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More Liberating than Critical Theory?

Teach Progress

Today, Critical Theory is being taught in Boulder County Public Schools, at the University of Colorado, throughout the state, and around the nation. The Center for Critical Thought at the University of Colorado seeks to become one of the leading centers of Critical Theory in the world.

Critical Theory goes by many names, including JEDI training (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion); DEI training (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion); Equity Training; People’s History; Critical Race Theory (CRT); Anti-racism; and The 1619 Project. Some Boulder teachers are part of the Zinn Education Project, an online leader in teaching Critical Theory, aka People’s History. The Zinn Project is growing by more than 10,000 new teachers every year, with more than 130,000 people registered.

By whatever name, these curricula all stem from “Critical Theory,” an offshoot of Karl Marx’s Historical Materialism, which describes cultural evolution as a struggle between classes.


What curriculum liberates students and best teaches them how to flourish?

For years, the United States led the world in education, which has led to dramatic improvements in freedom, wealth, and happiness for billions of people around the globe. Boulder has been a leader in education to liberate students from ignorance so as to create a more flourishing future for all.

If our goal is to teach students how to create a flourishing future for themselves, their community, and the wider world, it is essential to teach a curriculum of how health, wealth, happiness, and a flourishing environment are created. 

In the quest to improve the education of students, Boulder has adopted Critical Theory. The question arises: is Critical Theory helping or hurting students? Even more importantly, what is the best curriculum to educate our children to become healthy, happy, and productive citizens?

Critical Theory teaches students that they are either victims or oppressors in an endless cycle of class struggle. Critical Theory educates students about what doesn’t work. It declares that systemic racism, is increasing while ignoring vast swaths of history showing how racism is on the decline and how US citizens are becoming ever more accepting of all people. Critical Theory teaches that the world is getting worse, when in reality, by nearly every objective measure, over the past 200 years, most of the world has been getting better. (Paradoxically, however, with the rise of Critical Theory, happiness has been declining in the US over the past several years.) While understanding problems is necessary for finding solutions, it is not sufficient.  More important than learning about what doesn’t work is to learn about successes that work and their causes.   

Biggest Historical Event Most Students Have Never Learned About

Until COVID-19, more than 192,000 people rise out of extreme poverty EVERY SINGLE DAY! If this were a one-time event, it would be the biggest news headline of all time.  But, since it happens every day, few journalists report on it and even fewer students ever learn about this. As people rise from poverty, their lives improve by almost every metric: better health, education, human rights, and even happiness.  Their environment also improves.  This is astonishing, and most of our students do not realize this is happening.

The Great Enrichment is one of humanity’s greatest successes. It is the story of how billions of people gained health, wealth, and happiness over the past 200 years. It shows how we are on track to lift all people out of extreme poverty within the next few decades. As students learn about the causes of the Great Enrichment, they will contribute to this grand achievement that creates a flourishing future for all. 

Before The Great Enrichment, only kings and their minions
could accumulate wealth through war, theft, and slavery.
Today, because of freedom and innovation,
everyone can accumulate wealth by helping others.

Although the Great Enrichment has lifted billions of people out of poverty, poverty still exists.

While it is important for students to know about current problems, it is tragic that most students are not learning about the Great Enrichment. Worse, they are not learning how to contribute to the enrichment of others. Instead, they are being taught about everything that has gone wrong and all the overwhelming problems that remain, and about how to complain so that other people take care of the problem.

The Road To Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

Critical Theory has good intentions.

Critical thinking is an important skill.  This is one of the reasons why many teachers have adopted Critical Theory. Critical analysis is a means of getting to the root of oppression in order to weed it out.   “You can’t clean the kitchen unless you see the dirt.” Unfortunately, students are being taught to conflate cynicism with critical thinking. Instead of teaching critical thinking, Critical Theory teaches students to not question dogma, lest they be accused of being “racist” or “unconscious.”

The good intentions of Critical Theory appeal to noble-hearted people who believe that focusing on problems is the best solution to help minority students succeed.  Unfortunately, excessive focus on problems magnifies problems rather than solving them.

Critical Theory also appeals because it’s about action, not merely analysis. Most people would agree with the idea that the purpose of education is action, not knowledge for its own sake. While action is a great idea, the action proposed by Critical Theory does little to solve problems. Critical theory does not teach students how to create bigger pies but instead, it teaches students to fight for ever-smaller slices of an existing pie. For example, Richard Delgado, the author of Critical Race Theory, says that “race is not merely a matter for abstract analysis, but for struggle.” Struggle doesn’t solve problems. It merely exhausts those who struggle. Creating solutions solves problems.

Critical Theory teaches students how to dwell in problems rather than to focus on solutions.  For example, students of Critical Theory learn to spot “microaggressions” rather than seeing the best in others. Students are taught to focus on their hurt feelings rather than on trying to understand what motivated the other person’s behavior.  So for example, Aaliyah is taught to see Olivia’s intended compliment, “Nice hairstyle,” as a  microaggression.  Critical Theory teaches that compliments are a form of microaggression that leads to “othering.” Othering is any behavior that emphasizes racial differences.  Critical Theory teaches that “Othering,” like other forms of microaggression, perpetuates systemic racism. Instead, teaching students to spot microaggressions teaches students how to be afraid and neurotic. Healthy people see compliments as compliments.  With Critical Theory, healthy students are taught to become mentally ill by seeing a compliment as a microaggression.  Teaching students to assume the worst in everyone fosters fear, paranoia, guilt while undermining forgiveness, empathy, and trust.  Lack of trust, in turn, rips apart the fabric of society. 

Unfortunately, the many noble intentions of Critical Theory mask disastrous unintended consequences: learned helplessness among minorities, futile guilt among whites, growing racism, widening political polarization, censorship, angry riots, growing deaths of despair. Fear in turn leads people to look to the government for solutions. Big government, in turn, leads to the squashing of freedom, innovation, and wealth creation, and the rise of authoritarianism.

Critical Theory teaches that each child can attain equity through reparations, reallocation of resources, and censorship. It fails to teach personal excellence as a path to success. The focus is on blame, not on empowerment.

Because Critical Theory teaches that history is a never-ending struggle between oppressors and the oppressed, it declares that the solution is reparations and transfer of resources from “oppressors” to the “oppressed.”  Who decides who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed? Many suggest that the government decides. Whose ancestors enslaved and whose ancestors were enslaved?  Some proponents of Critical Theory claim that the oppressors have white skin. Critical Theory becomes racist and fails to help anyone.

Critical Theory supports censorship of “hate speech” which is defined as any speech that makes someone feel uncomfortable (see microaggression). By this new definition, all speech could be deemed hate speech, so long as it “feels” bad to the person hearing it.

By claiming that objective reality is a narrative perpetuated by the dominant culture, Critical Theory undermines reason and science.  By vilifying European Enlightenment thinkers because of their skin color, Critical Theory eliminates important historical lessons. 

Critical Theory promotes racism and reverses Dr. King’s dream that we all see each other by the content of our character. By conflating past norms with present practices, Critical Theory fails to teach about human progress.  By focusing on problems and not solutions, innovations, hope, or freedom, Critical Theory prevents progress and promotes a new form of racism that further divides our culture. 

The worst disaster of Critical Theory is what it fails to teach.  By emphasizing struggle, victim narratives, systemic racism, and microaggressions, Critical Theory fails to teach perspective, context, historical progress, innovation, rational optimism, forgiveness, seeing the best in others, and solutions.

Sadly, many students who learn about Critical Theory never even learn about some of the most important events in history and the reasons for these events,

Teach Freedom and the Great Enrichment

“Today, children in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to survive to age 5 than were English children born in 1918.” ~ Professor Angus Deaton, Princeton

The centerpiece of an uplifting and empowering education would focus on solutions and their causes. The Great Enrichment, is one of the most important historical events, leading to growing life, liberty, and happiness for billions of people. The increase in human wellbeing is the solution. What is its cause?

The Great Enrichment describes humanity’s astonishing growth in wealth, health, and happiness over the past 200 years. By teaching about the innovation, freedom, and information exchange that caused billions of people to become healthier, wealthier, and happier, students can learn how they, too, can improve their lives.

One measure of The Great Enrichment is Gross Domestic Product per capita. For most of history, the vast majority of people lived in extreme poverty. Even in 1800, nearly all people on the planet were as impoverished as Burundi, the poorest country on Earth.

The Great Enrichment began 200 years ago. Most of the world lived as the people of Burundi do now.

Up until around 200 years ago, almost all people on the planet lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 a day in today’s money).  200 years ago, over 95% of all people lived in extreme poverty. That number has dropped from 95% in 1800 to 8.7 % of the world’s people living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank

Extreme poverty is a tragedy for the 700 million who suffer from lack of freedom, ill health, and ignorance.  Yet, because humanity is on track to eliminate extreme poverty by the year 2030, this gives hope to impoverished people everywhere.  
The Great Enrichment is the era beginning about 200 years ago when people around the world started to become healthier, wealthier, and happier at an exponentially fast rate.

Causes of the Great Enrichment

So what causes this flowering of human well-being?

There are billions of reasons for the Great Enrichment. Each person who is free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness contributes to the betterment of all. When people are free, they can pursue truth, share ideas, make free trades, and innovate.

The causes of the Great Enrichment are inspiration, innovation and freedom.   These, in turn, spring from individuals’ freedom to pursue happiness, free speech, free-trade, imagination, inspiration, work, and agreements (aka rule of law). 

The Great Enrichment shows that individuals and societies can succeed through freedom, education, work, and the pursuit of individual excellence. 

“Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. 
And that’s how I operate my life.”
~ Oprah Winfrey.

Students who learn the history and causes of The Great Enrichment understand what inspired those who wrote the US Constitution. The founding fathers wanted to protect the freedoms of individuals from the tyranny of excess government.   The Great Enrichment happened because of the Constitution that supported the emergence of freedom, enlightened self-interest, reason, the scientific method, free association, vigorous debate, innovation, and free trade that unleashed people’s creative powers.  Innovation has lifted billions around the world from ignorance, poverty, and early death to better education, greater wealth, and longer lives.  

Before the Great Enrichment, only kings and their minions accumulated wealth through war, theft, and slavery. Today, because of inspiration, freedom, and innovation driving the Great Enrichment, everyone can accumulate wealth by helping others. 

Kings or corrupt popes of a hundred years ago or authoritarian governments of today use propaganda similar to Critical Theory to promote fear and convince their minions to engage in conflict, slavery, or theft to gain power.    Today, when we can innovate and trade to help individuals and society, Critical Theory makes little sense.

Critical Theory teaches cynicism, stress, hatred, guilt, anger, hopelessness, fear, and depression. It teaches people to look to the government to save them. It teaches people to see others as a problem. The Great Enrichment, in contrast, teaches innovation, ideas, information, inspiration, and freedom that inspire and inform people to create health, wealth, happiness, and a flourishing environment. The Great Enrichment teaches students that every person is a solution, instead of being a problem. 

LOCKDOWNS and The Great Enrichment

Tragically, in 2021, global extreme poverty is expected to rise, according to the World Bank.  Had the pandemic not happened, the poverty rate was expected to drop to 7.9% in 2020. Instead, the rate will most likely increase.  While many educators, the World Bank, and many government leaders blame this reversal on the COVID-19, leading doctors, economists, educators, and others cite evidence showing that the global recession is due to excessive mandatory government lockdowns. For example, the Philippine government implemented one of the most draconian lockdowns resulting in the worst economic deterioration among major Asian economies. 

What we teach our students has a dramatic outcome.  Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake. Critical Theory teaches that the big government, big pharma, and big media can save us.  The Great Enrichment shows us that freedom from excessive government overreach is what causes the innovation that helps all people. 

Teach how to CREATe BIGGER PIES

Teaching the Great Enrichment leads to a virtuous spiral of rational optimism, hope, and creativity that drives even more innovation and the enrichment of all people.

Do you want to teach your children to struggle for slices of a pie, or to create bigger and tastier pies?  

Below is a recipe for teaching the Great Enrichment and how wealth is created:

Ingredients:

Directions:

Mix together the above ingredients in a cheerful classroom. Marinate students in dignity, respect, and hope. Peel masks from students’ faces to encourage free-speech. Garnish with laughter. Serve and enjoy.

TEACH THE CONSEQUENCES

In addition to teaching The Great Enrichment and its causes, schools should also teach the historical consequences of Historical Materialism. 

While many teachers of Critical Theory disavow Marxism and Communism, they do not realize that Critical Theory is built on Marx’s Historical Materialism. 

Students should be taught how Historical Materialism has spawned authoritarian regimes that killed (at least) 50 million people in China and 17 million under Stalin.   Today, Marxism in Venezuela has caused over 5 million to flee, leaving millions more in this once-prosperous country to starve. Millions continue to rebel in Cuba against their authoritarian, Marxist government.  Today, Xi Jinping, the Paramount Leader of the Chinese Communist Party, grounds his vision for an authoritarian, communist future on Historical Materialism. 

“Tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” ~ CS Lewis

Teach Freedom, Inspiration, and Innovation

Beyond teaching students how to struggle for scraps of a small pie, let’s teach students how to create and share bigger and tastier pies.  Let’s teach them about the freedom, inspiration, and innovation that drive the Great Enrichment that lifts people from poverty, ignorance and disease to wealth, wisdom, and health.

Cathy Russell, December 4, 2021

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