The Anti-CRT Narrative is Bigger and Weirder Than You Think It Is
Sweeping, multi-generational conspiracy theories don't care about your feelings
This week, Fox News’ streaming site Fox Nation released a five-part documentary and accompanying town hall called The MisEducation of America. It is simultaneously exactly what you’d expect and so much more than you can imagine. It is weird and conspiratorial and profoundly dishonest and— as a polemic— significantly more effective than anything the Left is putting out these days.
I watched it not because I have any presuppositions that it will become an Important Piece Of Influential Content. Fox Nation is the digital attic where our nation’s most successful grandparent-spooking network puts the material that even it deems not quite ready for prime time.I watched because I’m worried that while the Left continues to view the “CRT” debate as an isolated collection of bad-faith arguments, the Right views this as both a movement and narrative-building moment. Now that I have watched multiple hours of that rhetorical project in action, I’m even more concerned by the asymmetry.
My guide for this journey through America’s miseducation was Pete Hegseth, the impeccably well-coiffed Fox and Friends Weekend host. His thesis, which he supports through interviews with a rotating cast of Koch-and-Bradley-funded think tank personalities, is designed to both reassure and enrage his target audience. You, the critical race theory-hating viewer, aren’t fragile or easily offended. There is a conspiracy afoot in American schools… and it goes far deeper than you can imagine.
I was prepared for that basic thesis. I assumed that we’d be introduced not just to Ibram X. Kendi but various historical anti-heroes of the conservative imagination— Marx and Marcuse and any number of scary ‘60s radicals. Hegseth anticipates this assumption— he states repeatedly “I originally thought this went back to the New Left, but it actually goes back much farther than that…” What follows is an extremely wild and unexpected ride. I’ve done my best to summarize it as accurately and fairly as possible, but holy cow… there’s a lot here.
The World According to Fox Nation’s “MisEducation of America”
The Ancient Greeks were brilliant. Their belief in paideia, a set of educational ideals designated to cultivate worthy Greek citizens, was what enabled both a flourishing Greek democracy and the entire notion of individual liberty and human self-actualization.
The Greek paideia set the template for the Western Christian paideia, which blossomed in Enlightenment universities and would eventually fuel the growth and development of the most just and free society in history… the United States.
Central to the success of the American paideia was our founding fathers’ love for and focus on God. In making America an Officially Christian Nation, our founders understood that human beings are fallible and that you can’t let them get too big for their britches and start desiring too much from their government.
Starting in the 19th Century, every major wave of progressive education reform can be understood as an attempt by hubristic elites to chip away at the Western Christian paideia. These elites hated paideia because of its unique ability to produce flourishing, free-thinking citizens who are less able to be controlled.
Horace Mann, the founder of American public education, is suspect because he spent time in Germany during the same time that Marx and Engels were also in Germany.
It was the temperance movement, however, that truly galvanized post-Mann education reformers. That movement was where they learned that if you introduce an idea in schools (like “alcohol is bad”), then a generation later you can seize political power thanks to a freshly indoctrinated public.
John Dewey invented progressive education because he and his followers were wealthy elitists whose hubris led them to believe that they could create a new American morality that would usurp the wisdom and divinity of God.
In the 20th Century, the progressives introduced new, dangerous concepts— vocational education and the Pledge of Allegiance. The former was an attempt to further chip away at a classics-based curriculum. It was single-handedly responsible for the economic collapse of Gary, Indiana.You might think the latter is innocuous and patriotic but it too was the product of a socialist (Edward Bellamy) who wanted to create a new national totem to replace God in schools.
Still not satisfied with these efforts to kill God, the progressives replaced the rational, classical canon with a new field of study— social science— which was religion-denying, human-worshiping and morally relativistic. While this started as a fringe movement at elite colleges, it eventually spread nationwide thanks to one of MisEducation’s most unexpected “far-Left” villains… Woodrow Wilson. Below you can see the yellow lines that indicate precisely how Wilson deployed “social studies” across the continent.
All the God-killing finally comes to a head with the Warren Court. Hegseth acknowledges that you, the viewer, might think the Warren Court were good guys because of the Brown vs. Board decision. In actuality, they were a bunch of craven nation-destroyers who, in a triumvirate of Very Bad Rulings, ran roughshod over the constitution and invented the myth of Church/State separation.
Then and only then does the documentary finally get to the villains we’ve been expecting: MARXISTS (and, in particular, Jewish Marxists, a point that Hegseth knows not to call out explicitly but, you know… you can draw your own conclusions): The guys from the Frankfurt School show up, of course. The documentary claims that, by infiltrating Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, Marcuse and Adorno and the gang somehow trained 1/3 of America’s principals and superintendents. There’s also a cameo from Saul Alinsky, who we are reminded DEDICATED “RULES FOR RADICALS” TO LUCIFER. None of them are as vile, however, as Howard Zinn, whose true motivations for writing his popular history book are summarized in the following extremely subtle graphic.
So, by the time the 1960s and 1970s rolled around, all the pieces are in place for elitists to control the American populace through totalitarian force. First, take God out of schools (“If you believe in concentrated power in the State, Christians are willing to die for God, so they aren’t going to be easily controlled.”). Then, replace classical truth first with relativistic social science and eventually with Frankfurt school-style critical theory (“Critical theory is about reversing everything you know– it’s putting everything in suspicion”). Finally, once everything has been thrown into disarray, you can propose a totalitarian alternative (“What [Zinn] wants is for the reader to feel such hatred for this country– and he wants the reader to think of a different system… and of course that system is communism”).
The one problem with this nefarious progressive plan to destroy America is that, because the United States is such a great land of opportunity, communistic lies never took hold here. The American working class has always been too busy rising above their station through hard work and pluck to believe in crude class-based critical theory. The crafty Marxist’s solution? Just slide your class conflict ideas over a few inches and— voila… now you’ve got a shiny new theory predicated around racial conflict instead: a critical theory, if you will… a critical theory about race. Get that into schools and you can foment all the division and distrust you need to destabilize what was once a strong Christian nation.
Believe it or not, there’s more, but you get the idea. It’s wild! Profoundly wild! It’s got a little bit of everything, if by “everything” you mean “outright lies, a deep misunderstanding of Woodrow Wilson’s whole deal, the first conspiracy theory I’ve ever heard about how the pledge of allegiance was a socialist plot and, of course, anti-Semitism.” It’s very bad! And weird! But bad! And very, very easy to critique! But, for an audience trying to make meaning of a world they don’t understand, also rhetorically effective.
There is a common refrain— when liberals or leftists critique this whole trumped-up “anti-CRT movement”— that all this is just about protecting conservative White people’s fragile feelings. I mean, I get it. This week saw the introduction of Senate Bill 148 in Florida, which literally bans any educational or training program that makes “an individual…. feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.” It doesn’t take a particularly close or sophisticated reading of the text to surmise that this and related initiatives are simply “sad White people bills.”
In solely going back to this particular rhetorical well, though, we are falling into the same political trap that has bedeviled progressives for generations: We’re engaging in politics as a game of individual righteousness, but with no vision for the world for which we’re fighting. Why do we want anti-racist curricula in school? Because those curricula are connected to a broader dream of a better world? Or because our advocacy proves that we (particularly those of us who are White) aren’t the fragile ones— that we can take it, that we can stomach the guilt, that we can furrow the heck out of our brows.
The irony here is that, sure, conservatives are deeply in their feelings, but that’s not why they’re fighting this battle so hard. They truly believe that their political enemies do, in fact, have a coherent, effective political strategy (the most unintentionally hilarious part of the MisEducation town hall is when one of the talking heads claims that “the Marxists were ready [to capitalize on the protests of 2020"]… as they always are,” a statement that can be easily disproven by anybody who has ever had to sit through a DSA meeting).
Too often, the Left’s operating assumption is that this hullabaloo is merely a sign of the individual moral and emotional weakness of conservative parents. Meanwhile, the Right sees this moment as an organizing opportunity— they are meeting their constituents at a legitimately confusing and destabilizing moment and providing them with a comprehensive worldview that enlists them as a righteous army fighting for the future of the Republic. It doesn’t matter that the narrative being offered is completely disingenuous— we’re talking here about the descendants of the crew that invented Lost Cause mythology. It doesn’t matter that it’s all goofy as hell. What matters is that it provides individual meaning and collective purpose in a trying time.
For those of us on the Left, we’re only going to get so far if our message is merely that we want White Americans to feel awful for the mess we’ve made of our country’s social contract. That’s not actually a political or pedagogical vision. There’s an implicit gap after the ellipsis, eternally raising the question “towards what end?” And when we don’t have an answer, it opens the door further for bad faith actors on the other side to fill in the gap with “….they want you to feel bad so that you hate this country and go along with their plan to destroy it.”
I desperately need Americans of all ages to wrestle with white supremacy (and patriarchy and heterosexism and the ways that those systems of domination are intertwined with the history of capitalism) not because I want future generations of White children to get their “sufficiently guilty” merit badge sooner than I started working on mine. It’s because I would love for our great-grandkids to inherit a still habitable planet. It’s because I want a country full of people living beautiful, vibrant self-actualized lives unhampered by abuse or violence or intolerance or poverty. I want a world full of hospitals you walk out of without a bill and colleges you walk out of without debt. I want a world full of cooler bikes and cooler trains and technology that doesn’t cannibalize my privacy and mental health for a fast buck.
I want all those things very much and I’ve got a feeling that we can’t build towards them without understanding why we’re currently so far away from that dream. It means understanding debts to be paid, uneven playing fields to be flipped, and political third rails that will keep getting in the way of appeals to the common good. I don’t want to feel bad about America’s founding fathers just because I love abusing the dead and the be-wigged, but because I have seen the limits of the world and system they created, and it’s obvious that there is more work to be done.
For White people in particular, nobody, absolutely nobody, wants us to feel more guilt just for the sake of it. There are already plenty of us penitent, look-at-how-badly-I-feel weirdos wandering around. All our sweaty self-flagellation is only worth it if our country can get some reparations and universal healthcare as part of the bargain. In the meantime, conservatives are out here talking as if us weirdos have some sinister master plan. That’s a lie, of course, and a dangerous one at that. What’s even more dangerous, though, isn’t that there’s any truth to their conspiracy theory, but that we actually don’t have a plan at all.
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This week’s song: The Langley Schools Music Project “God Only Knows”
Longtime readers will recognize that this isn’t the first time I’ve signed up for a seven-day free trial of Fox Nation for the purpose of this newsletter. Somewhat surprisingly, I DID successfully cancel my last trial before the seven days were up. We’ll see if I remember this time. Since starting this trial, I have already thoroughly enjoyed a second series, “The Unauthorized History of Communism.” I enjoyed imagining an earnest Fox documentarian trying but failing to get communism to go on the record so that it could be an “authorized history of communism.”
This is not a symbolic argument. Roosevelt High School in Gary was the site of a major early experiment in vocation education. Hegseth points out that Roosevelt High is currently closed and is located in a high-crime neighborhood, which proves that “progressive education destroys everything it touches.”
His “deal,” of course, was "what if a racist thought he was the smartest dude who ever lived?”
Thank you for your service in watching and summarizing this, it was both very funny and a genuinely helpful look at where people are coming from on this stuff. It reminded me of Arlie Hochschild's book on american conservatism, which I also found really helpful in framing out these narratives.
Also, "We’re engaging in politics as a game of individual righteousness, but with no vision for the world for which we’re fighting" is such a succinct formulation of that concept, I'm writing it down so I can have it to hand next time I need to explain it!
Thank you for watching and distilling that so we all don't have to, and especially for those last three paragraphs. And whoever is going to start making the plan to show white people that life without white supremacy actually feels better for everyone, please count me in.