Critical Race Theory’s Battle in the Burbs
Loudoun County in Northern Virginia, about an hour northwest of Washington, D.C., is known for being the wealthiest place in America, but there’s more to it than that. Towns like Sterling and Ashburn bear all the hallmarks of suburbs in transition, as cookie-cutter townhouses sprout up around sprawling shopping centers. A quarter of the county’s population are immigrants, as the tide from the distant city and nearby Dulles Airport lifts all boats. The place can feel like an experiment in just how far federal power can creep…to the Beltway…the burbs…beyond?
Yet however you might characterize it, Loudoun has recently become known for something else: being the latest battleground in the fight over toxic critical race theory. CRT is the fashionable academic discipline-cum-woke-identity politics which holds that America is plagued by systemic racism, this affects almost everything, and everyone must fight back against it. Now it’s seeping into the schools in the D.C. burbs, much to the chagrin of parents who would like their children to get a decent education.
The first thing the good people at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) would like you to know is that they don’t teach critical race theory. To be sure, their staff might speak in the gibberish parlance of critical race theory—publishing a “comprehensive equity plan,” adopting Ibram Kendi’s Manichaean dichotomy of “racism” versus “antiracism,” gibbering about “white privilege.” They might be dumping millions of dollars into “equity training” and woke consulting firms. They might have distributed a graphic that lists “perfectionism” and “individualism” as symptoms of “white supremacy culture.”
But none of this amounts to critical race theory. Why? Because they don’t call it critical race theory. “LCPS has not adopted Critical Race Theory as a framework for staff to adhere to,” pronounced interim superintendent Dr. Scott Ziegler in a statement. So case closed then. (Christopher Hitchens used to say you could get away with the most extraordinary nonsense in America if only you could get yourself called reverend. Change “reverend” to “doctor” and I think he’s about right.)
In fact, not only are Loudoun schools pushing critical race theory, their attempt to do so looks increasingly like indoctrination. Among the incidents that parents and teachers have complained about: school officials repeatedly insisting that systemic racism exists and staff must work to dismantle it; school board members lashing out at the “overrepresentation” of Asian-American students in magnet programs; a teacher excoriating a student for describing two women in a photo without mentioning their skin color. Naturally school officials earlier this year rushed to disassociate themselves from Dr. Seuss. One teacher accused To Kill a Mockingbird of racism and “white saviorism.” Meanwhile, raunchy, even sexually violent books have been assigned to high school freshmen.
This kind of thing is happening in schools all across the country, yet it’s Loudoun that’s come to best exemplify the madness of CRT. All the necessary elements are there, starting with the county’s enormous affluence. The median household income in Loudoun is $142,000 and almost two thirds of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. This matters because wokeness at its core is fundamentalist religion for rich white people, who have both the time to spare and an acute status consciousness to alleviate. Throw in guilt over a history of genuine racism—Loudoun County resisted desegregation back in the 1950s and ’60s—and you’ve got an ideal breeding ground for CRT.
Another element of wokeness is its reliance on arcane jargon, which Loudoun schools have down to a T. CRT advocates rarely state their full intentions outright, instead shielding themselves in easy bumper-sticker sentiments—”fight racism!”—while hiding the devil in the indecipherable details. To that end, see if you can figure out this passage, taken from the LCPS’s “Equity Impact Statement”:
In addition to ensuring a racially-conscious, identity-affirming, and culturally responsive learning space for every student and employee, Loudoun County Public Schools is committed to decreasing disparities, increasing opportunities and participation outcomes for rigorous learning, dismantling barriers and interrupting the status quo for the development of stronger equitable practices.
I both have no idea what any of that means and can’t imagine objecting to any of it—even though it’s an outline for truly radical ideas about race and merit. Or take this statement from the aforementioned Dr. Ziegler, read aloud during a public comment session:
The equity collaborative recommended professional development for staff in the area of recognizing the social and cultural differences in our diverse student body. Professional development was undertaken using both nationally recognized consultants and LCPS-trained staff to facilitate such work. The goal of this work was to raise the racial consciousness and equity literacy of LCPS staff.
My brain froze several times just transcribing that. Bear in mind, this isn’t a footnote in some esoteric academic textbook; it was spoken by an actual human being during a meeting that was supposed to provide clarity for parents. Yet read it carefully enough and the audacity seeps through. Ziegler says he wants to raise the “equity literacy of LCPS staff.” Equity is a foundational buzzword of critical race theory, meaning essentially equal outcomes rather than equal opportunity, a jarring change for schools that are supposed to be encouraging excellence, which by its nature implies some degree of unequal outcomes. And how can you increase equity “literacy” except by teaching it, adhering to it, exactly what Ziegler says LCPS does not do?
Such bureaucratese both conceals and enables a third element of wokeness: its authoritarianism. Loudoun County schools haven’t just pushed CRT; they’ve tried to silence anyone who’s objected to it. As Rod Dreher noted last year, the LCPS published a draft of a new policy that would have made punishable “any comments or actions that are not in alignment with the school division’s commitment to action-oriented equity practices.” The paper sighed that school staff did enjoy a “First Amendment right to engage in protected speech.” But it clarified that this protection could be “outweighed by the school division’s interest” in “promoting internal LCPS and external community harmony and peace,” among other criteria.
Fortunately the policy was revised, but the fact that somebody actually wanted to censor dissenters shows just how authoritarian the CRT mindset is. And we haven’t even yet gotten to the most deranged person on the entire Loudoun school board: Beth Barts. Barts, who is somehow a member of the school board, and who is also very much white, earlier this year wrote to a Facebook group called “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” warning that parents opposed to CRT were gaining ground. She then proceeded to help compile a blacklist of Loudoun CRT opponents that included their names, places of work, spousal information, and even their personal addresses.
You will not be surprised to learn that this suburban Mao Tse-tung, to borrow Kingsley Amis’ phrase, is also a vehement opponent of reopening schools. And when word of Barts’ creepy despotism leaked, it was something like a last straw. At a public comment session back in March, dozens of parents gathered to rip the bark off of the school board. One woman said Barts’ Facebook group had posted three pictures of her and encouraged a mob to show up at her house with megaphones. A father said he’d been added to the blacklist simply because he’d suggested finding a “middle ground” in the debate over equity. A mother summed up the mood this way: “Pull it together! I am sick and tired of the LCPS being in the media for embarrassing reasons!” (Sorry, guys.)
The school board did censure Barts—her second such rebuke, naturally—and her blacklist efforts are being investigated by law enforcement. Yet she’s still a sitting member. The LCPS has shown no hint of backing off of its propaganda push. Parents are being forced to spend time they don’t have battling a school system they pay through the nose for in tax money. A school board once renowned for educational excellence is behaving like a revolutionary committee staffed by clowns.
Fortunately there is hope. Earlier this year, voters in the Dallas suburb of Southlake overwhelmingly defeated a slate of school board and city council candidates who wanted to force all students and teachers to take “cultural sensitivity training.” The fight against CRT is increasingly being waged at the local level, and Loudoun parents are next up. They’ve begun a campaign to recall six members of the school board, including Barts. To do that, they’ll need to file signatures equivalent to at least 10 percent of those who voted in the last school board election. If they’re successful, a trial will then take place.
All the luck in the world to them. If we’re ever going to stop corrosive wokeness, we need to create steep democratic disincentives for elected officials who are thinking about adopting it. Supporters of CRT might have the fancy lexicon and degrees, the elite institutions and the perches of power. But it’s their opponents who are on the side of reason.