We completed our first round of focus groups late last week. We talked with black, Hispanic, and white swing voters over 65, and Chinese American swing voters.
We learned a lot, and there is much to unpack and digest. We will have a more comprehensive report for you in a few weeks. But in the meantime, I wanted to highlight one particularly useful finding.
Our August poll of swing voters showed that support for “teaching critical race theory in schools” is sharply divided. 40% support. 41% oppose.
We were a little surprised at this level of support for teaching critical race theory in schools, and we have an idea of what is happening. Even though there is some level of awareness about the controversy around critical race theory, there is little awareness of what teaching it in K-12 schools entails. This leads voters to resort to their pre-existing partisan and ideological leanings.
Our theory coming out of the poll was that this showed the need to get specific about what teaching critical race theory means. It is not enough to use the term and assume people understand it. We put this theory to the test in this month’s groups by listing some examples of critical race theory in practice in our schools and asking for reactions. Here are our findings:
- The biggest vulnerability of teaching or implementing critical race theory in K-12 schools is the lowering of standards. We saw universal opposition across the groups to Oregon’s move to eliminate reading and math proficiency testing due to big differences in performance among racial groups. There was similar opposition to the move in other districts to eliminate honors programs due to unequal racial representation. One participant said, “This just sweeps the problem under the rug.” There was near universal agreement that the move would end up hurting minority children, not helping them.
- The second biggest vulnerability is the move toward grouping students by race, such as when classes discuss issues of race. There was a universal sense that this was a step backwards toward segregation. There was also a sense that without a dialogue between students of different races, there could be no mutual understanding.
- There is much less support for the accommodation of transgender ideology than on issues of race. The examples we discussed included trans-women (who are biologically male) participating in women’s sports and the elimination of gendered terms (such as “he,” “she,” “mother,” and “father”) from official use. The resistance stemmed from the confusion it would cause and opposition to the idea of having to reorganize society to accommodate such a small group of people. As one black woman put it, “That’s too woke.”
The group with the highest level of support for teaching critical race theory in schools were the black voters. Here are a few observations:
- One of the examples of CRT being incorporated into curriculum that we asked participants about was the basic idea of the NY Times Magazine’s 1619 Project – recentering the history of the U.S. around the arrival of African slaves to the North American continent. The participants almost universally agreed this was a good thing. But their desire did not seem rooted in wanting the United States to be seen in a more negative light. It was more about wanting “their history” to be included in the history of America. Their impression is that schools teach a false history of the United States, and they like the aspects of CRT that include black people in the history of America. This is an interesting reaction. In some way, the voters who support CRT have similar concerns to those who have objections to CRT in schools – namely, that it teaches a distorted view of U.S. history. It’s coming at it from the opposite direction.
- The black participants’ perception of the controversy over teaching critical race theory in schools is instructive. One participant said opposition to CRT, “is about white parents who don’t want their white children to feel uncomfortable.”
As mentioned, we will have a longer report on these focus groups in the next few weeks.