“The loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.”
Gov. Greg Abbott is likely to sign the bill that will effectively ban the teaching of critical race theory in Texas, but its implementation will be key. In the months that CRT has been debated in Texas, it has been dismissed as merely another way of looking at things (much as Antifa has been dismissed as a set of ideas).
State Rep. Mary Gonzáles even said CRT “helped her to understand society in a way that allows her to be loving, compassionate and a unifier,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. What’s more, many claim that CRT isn’t even taught in Texas schools.
That’s not true. As a high school debate coach, I’ve watched critical race theory crush the souls of students for years. When it began to creep into the honored and honorable academic pursuit of policy (CX) debate, it lowered standards, created division and sundered relationships.
Let me explain how. Policy debate pits two two-person teams against each other. The Affirmative team (Aff) presents a plan that falls within this year’s topic; the Negative team (Neg) argues against that plan. This requires immense research and study; if the year’s topic is, say, the oceans, teams must be prepared to argue against plans ranging from the Law of the Seas Treaty to plastics to overfishing.
But some years ago, a new tactic emerged. Why argue that the Aff plan is terrible, when you can simply argue that the United States is terrible? Or worse, that the Aff team is terrible?
This kind of argument is called a kritik—debate jargon for employing critical theory (including, and especially, critical race theory) to undermine not the plan you’re supposed to be refuting, but the very legitimacy of liberal society, Western history and even debate itself.
Writing in an article called “The Corrosion of High School Debate—And How It Mirrors American Politics,” one former debater recalled how “Some debaters even began refusing to debate the resolutions altogether, formulating elaborate theoretical and critical arguments that were, at best, tenuously linked to the topic they had been given.”
The language of critical race theory is new to most Americans, but debaters have been parsing these words and phrases for years. “Equity” is in; fairness is out. Black bodies, colonialism, “words are violence,” ontological death—these concepts are tossed around in classrooms and tournaments throughout Texas.
Here’s what I saw first-hand. One of my teams, two Senior girls, went into a round as the Affirmative team. I don’t recall the topic that year (a decade ago), but I do remember them emerging from the round in tears. They lost—and were told they lost—because the Negative team argued they should lose. As two white, privileged students from a private school, Neg claimed, the Affirmative team embodied everything wrong with America.
I thought there had to be some mistake. But when I saw the ballot a couple of hours later, it was true. The judge wrote that in the interest of social justice, he handed the win to the Negative team—even though Neg offered not a single argument against the Aff plan.
In another round, one of my teams was a little confused when a member of the opposing team got up and left just as the round started. The judge didn’t object, so my guys went on as usual—making their speeches, organizing their thoughts and crafting their arguments. In the penultimate speech (Second Negative Rebuttal), the absent Neg team member returned, holding a can full of coins. He argued that Neg should win because instead of wasting time in the round, he was out collecting money for a climate change charity—real-world action should trump ineffectual speech, he said (mind you, at a speech tournament). Neg won that round.
What does one kritik-dependent team do when it comes up against another kritik-dependent team? I’ve watched those rounds devolved into a morass of intersectionality. “You may be female, but I’m Hispanic.” You may be Hispanic, but I have a learning disability.” “Your school spends more per-student than mine.”
How can debaters respond to critical race theory and similar arguments? They can’t; CRT is non-falsifiable, and to take any position against it is to display “white fragility”—an argument I’ve seen used against non-white students.
President John F. Kennedy was a proud high school debater, when that meant something. “A good debater must not only study material in support of his own case, but he must also, of course, thoroughly analyze the expected arguments of his opponent,” he once said. “The give and take of debating, the testing of ideas, is essential to democracy.”
JFK wouldn’t recognize high school policy debate today, just as MLK wouldn’t recognize the new segregation CRT advocates call for today as related in any way to the civil rights movement he led.
Critical race theory makes a mockery of that pursuit. CRT isn’t a “way of talking about race,” it’s a way to shut down discussion completely. Texas lawmakers showed foresight and courage in passing House Bill 3979. We must now show vigilance in its implementation. Critical race theory is anathema to the quality education that Texas students deserve.
Roy Maynard is senior writer for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, editor of The Cannon Online, and was a high school debate coach for 20 years.