Elementary school students are being forced to locate themselves on a spectrum of privilege, and Chris Rufo is trying to stop it.
Rufo, director of the Center on Wealth and Poverty at the Discovery Institute and contributing editor at the City Journal in New York, delivered a speech on March 30 in which he outlined the emergence of critical race theory and why he believes America is overcoming it.
Critical race theory, a political philosophy that began in the 1990s, has popularized the concept of “anti-racism” that Rufo said now influences every level of American government, including public education. The result: people are called “racist” for things beyond their control.
Although Rufo has led the journalistic movement to discredit critical race theory, he attributed much of the progress to legal battles. Rufo said lawyers across the country are filing local and state lawsuits to ban its teaching. This “team of ragtag rebel lawyers” has been the driving force behind removing critical race theory from public institutions.
Parents have also contributed to combatting the ideology in their children’s schools. One Philadelphia public school failed to provide their students a decent education, though they succeeded in providing students an alternative sense of purpose through political activism, Rufo said.
For instance, a school district in Buffalo, New York, mandated critical race theory for kindergarteners, instructing them that all white people contribute to systemic racism. Part of this curriculum included a dramatized video of dead black children warning from beyond the grave that they could be murdered by racist police at any time, Rufo said.
“So a lot of these stories have generated a lot of heat, a lot of attention,” Rufo said. “We’ve generated about 20 million media impressions per story in the last three months.”
Since Rufo began reporting on critical race theory less than a year ago, he said he’s become very optimistic about the ground he’s covered. Following his initial investigative reports of the theory within public organizations, Rufo appeared on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to discuss his findings. The following morning he received a call from former President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, informing him of the president’s plan to issue an executive order banning the teaching of critical race theory across all federal institutions.
Within four days, the White House released a memo and within weeks the president had followed through with the order. Weeks later, it arose as a major campaign issue. A few weeks after that, Rufo said critical race theory materialized as a national cultural fight.
“Frankly, almost any other president that was on this issue on the slate in 2016 would not have done that, and wouldn’t have done it that fast after the election. So even if you’re not a huge fan of Donald Trump, there are certain things that he did that nobody else would touch. And I respect him for that,” Rufo said. “This was a big moment, too, because the left, and the critical race theorists in particular had been winning for a long time with no opposition. And all of a sudden, we had created a brand for them.”
The way conservatives can move forward, Rufo said, begins with refocusing their goal. Rather than winning a debate on the logic of critical race theory, he said conservatives ought to focus on the war.
“We’re telling a story about why it is totally an antithesis of American values, principles and ideals,” Rufo said. “We’re telling conservatives a new story, which is saying that just because someone tells you that you’re not qualified to talk about these issues is no longer an acceptable standard we reject. And that actually, most people are with us and they’re actually being harmed by these ideologies.”
Sarah Weaver, a student of the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship, said she attended the talk to understand more about the issues caused by critical race theory.
“Chris did an amazing job distilling the problems of critical race theory and what we can do about it. As someone who’s trying to dive deeper into what’s going on with CRT, I walked away better informed and eager to learn more,” Weaver said.
Lilly Duncan, another student in the graduate school, said she looks forward to a career in education and appreciated Rufo’s emphasis on revealing the practices being implemented in classrooms across the country.
“His presentation had a shock factor that needs to remain present in the narrative against critical race theory,” she said.
The stories Rufo wrote last year were only the beginning of the fight to chip away at the instruction of critical race theory.
“I think it is something that I’m more and more optimistic about, just having worked on this issue now for less than a year as a reporter and having fallen into doing some advocacy for it,” Rufo said. “We’ve made a lot of progress on this, and I think it’s really the guidance to cultural power.”