Postmodern Thought Seeping into the Public Schools
By John Mitchell
For many teachers and school staff across the nation, the return to school has never been more difficult. There is a lot going on and a lot of competing factors to consider.
The most immediate concerns for most school staff are the basic physical arrangements and health and safety considerations brought to bear by the pandemic. Data indicates that about half of all US school districts are fully opening for face to face learning. For teachers in these districts, concerns about physical safety are foremost. While the health risks for the students may be slight, for teachers, especially older school staff or those with preexisting medical conditions, the health issues are major considerations. Appropriate social distancing and mask wearing by both students and staff may be necessary, leaving teachers with new rules that may be difficult to enforce. For many of those engaged in online teaching, it is a lot of work just to adapt teaching materials for online use. It is even more challenging to develop the type of online classroom community that that needs to be present for the class to collaboratively move forward with the learning goals.
While these COVID-19 restrictions are certainly concerning, at a recent CEAI staff meeting the legal services department staff noted that the most frequent issue that members have struggled with in recent weeks is professional development focused on racial inequities in the schools. Three major resources are being promoted in some public schools to help decrease racial inequities:
First, The 1619 Project developed by the New York Times, is starting to work its way into many schools. You may have heard that this project recommends that American history should be revised to teach that the critical date for the founding of our nation should be changed from the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the landing of the first slave ship in the American colonies in 1619. The project also advocates that going forward from 1619 the history of America should be told as a story of the oppression of black Americans primarily by white males.
Second, Dr. Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, is being promoted by some administrators as a guru on reducing racial inequities in schools. Her ideas are based on the premise that “implicit bias” is inherent in white people and therefore racial inequities have persisted in America.
And third, Ibram X. Kendi, popular author of How to Be an Antiracist, has also worked himself into the public-school professional development niche. Leaving no stone unturned, he has even authored Antiracist Baby, a board book for preschoolers. His ideas have been criticized by some as removing personal responsibility from individuals for racism. He defines antiracism as the belief that all racial inequalities are caused by racist policies—not by people. He would define a racist as anyone who believes that racial disparities have at times been caused, at least in part, by black people.
The first two of these, The 1619 Project and Robin DeAngelo’s White Fragility, are both grounded in Critical Race Theory, which is rooted deeply in a postmodern world view. Kendi’s work is less grounded in CRT but does exhibit some postmodern ideas, particularly moral relativism and lack of personal responsibility for personal choices. Postmodernism discards the idea that truth is real and knowable; it suggests that the most important aspect of personal identity is membership in cultural groups, and also denies the notion of clear right and wrong, instead postulating that morality is relative and determined by society.
These postmodern ideas are clearly rejected by scripture. We see this in Jesus’ final discussion with Pilate. Jesus tells Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate responds to Jesus with a classic postmodern retort, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). In this five minute video, recently deceased Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias discusses postmodernism and its origins in the Garden of Eden. Douglas Groothuis gives a fuller explanation of how postmodern thought challenges Christianity in Truth Decay: Defending Christianity From the Challenges of Postmodernism.
This is not to say that there is absolutely nothing of value that can come from secular sources, however we should be circumspect regarding their philosophical underpinnings. As Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer writing for the Journal of Christian Legal Thought have said, “The central ideas of contemporary critical theorists must be rejected by Christians. While we can appreciate and learn from their analyses of particular issues, we must recognize that they have adopted a framework that is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity in numerous ways.” Or, in the words of David French, “Critical race theory can be an analytical tool (one of many) that can help us understand persistent inequality and injustice in the United States. To the extent, however, that it presents itself as a totalizing ideology—one that explains American history in full and prescribes an illiberal antidote to American injustice—it falters and ultimately fails.”
If you are struggling with trainings based on non-Biblical thought, the following may be helpful:
- Even though postmodern philosophy is deeply flawed, there may still be beneficial elements within the trainings. Listen carefully for ideas that may help with racial inequalities. Clearly, we would all like to see reductions in racial disparities in our culture and particularly in our schools. By exhibiting a willingness to hear other’s ideas you will go far to persuading them that your motivations are good, and this will make your Christian witness more appealing.
- Realize that your work in the public schools makes you a missionary to the secular culture. In these days, when everything seems contentious, keep in mind Paul’s advice to Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion”
- (1 Tim 1:5-6). Your best tools to enable you to show Christian love to the fallen world are not your debate skills, but prayer, personal study of scripture, and deep fellowship with other Christians. If you feel that you are being drawn into useless arguments with co-workers or students around worldview issues, you may find Proverbs 15 a source of wisdom and peace.
- One goal of some of these trainings is to expose racial biases that teachers may not be aware that they have. As Christians we should always be open to the conviction of the Holy Spirit regarding areas of needed spiritual growth.
- If you feel that your school administration is requiring you to take actions or say things that violate your conscience, be as respectful as you can and contact CEAI member services for advice as soon as possible. As you continue through these difficult times in your calling to teach, CEAI wants to support you in your role as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20).
Please share your thoughts on this column that you would like other readers to see by entering them in the form below. Personal comments can be sent to JMitchell@ceai.org. John Mitchell is the Washington, D.C. Area Director for Christian Educators Association International.
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Washington Education Watch 9/2020. Used with permission.
Such a thoughtful and helpful article!
Good and timely information! Thank you!
“Your best tools to enable you to show Christian love to the fallen world are not your debate skills, but prayer, personal study of scripture, and deep fellowship with other Christians.” states your article. With this statement you effectively remove Christians from a responsibility that has landed our culture in troubled mire. You exacerbate the mistaken idea that Christian principles are to be kept at home, in private. Do not forget that all truth is God’s truth. I’m cringing at the suggestion that Christians shrink from the engagement in intellectual, rhetorical – yes, debate – on staggeringly important issues. If we do not or cannot express the Truth we know in a reasonable and respectful debate and continue to only hide in our prayer closets, we dare not then complain as our country and our values crumble around us. Yes, use your intellect, your knowledge and speaking the truth in love! Yes, engage in the difficult conversations; show they can happen with respect. I highly recommend the book Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey. Stop living in a dichotomy that separates your Christian beliefs from every part of your life except at home and at church. The righteous are as bold as a lion. Become more like Jesus, who dared to speak up in truth and love. Where would we be if Jesus had not “debated”?
I am very glad that you are addressing this serious issue. As one who has to endure a workshop of this nature, I feel that it is imperative for me to share my thoughts.
First, please realize that the call to examine one’s (and family member’s) “biases” in a secular, workplace setting is highly inappropriate. The admission of interior fault belongs primarily to the religious realm. I would hope that CEAI would make it clear to members that they need not expose their faults in the presence of colleagues and supervisors.
My background in college was East Asian Studies, and I read a lot about the Cultural Revolution in China. The exposing of interior or exterior faults (real or perceived) in public smells a lot like the Cultural Revolution. In fact, when I told a friend of mine in China that people were admitting their and their family members’ biases, she herself mentioned the Cultural Revolution.
You are right that Christians need to examine themselves, but these trainings, I believe, play on the Christian’s sensitivity to conscience and to wanting to be humble about one’s faults…but in the end, you play into the game and affirm the psychological tactics which so harmed the Chinese people that they stepped away from the Cultural Revolution knowing it was wrong.
Also, these ways of thinking are not science. If science, then, yes it is good for us to accept and see the good therein—but they are radical ideologies. It was required of me at work to read an article by Ms. DiAngelo, and I believe it is demonic. It is best to stay away from it, unless you have the gift of tearing apart bad philosophy and ideology.
As to point #3, I absolutely agree that prayer is KEY! I had to attend one of these horrible trainings which attack human dignity, and prayed much throughout it. And two beautiful fruits came: three colleagues then dialogued with me afterwards. Two of the dialogues were very fruitful!! I praise God considering what a suffering that training was. As for the 3rd, it didn’t go far, but I can continue to pray.
Finally, I do not believe we just need to sit back and take all this. It is infiltrating the minds of young and old alike, like a poisonous enemy winding its way through our society. In the training I had, colleagues were even exposing spoken biases of family members! (Much easier than speaking of our own, right?) And they were applauded for doing so! Will K to 12 children speak out against their parents if they attend similar workshops? We need to stand up against it, and not just sit back and take it. We need to help others to see the light and expose its darkness for what it is, and even work towards making these types of trainings illegal.
Scripture says that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) and He will help us to use that mind to see and to expose, with love and humility, the evil in our midst.
Thank you, and I hope you address this again, and if I may humbly recommend…consider sharing my thoughts with everyone.
Peace in Christ.