Tony Kinnett was working toward his master’s degree in education at Ball State University when a fellow graduate student told him he should feel guilty for being white during class.
Kinnett told the Washington Free Beacon his classmate was simply parroting what future teachers learn in graduate school. Critical race theory is "all they know, and all they’ve been taught," said Kinnett, now the science coordinator for Indianapolis Public Schools.
Once, in a course on education policy and pedagogy, Kinnett argued that teachers shouldn’t be afraid to fail students who don’t perform to standard. A peer chimed in and said Kinnett was "blinded" by his white privilege, as white teachers can’t understand obstacles that minority students must overcome to succeed in school. The lambasting went on for about five minutes.
"I was confused," said Kinnett, who is part Cherokee. "She went off on why white educators needed to second-guess themselves in everything they’re doing."
More than half of public school teachers in the United States have earned an advanced degree in education. Master's programs in education have on average churned out nearly 150,000 teachers annually over the past seven years. These programs are increasingly focused on changing how educators and students view American history.
At Harvard, aspiring teachers "learn to change the world" in courses like Critical Race Theory in Education. Graduate students in education at UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania are required to take diversity, equity, and inclusion courses. Penn also offers diversity and inclusion as a focus for graduate students.
Though critical race theory entered the national conversation last summer, it has been percolating in graduate programs since the 1990s, Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, told the Free Beacon. Aspiring teachers who set out to fine-tune their classroom skills instead wind up studying how to view American history through a Marxist lens.
"There's no K-12 educator who consciously and personally comes to the decision that they need culturally relevant pedagogy," Kinnett said. "Realistically, it's just coming straight from the universities."
Depending on the university, students seeking a master’s degree in education will take 30 to 45 credit hours, or 10 to 15 classes, over the duration of their graduate studies. While course requirements vary based on the university, foundational courses—pedagogy or practicum classes that teach future teachers how to teach—are often taught through the lens of critical race theory.
Kinnett’s Foundations of American Education course, he said, was where he learned a "big chunk" of critical race theory.
Students often take education history and psychology classes before delving into more specialized courses.
Harvard’s Graduate School of Education—the nation’s top program for future educators, according to U.S. News and World Report—offers courses such as "Emancipatory Inquiry"; "Power and Pedagogy: Self, Society, and Transformation"; and "Race, Education, and the Roots of Inequality in the United States."
The University of Pennsylvania's courses include "Access and Choice" and "Democratizing Higher Education Participation." UCLA offers "Politics of Education," which focuses on the "[r]elationships between educational institutions and political institutions in society." UCLA graduate students in a course called "Race and Education" will embark on an "exploration of broad interpretation of how schools contribute to racial stratification and inequality."
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, critical race theory was not discussed much outside academia. But remote learning gave parents front-row seats to their children's’ education—and many didn’t like what they saw.
Teachers instructed children that they are either privileged or oppressed because of their race. Following a central tenet of critical race theory, educators in K-12 schools explained that white, wealthy "oppressors" throughout American history created systems that oppress minorities to this day. They lectured that these institutions, including the government and the police, are inherently racist.
Kinnett, who founded an online education commentary site called the Chalkboard Review, said most of the individuals responsible for producing "race-based content" within Indianapolis Public Schools also received their master’s or doctorate degrees in education.
Burke told the Free Beacon that master’s degree requirements create barriers to entry for aspiring teachers but do not necessarily correlate with improved student performance.
"If you look at the outcomes of students whose teachers have a master’s degree, there are data that show credentialed teachers and non-credentialed or alternatively certified teachers have no difference in student outcomes," Burke, who earned a master's degree in teaching from the University of Virginia and a doctorate in education policy from George Mason University, said.
According to Burke, states can improve student performance by removing master’s degree requirements and licensing requirements that force teachers to take classes in order to maintain their state certifications. Teachers would be better off gaining additional expertise in their specialty field, rather than spending time and money on a graduate degree, Burke said.
State-level policies banning Marxism won’t get critical race theory out of the classroom, Kinnett told the Free Beacon. Radicalism needs to be weeded out at the source: universities.
"There can be no policy made from the top down regarding K-12 education that can solve critical race theory," Kinnett said. "In order to change education, and remove the poison of critical race theory, you have to start at the source, which is these teacher education programs."