss has shown. Yet every indication is that private schools are in general more conservative. According to a 2015 study, “of the 5.8 million students enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools, 36 percent were enrolled in Catholic schools, 13 percent were enrolled in conservative Christian schools, 10 percent were enrolled in affiliated religious schools, 16 percent were enrolled in unaffiliated religious schools, and 24 percent were enrolled in nonsectarian schools.” Combining Catholic and “conservative Christian” schools, this indicates that at least half of private schools teach a sexual morality that would be illegal if promoted by a public educator, at least in California and other blue states.
For me, what’s most impressive about Hanania is the absence of Social Desirability Bias. He describes the world as it is, and offers advice to improve upon the ugly world in which we find ourselves.