Nicola Sturgeon views a classroom as she visits West Calder High School (Picture credit: Andy Buchanan-Pool/Getty Images)

Teaching by the critical race book

Holyrood is seeking to embed social justice theory in schools


This article is taken from the April 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

In general usage, “social justice” is the struggle for fairness in society. It involves subjective judgments and debate about how that can be advanced. By contrast, “Social Justice” (upper case “S”, upper case “J”) is often equated with Critical Social Justice (CSJ) — a theory which brooks no criticism. 

Taking some of its cues from Marxist thinking, CSJ holds that society is split into groups based on power/privilege/oppression. These groups are usually based on immutable characteristics such as sex, skin colour and disability. It follows from this that inequality is embedded in the very structure of society, a malignancy we must all fight to expunge. 

CSJ takes as self-evident assertions that are highly contestable: for example, are the immutable characteristics that CSJ focuses on the right ones to understand the dynamics of society? Is CSJ’s power/privilege/oppression split in society too simplistic? How are individuals assigned to “advantaged” groups to be treated if they are the victim of personal misfortune? More fundamentally, should people not be valued (and judged) as individuals in their own right, rather than perceived through the prism of a sweeping group categorisation?

CSJ states that truth is a social construct. There is no objective truth: according to CSJ advocates, “truth” is associated with oppressive systems and is therefore created by those in power. To this extent, according to CSJ, knowledge is relative and is by necessity tied to identity. 

This is why we are increasingly seeing demands by CSJ adherents to “dismantle” systems of knowledge that are created by white European men — a knowledge that can therefore be dismissed regardless of its objective value.

In the classroom, viewing knowledge and reality as subjective and “socially constructed” is not conducive to learning. Basic education skills such as maths and science rely on an objective, shared, view of reality. Even language depends on a basic set of rules and standards.

However, CSJ advocates are attempting to undermine the very basis of core skills such as maths (with attempts to de-emphasise calculus while applying social justice principles to mathematical problems) and science (for example, by claiming that race is a social construct rather than a biological fact).

Education Scotland recommends picture books for age group three to five to celebrate LGBTQ+ families

They are especially focused on changing the means of expression. “The repeated references to ‘correct grammar’ and ‘standard language’ reinforce master narratives of English only as White and monolingualism and a deficit view of multilingualism,” teaches Cristina Sánchez-Martín, professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It’s a view shared by April Baker-Bell, associate Professor of Language, Literacy, and English Education at Michigan State University. She insists that teachers promoting “standard English” do so because of their racist disregard for “Black language”. 

Psychologists are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact that social justice ideology has on mental wellbeing, and they have been raising concerns about the unhealthy patterns of thinking it encourages. Since CSJ preaches that some are oppressed purely by virtue of immutable characteristics, the implication is that there is nothing that can be done to improve or change one’s circumstances. 

This in turn leads to feelings of helplessness and a lack of agency. These are all notions that legitimate therapists work hard to help their patients overcome — trying to encourage a sense of empowerment, agency and self-efficacy. 

CSJ puts forward pseudoscientific notions such as “microaggressions” and “implicit bias”. Only those in “powerful” groups can be guilty of these transgressions, an encouragement to those in “oppressed” groups to look for insult, harm and offence in even the most innocent of social interactions. 

Searching for harm in all interactions does not lead to a happy, realistic or balanced view of the world. Indeed, it fosters a mindset that is the antithesis of cognitive behavioural therapy (which is currently the most effective form of therapy we have). 

As well as damaging mental health, CSJ undermines the foundation of objective understanding and open-mindedness upon which an education system should be built. Scotland’s young people already score poorly on educational standards and mental wellbeing. It is therefore the more remarkable that the Scottish government — having presided over little measurable improvement in education standards since the SNP took power in 2007 — is now prioritising not the revival of Scotland’s once envied educational rigour but rather the embedding of CSJ into the curriculum. 

Last year, the General Teaching Council of Scotland renewed its professional standards document (which outlines what is expected from educational staff) to state that “Scottish teachers must demonstrate professional values of social justice”. That this is not a mere exhortation to foster fairness, but rather an instruction to proselytise the new dogma, is made explicit. 

Teachers must “embrace values of equity” (“equity” is a heavily politicised term, meaning equality of outcome, rather than equality of opportunity) and “commit to social justice through … intersectionality” (another CSJ concept). 

In addition, the Scottish government funds an organisation called The Scottish Development Education Centre (Scotdec) to provide resources and “professional learning” in “Global Citizenship, Learning for Sustainability and Rights-based learning” covering many aspects of the curriculum. 

Scotdec’s science pack includes content about gender (not sex — a notable biological omission for a science package), presenting (with typos) issues such as the lack of women in STEM (another controversial issue, disempowering women, treating them as victims, and using dubious, and ironically, unscientific concepts such as unconscious bias as explanations). 

Scotdec’s maths resources include material on gender inequality (another subject clouded by inaccurate and biased data) and — this, before Ukraine was invaded — refugee policy by asking students to calculate the number of refugees that the UK has admitted in comparison to other countries. 

Other resources include examples of poverty, allyship and consumerism, as well as courses on “anti-racism”, “equality and diversity” and “using social media for change”. 

The concern is not whether children should be taught about such subjects but rather the state-sanctioned CSJ indoctrination that dictates how they are presented in the classroom. Every child a Critical Social Justice activist — provided with only one perspective of socially constructed reality. Margot Honecker’s Young Pioneers may have gone the way of the German Democratic Republic, but in Nicola Sturgeon’s Scotland a new youth consciousness arises.

In the SNP’s credo, differentiation from Westminster is not so much a choice as a duty

An extreme example is Scotdec’s “Anti-Racist Toolkit for Educators”, a resource drawn straight from CSJ’s offshoot, Critical Race Theory. It is devised by Titilayo Farukuoye, a student activist who completed her MSc in Sociology and Global Change in 2020 and is now an “Anti-Racist Pro-Black Education Manager” with a strong desire “to work for an oppression-free future”. Good for her, but the fact that this teachers’ resource is the work of an activist with no conspicuous teaching or educational training highlights the Scottish government’s lack of concern with intellectual or educational rigour.

The instructions read like a mantra written by someone with a simple conception of the world. Achieving learning outcomes depends on teachers’ ability to “centre people who experience marginality and oppression”, “reflect on their own (racist) thinking with which they have been socialized”, “recognise race as a system that serves to enable capitalism”, and “identify/practice overcoming white fragility”. 

To ensure Scotland’s teachers define and identify it in the way Critical Race Theory requires, they are guided to sit a “white privilege” test designed to instil that white people have automatic advantages and that the concept of race was invented by Europeans to justify crimes against humanity. 

Aside from these sweeping assertions being presented as irrefutable facts (and thus truths only a racist would question), there is, once again, no consideration given to the mental health of schoolchildren who are divided between those who are commanded to feel self-hatred and guilt and those encouraged to identify as powerless victims. A distressing example of this can be seen in the Channel 4 documentary The School That Tried to End Racism. 

Seeking to implement this ideology at all stages of our education system, Education Scotland (the Scottish government’s agency tasked with raising school standards) is currently building a Racial Literacy Programme to be tested in January 2022 (the cost of which does not appear to be disclosed). This includes content on intersectionality, anti-racism and “racial microaggressions” (again encouraging feelings of animosity, distrust and offence). 

Few will be spared from the reach of CRT proselytising. The Scottish government’s 2021 “National Improvement Plan” requires all aspiring school leaders to undertake mandatory anti-racist professional learning. Even primary schools are promoting the divisive programmes and rhetoric on their websites and through school newsletters to parents. 

The Scottish government has also embedded LGBT education into the curriculum, proudly claiming that Scotland is the first country in the world to do so. “Increased inclusion and knowledge of LGBT people and themes” forms part of this directive and addressing “ongoing issues around lack of LGBT representation in the Scottish curriculum” another.

Who provides the schools with the resources to promote this learning? Again, the Scottish government has put an activist group, Time for Inclusive Education, in the driving seat. It  recommends lesson plans on Lady Gaga (including slides on her bisexuality, and headlines about “gay teen suicides”) as well as resources for younger children, even LGBT maths.

Educational resources for schools in Scotland

The LGBT educational resources are heavily politicised and shot through with CSJ concepts like intersectionality. Students are asked to note down the most “privileged” or “dominant” identities (“cisgender man” is helpfully given as an example). 

Meanwhile, the donation to Scottish primary schools of books like “What Does LGBT+ Mean?” introduce younger children to such themes as identity, assigned sex, gender, love, sexuality, discrimination, privilege, allyship, and pride. Children are also encouraged to use “they” instead of “he” or “she” and told that “male” and “female” are merely “a label” given to babies at birth based on the perception of medical staff (and thus not a biological fact). 

Further, Education Scotland recommends picture books for age group three to five to celebrate LGBTQ+ families. This should be seen in the context of the Scottish government’s decision last August to issue guidelines directing schools to permit children from the age of four to change gender and name without their parents’ consent. 

Most of us would agree that children should learn about the existence of such issues at an age-appropriate stage, but there is a big difference between an impartial, factual and balanced education and force-feeding activist dogma under the guise of “inclusion”. Yet the direction that Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP-Green administration is taking Scotland should leave little room for doubt that an activist-devised curriculum is to be embedded and enhanced. 

English children currently enjoy greater protection through the 1996 Education Act’s prohibition of political indoctrination in schools. In October 2020, the women and equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch confirmed that schools that teach white privilege or CRT “without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law.”

Education policy is a devolved matter, however. And in the SNP’s credo, differentiation from Westminster is not so much a choice as a duty. We have seen in Virginia and elsewhere in the United States how CRT and CSJ indoctrination is corrupting core education. In Britain, it is Scottish schoolchildren who are the guinea pigs assigned to suffer the consequences.

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