How A Teacher Became An Outcast
When Trying To Understand Critical Race Theory Goes Wrong
I decided to become a teacher when I realized that there was a massive disconnect between being smart, capable, and wise, and the institution designed to get you there. I, myself, have always loved learning. I wanted to help guide students through the ride of self-discovery and truth-seeking that had so excited me when I was their age, yet was crushed by the norms of the education system.
But in the Spring of 2020, sitting through another day teaching my class over Zoom, the gnawing sense that my goals as an educator had failed began to overpower me. My own children, six and three, sat in the other room in online kindergarten—that’s right, online kindergarten—which consisted of watching videos, singing songs, and educational games played by pecking keys on a keyboard for several hours. How anyone in education thought this would be a good idea is beyond me. Meanwhile, my wife was scrambling to pivot her career after Governor Newsom mandated she close her business.
I had questions about all of this, but the truth-seeking that once inspired me had been sucked away, just as it had for my students, by a culture of fear that doing anything other than following the experts’ constantly shifting instructions meant death and destruction.
Perhaps it was this betrayal of myself that left me with a powerful need to find an alternative outlet where I could seek to discover truth, but it also, ironically, left me blind to just how dangerous pursuing that need would prove to be.
When the video of George Floyd’s death went viral and the Summer of BLM began, I noticed a change in “Teachergram,” our nickname for the social media world of education industry influencers I had begun to cultivate an audience in. Profile pictures turned to black boxes and terms like “whiteness” and “systemic racism” and names like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi became ubiquitous.
I’d been reading writers like John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes, and Thomas Chatterton Williams for years, so this topic wasn’t new to me. What was new was the extent to which my entire community had become ensnared in the very views those writers had so thoroughly debunked. My curiosity got the better of me as I sought to understand how everyone around me could be diving headfirst into it all.
I would often DM other notable members of Teachergram with questions about their posts repeating platitudes such as “elevate black voices” or instructing educators to read books like White Fragility, but I didn’t get far. Challenging their views would usually be met with silence or by being blocked.
At school, however, my questions couldn’t be so easily ignored. When Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training was rolled out, my hand was continuously raised during the sessions. Eyes rolled alongside expressions of disappointment and disgust from my colleagues, who viewed me as ignorant at best and immoral at worst. “Problematic” was a word I began to hear on a regular basis. The National Education Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers blacklisted me from engaging with their representatives.
It might not sound like it, but I, by nature, am very agreeable (shoutout to my Enneagram 4’s!) It was highly uncomfortable to be viewed in such a negative light. I had the most sincere intentions, but my every attempt to understand their views was interpreted as ignorant at best or bigoted at worst. I was confused, frustrated and saddened to be made such a pariah. As my questions began to put my employment and mental health at risk, I was tempted to give my curiosity up. But every time I felt the urge to give in to that temptation, witnessing a new absurdity made my curiosity even stronger.
All teachers are taught in ed school to be lifelong learners. Rather than quiet myself and apologize, I decided to double and triple down. It wasn’t easy, but I found three fellow members of Teachergram willing to engage with me, at length, in a recorded and public conversation. The entire time, I simply asked questions. The other participants grew increasingly furious at my unwillingness to “just agree” and accept their ideas, which included that the constitution should be burned, the Socratic Method is toxic, and all institutions are rooted in whiteness. I was constantly maligned for my race and gender. There were even thinly veiled threats like, “my people will be watching you and they don’t play.”
After the event concluded, a few websites & papers picked the story up, sharing my perspective on the other teacher’s extreme positions. But this was not some return to sanity, it was quickly counterbalanced by vitriol. Negative emails, messages, and comments filled my screens. The teachers I’d recorded with threatened a baseless lawsuit against me. A flood of letters supporting them flowed to my school’s administrators—my bosses. It isn’t a comfortable experience having to explain to those who control your livelihood why an angry mob is calling you a racist and coming for your head.
Critical Race Theory and its offshoots so successfully disguise their dangerous and divisive ideas with saccharine labels like “anti-racism” and “social justice.” To those unfamiliar with this coded language, it’s tough to get them to understand that the “anti-racist” people are actually the racist ones.
I know with certainty that I would have been fired had I been at any other school in LA—public or private. Luckily, I found myself in a unique teaching situation at a Modern-Orthodox Jewish School. Even though we did hold DEI trainings and my colleagues in the humanities department tended to be on the far-left politically, the culture of this community was one that embraced dialogue and challenging discussions.
Shortly after, organizations like Heterodox Academy, FAIR, The University of Austin’s Mill Institute, and FIRE reached out to me, and not just to offer me support, but because they found value in working with a teacher with my experience.
Joining groups like these showed me that there are many would-be black sheep just like me teaching across America. Many are justifiably scared to speak out about what they’re experiencing, but now I have earned the freedom to be able to serve as their voice.
The American school system is, sadly, deeply broken. From its origins, the Prussian model of education that we still use today was built to instill obedience within its students. Rather than prepare them to be curious critical thinkers, we still train our students for compliance as if they were going to be factory workers. A “good student” is one who does what they’re told.
Rather than this issue improving as it needs to for our new era of the knowledge economy, the problem has become even worse.
Schools have become a battleground for the culture war, and teachers have become accustomed to instilling an ideology rather than instilling the skills needed to challenge controversial ideas.
Although I was well-treated by my school, I have recently made the decision to leave in-person teaching. I no longer believe traditional education is savable. An environment so intolerant of black sheep like myself cannot adjust and adapt to improve. But change is desperately needed in the education field. The classroom of the future is one where inquisitive children, not passive children, will flourish. With increases in homeschooling and advances In digital teaching (developed in-part during COVID, ironically) a landmark opportunity is just over the horizon to change the very nature of education. I hope to bring an approach to education that reinvigorates the promise of what an educator’s job is supposed to be: teaching students how, not what, to think.
In a world that now more than ever needs a population capable of critical thinking, it’s up to us educators to pass the spirit of boundless curiosity to the next generation.
The Black Sheep will release an interview with Will next week to dive deeper into his story. We encourage readers to leave their feedback for Will in the comments, and select questions from paying subscribers will be posed directly to Will.