The following is a review of a new book from Dr. Ernest J. Zarra, From Character to Color, on the challenges educators face with Critical Race Theory.
Something off-putting started appearing in Facebook posts a few years ago. I noticed some of my thoughtful, hard-working, and, in many cases, progressive Facebook friends began making peculiar comments that seemed utterly disorienting.
I don’t want to hear about “colorblind” anymore. That’s laziness and insensitive.
Lived experiences teach us that we can’t treat every student the same.
We teachers must do the work to understand the trauma of our students—curriculum is secondary to social-emotional scaffolding.
Sometimes I would receive odd messages from former students – students I had a good relationship with, mind you—telling me they were rethinking their years in my classes and wondered why I never talked about my own “privilege” or “power.”
My entire life, as both a student and a teacher, has been predicated on the conventional and mainstream notion that American education aspires to be the great equalizer in civil society—the dream of Jefferson and Horace Mann and many a school reformer. Though, it was more than just a dream. Over two decades, I have witnessed hundreds, if not thousands, of students rise from the ashes of poverty to find success in their lives—not because they were obsessed with power or racial identity or niches of aggrievement. They found success because they worked hard, valued education, played by the rules, and upheld traditional standards of behavior.
So, what happened? Where were these new claims of potent racial consciousness coming from? How were our classrooms devolving into laboratories of social experimentation?
To fully understand these changes, I have found it helpful to read the new book “From Character to Color: The Impact of Critical Race Theory on American Education” by life-long educator and scholar Dr. Ernest J. Zarra. Of course, there are other recent books that cover similar ground such as Charles Love’s splendid “Race Crazy” or sections of Douglas Murray’s “The War on the West.” Like these texts, Zarra masterfully explains the origins of CRT, demolishes the notion that schools “don’t teach CRT,” and eloquently elaborates on the reality that “CRT is illiberal and constraining, emotionally tattooing labels upon children even in the womb.”
Though, Zarra’s book is unique amongst these other powerful and compelling books. He explains that the most sinister element of CRT, and there are many to be sure, is that it bludgeons and hollows out any form of grace. Grace is traditionally upheld as a religious value – a profound gift of faith, the living embodiment of unconditional, divine love – but Zarra brilliantly explains the necessity of grace in a multicultural and multiracial society with a troubling racial past.
“Within the teachings of this new religion any person born as white is automatically classified as a potential oppressor. Within this racial religion, wrongdoings committed by Americans of the past are imputed to Americans of the present. Continuous vengeance over forgiveness is acceptable as atonement for the past. In contrast, with the practice of common grace, skin color is not one’s primary identity.”
While we are certainly historic beings—conditioned by our moment in history, influenced by our technological status, poisoned by the twilight of our civilization’s current exhaustion—we do not have to be defined by the accidents of our identity. Our immutable characteristics need not shape our world-view or sketch the outlines of our souls. As Zarra wonderfully explains, “grace knows no race.”
He deftly delves into the juxtaposition between the theories of modern CRT activists and the traditional, natural-rights idealism of Martin Luther King. The displacement of natural law in favor of a historicist quest for power by aggrieved populations will utterly destroy a multicultural society because it views grace and forgiveness as hurdles of the ultimate goal – which is not universal justice for all, but a naked and cynical transfer of raw power from one group of citizens to another.
The most brilliant section of the book is his exploration of what awaits a society with these aims in mind. His central insight is that CRT is a backdoor to a form of soft autocracy in which “equality of humanity” is replaced by “equity by government.” American equality is rooted in a common humanity bestowed by “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” It is protected by constitutional text: “equal protection,” “due process,” “privileges and immunities,” and “full faith and credit.” To replace constitutional guarantees of liberty with fiats of equal outcomes would require a scale and scope of government power wholly alien to the constitutional norms of the nation.
My criticisms are mild. I found his meditations on the centrality of social grace so unique and insightful that I wanted more. All told, this is an important contribution to the current backlash towards CRT and anti-racism dogmas, especially as it is told from the perspective of a life-long practitioner of the American classroom.
Jeremy S. Adams is the author of the recently-released Amazon best-selling book Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation. He has taught American civics for 24 years in Bakersfield, California and was the 2014 California Teacher of the Year (DAR). You can follow him on Twitter @JeremyAdams6.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.