For 18 years, I have been proudly serving as a soldier in the United States Army. Service has taught me two enduring lessons:
First, our men and women who serve this country look at each other as brothers and sisters, with one common mission. Our politics, religion, race and ethnicity are of no consequence. All that is important to us is supporting each other, whether on the battlefield or at home. If that support means giving your life to save your brother, you selflessly do your duty.
Second, all those deployed abroad since 9/11 in locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan have seen firsthand what happens when a nation is governed, not by the rule of law, but by the iron fist of authoritarianism. It gave us all a new appreciation of what we have in America – a nation of laws, freedom of expression and religion, the right to bear arms, equal opportunity for all, and due process.
These two lessons are important foundational pieces of who we are as Americans. We judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, their religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. And we jealously guard our fundamental rights so that we can continue to be the greatest nation on earth.
Unfortunately, those two principles are under attack in our schools. For years, we have seen the lurch to the left in our education system, but now that lurch has turned into an assault on our values, and it is being directed at our children within schools across the country in the form of critical race theory.
In short, critical race theory in education teaches children that America’s law, institutions, values, traditions and language are systemically racist and must be torn down. It requires that everything be viewed through the lens of race. It focuses on identity group politics and ignores that we are all unique individuals with different goals, skills and limitations.
Further, it suggests that those who support equal opportunity for all, meritocracy and Western liberalism are helping to perpetuate racism. Therefore, according to the proponents of critical race theory, such as Ibram Kendi and Robin Di’Angelo, it is necessary for "anti-racist" activists to name and shame people with those beliefs into either silence or submission.
In New York, we have seen these regressive, divisive and destructive concepts in schools around the state. By now, everyone has seen the story of Paul Rossi, a teacher at the private Grace Church High School in Manhattan.
Rossi raised concerns about the curriculum, which included segregated Zoom sessions, forcing students to interrogate their "White saviorism," and signing a Student Life Agreement which requires them to state that they "recognize and acknowledge their biases." According to Rossi, the school will "’officially flag students’ who appear ‘resistant’ to the ‘culture we are trying to establish.’"
Meanwhile, at the Brearley School, another private school in New York City, parents of prospective students are required to "participate in required anti-racist training and ongoing reflection." This has caused parents to try and "de-doctrinate" their children who have been subject to the school’s "obsession with race" and activities to make students "feel guilty about skin color."
But this radical educational politicization is not limited to private schools in Manhattan. At Saratoga Springs High School, students were asked to grade "their privileged status" and score themselves on factors like "attractiveness, disability and race." If a student was White, they would add 25 points. Being male would add 25 points and being straight would increase the score by another 25 points. Black students could subtract 100 points, women could subtract 50 points, and LGBT students were instructed to subtract 150 points. Those who scored over 100 points were directed to check their privilege daily.
Meanwhile, lesson plans produced by Buffalo Public Schools’ Office of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives instruct teachers to discuss with fourth graders "the disruption of Western nuclear family dynamics and a return to the ‘collective village’ that takes care of each other."
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Ultimately, this divisive method of educating comes from the top. The New York State Education Department’s "Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework" encourages teachers and students to "[a]ct as agents of social change to redress historical and contemporary oppression" and that "critical and continuous self-reflection is required to dismantle systems of biases and inequities rooted in our country’s history, culture and institutions."
These are just a few of the examples of how New York’s schools are elevating critical race theory and equity of outcomes over meritocracy, equal opportunity for all, and the inspiring words of Martin Luther King Jr.: I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Our American system can only survive if our children have a foundation of respect for our fundamental rights, our Constitution, and our uniqueness as individuals who do not derive their personhood from membership in socially constructed identity groups. If we continue down this road, everything our nation’s veterans have sacrificed for will be gone. We cannot let that happen.
Editor’s note: Rep. Lee Zeldin is a Republican candidate for governor in New York state.