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Confessions of a High School English Teacher

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“Because of the comments I had heard from people in the department and from our department head, I was scared my contract would be not be renewed if I revealed my political preferences.”

Education is rife with fads. There is always something new and better—a classroom management style or theory, a way to teach writing, or a means by which to improve students’ self-esteem. They are fads because most of the new ideas (and buzzwords) fade after failing to improve student performance in any measurable way.

In my almost 16 years as a high school English teacher in Colorado, I have seen these fads come and go, while witnessing exorbitant amounts of money spent on them. Today, one very popular craze that is not only infiltrating education but also boardrooms, Big Tech, and government agencies is Critical Race Theory (CRT) and what it brings with it: identity politics. I was introduced to CRT (problematizing society through the lens of race) in 2010 in graduate school. By 2014, I noticed it firmly taking root. Up until that point, I had not ever worried about my own political views and how they might affect my standing with my peers. I describe myself as a classical liberal, and I fall, more specifically, on the center-right because my fiscal politics lean more conservative.

I now teach at another very large, liberal high school, and many of my fellow teachers hold up identity politics like a religion.

In 2012, I joined a school district that prides itself on promoting very progressive policies, one of which is teaching CRT along with many woke educational fads, such as safe spaces, microaggressions, restorative justice, oppressor vs. oppressed narratives, and teaching that one’s race, gender, and sex are the most important and fundamental aspects of who a person is.

For the first time in my life, I did not feel comfortable expressing political views. The liberal belief that everyone is different, has individual value and agency, and that people should be judged by their character seemed to be dissolving in the silo of groupthink and was being replaced by CRT.

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At the time, to my own now-embarrassment, I kept my head down. I never spoke up about any political issue at that school. I now teach at another very large, liberal high school, and many of my fellow teachers hold up identity politics like a religion. At first, I said nothing. My goal was to establish credibility and receive tenure before I allowed my beliefs to be known. Because of the comments I had heard from people in the department and from our department head, I was scared my contract would be not be renewed if I revealed my political preferences. It was clear that for those running the school, their firmly-held ideologies allowed no room for dissent.

One sweet, older woman, who was on the verge of retiring, made a comment to me after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whispering, “Actually, I’m kind of glad he’s dead.” Another teacher justified the firing of an assistant principal at another school saying that if he did not believe in the school-to-prison pipeline, “He has to go!” When discussing one of the conservative teachers and why other faculty members avoid him, one teacher explained, “I just can’t get over his politics.” When the student conservative club held a discussion at lunch, open to students and staff, about their experiences at our school, one teacher asked me, “Are you ready to hear a bunch of white rich kids complain?”

One teacher looked me in the eye and stated with conviction that he just could not find any value in teaching anything conservative.

Finally, I began subtly to let my opinions be known. However, I still kept my comments moderate and to a minimum. After I identified myself as conservative-leaning, I was having a discussion with a few teachers about the value of diversity of thought when teaching very liberal books such as Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. One teacher looked me in the eye and stated with conviction that he just could not find any value in teaching anything conservative. As far as I know, most teachers in my department respect me, and I have become close friends with some. However, the teachers who embrace CRT and identity politics avoid me and are not interested in having any conversations in which there might be dissent from the orthodoxies they favor. But this is, after all, the natural outcome and logical end of the CRT ideology.

But it has not been all bad since I began speaking more freely. For example, I have recently become the new sponsor for the student conservative club since no one else would do it. Students have shared stories about how they lost friends once they “came out,” as they put it. Other students do not want to attend meetings for fear that someone will find out that they have conservative sensibilities, out them, and cause them trouble.

It is for this reason that I acutely notice the shift being widely observed on the Left between traditional liberals and the illiberal Left, the woke. Those who comprise the latter group are fewer in number, but they are louder and more aggressive. Moderate teachers like myself, as well as traditional liberals, are very uneasy around the woke because they are becoming increasingly authoritarian. They simplistically divide everyone into two groups: the oppressed (and the allies of the oppressed) and the oppressors. And this is not, of course, taking place in a vacuum at a single high school; all across society, traditional liberals and conservatives are increasingly subject to censorship (both self-censorship or more overt deplatforming). Additionally, the normalization of CRT and racial essentialism—which traditional liberals have been fighting for decades—adds to the worry.

Now, even traditional liberals are finding themselves anxious around colleagues with whom there used to be mutual understandings. The new educational fad of the woke breaks apart the common ground classical liberalism created, both in educational settings and in society-at-large. As such, I sincerely hope that CRT and identity politics are just one of the many passing fads that have run through education. But, unfortunately, they seem to have taken a strong hold in our culture, and I fear that it will morph from a passing craze into the foundation of a new cultural starting place. From educators on down, we will all be made worse off, if this should continue to come to pass.

Lee Douglass is the pen name of an English teacher in Colorado. He has also written  for New English Review and can be found on Twitter @leedouglass2244

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