Monday, 26 December 2022

ADORNEY: Critical Race Theory Is Ideology Masquerading As Science

An October report by the conservative Manhattan Institute found that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is being taught in public schools across the country. The report sampled 1,505 18-20 year-olds, and asked if they had been taught, or heard from an adult in school, certain core CRT tenants. The survey found that “62 percent reported either being taught in class or hearing from an adult in school that “’America is a systemically racist country.'”

The rise of CRT in schools should worry us for many reasons, but one isn’t talked about enough: CRT is an ideology that masquerades as a hard science. 

In “Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education,” Critical Race theorists Robin DiAngelo and Ozlem Sensoy compare CRT educators to astronomy professors. In a telling passage, DiAngelo and Sensoy ask their reader to imagine a class about planets, taught by a professor with a PhD in astronomy. The professor says that Pluto is not a planet. A student raises his hand and insists that Pluto actually is a planet. The professor shuts him down, but the student doesn’t learn. This, DiAngelo and Sensoy claim, is a good parallel for students who don’t agree with their professors about CRT. The latter’s rejection of CRT is as “nonsensical” as that of the student who insists that Pluto is really a planet.

How do DiAngelo and Sensoy justify the claim that CRT is as legitimate as a hard science like astronomy? First, they admit that CRT is a political project but insist that the hard sciences are as well. They admit that the soft sciences are seen as, “subjective, value-based, and political.” Rather than push back on this perception, they assert that the hard sciences are equally subjective. They reject the “presumed neutrality” of the hard sciences, and instead claim that “knowledge is socially constructed.” Because how we catalog the world is subjective (for instance, different cultures might disagree on whether or not Pluto is a planet), therefore the hard sciences are as subjective as CRT.

This is an absurd argument. It’s true that how we organize and catalog the world is a human conception, but there’s a big difference between asserting that Pluto is a planet and asserting that, “America is a systematically racist country.” The former is subjective only in the same way that an inch or a meter is an arbitrarily defined unit. The latter is a blatantly political claim.

DiAngelo and Sensoy also try to tie CRT to the hard sciences by reminding us that papers in both disciplines have to go through peer review. 

“Just as the astronomy professor’s teachings are more than his personal opinions, social justice professors’ teachings are more than their personal opinions,” they write. “Both instructors are presenting concepts that have undergone peer review.” But peer review is far from perfect. 

For one thing, the idea behind peer review is that one scholar’s ideas should be able to withstand scrutiny by other scholars in the field who may disagree with them. That process breaks down when everyone in the field thinks the same way. Among social psychologists, for instance, a 2012 survey found a fourteen-to-one ratio of Democrats to Republicans. In the field of social psychology, there is a very good chance that the people reviewing a new paper share the ideological biases of the people who wrote the paper. When everyone thinks the same way, intellectual blind spots don’t get corrected for. 

The result is that peer-reviewed journals end up publishing some pretty farcical papers. The journal Affilia published a feminist version of a chapter of Mein Kampf. The highly ranked journal Gender, Place, and Culture published an article about rape culture in dog parks. The journal Progress in Human Geography published a paper calling for a new “feminist glaciology” in order to push back on how … men understand ice. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The bottom line is: there’s a big difference between hard and soft sciences, and this can’t be papered over by pretending that peer review lends absolute legitimacy to everything it touches.

This obsession with being seen as a hard science might be part of why CRT scholars often fail to teach counter-arguments to their ideas. The Manhattan Institute report also assessed whether or not students who were taught CRT ideas were also taught about counter-arguments. 

The survey asked, “When you were taught these concepts, what were you taught about arguments against these concepts?” 

Over two-thirds of students who were taught CRT ideas in school reported that they either were not taught about counter-arguments, or that they were taught there were no respectable counter-arguments. This makes sense when we see how many CRT activists conflate their field with the hard sciences. After all, there aren’t really counter-arguments to the idea that Pluto is a dwarf planet rather than a full planet. It simply is one. Some CRT activists seem to see the tenants of their field as equally beyond question.

CRT isn’t a hard science and should stop pretending to be one. We should instead call CRT what it is: a radical, far-left political project that, like all politics, doesn’t belong in schools.

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