By Jeffrey H. Anderson
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) political science professor Lynne Chandler Garcia celebrated teaching critical race theory (CRT) to cadets.
As a former USAFA political science professor who taught the same courses Garcia now teaches, I find her commitment to teaching CRT a dangerous hindrance to forming good citizens, effective leaders, and future Air Force commanders.
Far worse than just a waste of taxpayer money, such teaching undermines American ideals and military camaraderie, substituting leftist dogma for the inculcation of genuine wisdom in our future officer corps.
Teaching Cadets to Hate Their Country and Each Other
CRT is rooted in Marxist thought, essentially replacing class warfare with race warfare. Its language is that of oppressor and oppressed. It replaces color-blindness with color-consciousness (hence the ridiculous new practice of capitalizing certain adjectives, like “Black”).
Garcia emphasizes America’s alleged “structural racism,” “white supremacy,” and “endemic” inequality, and the military’s ongoing “struggles” with “racism.” In the same breath, she implausibly assures us that teaching CRT — a philosophy that seems designed to undermine racial harmony — does not “promote division among our military members.”
When I taught at the Air Force Academy, I redesigned the core American government course, the only pure political science course required for all 4,000 cadets. This extensive redesign was approved by the department, and it emphasized primary readings from America’s greatest leaders.
One of those leaders was Martin Luther King, Jr., and we had the cadets read and discuss at some length his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” King gave voice to the colorblind ideal and praised our founding, describing “those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
In contrast, Garcia teaches that “the Constitution … allowed slavery and has been used to perpetuate legal discrimination.” One wonders why cadets would choose to take an oath to defend that Constitution with their lives.
A Marxist Narrative of American Oppression
After praising her own use of CRT in the classroom, Garcia spends the rest of her op-ed trying to whitewash its effects. She presents CRT as just another effort to “think critically and read broadly.”
Garcia wants her students to “acknowledge that the United States was founded on a duality: liberalism and equal rights on the one hand; inequality, inegalitarianism and second-class citizenship on the other.” Encouraging cadets to wrestle with these tensions is hardly novel.
But there is a big difference between presenting America as a glorious country “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” (as Abraham Lincoln put it), and presenting it as a country deeply flawed at its founding, systemically racist in its present, and most inclined to flourish when its citizens are divided and identified as members of oppressive or victimized races, rather than as unique individuals.
Garcia also teaches political philosophy, a course taken by every USAFA political science major and uniquely capable of swaying cadets’ minds. I once designed, taught, and directed that course and therefore know its potential to inculcate wisdom, or, in the wrong hands, its opposite.
From Garcia, cadets are surely getting a neo-Marxist view of John Locke and a pro-Marxist view of Karl Marx. They are likely learning to read some of the most universal and wide-ranging works ever written, ranging from Plato to Rousseau, through the narrow lens of racial oppression and victimhood. And they are probably also spending some of their time reading soon-to-be-forgotten CRT authors rather than profound and timeless political philosophers.
Pushed by Brass Like Gen. Mark Milley
Garcia, however, is hardly the real problem. She begins her op-ed by praising Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for his “defense of teaching critical race theory.” In recent congressional testimony, Milley argued it’s useful to read authors espousing CRT in the same way it’s useful to read Marx.
But this misses a huge point. There is a colossal difference between reading Marx and reading an account of America that presents our nation through a Marxist or neo-Marxist lens, as critical race theory does.
By reading Marx, students can see how fundamentally opposed his ideas are to the Lockean ideas that inform our country’s founding documents. Students can therefore understand more clearly how opposed the philosophies of the United States and the Soviet Union were (and how opposed the philosophies of the United States and China are today).
Reading an account of America written by a neo-Marxist, on the other hand, merely encourages a neo-Marxist view of America.
That is what some quarters of the military, including Garcia, are providing, yet Milley finds it “offensive” when this teaching is characterized as “woke.”
Milley could stand to read a bit more American history (not filtered through the 1619 Project or Howard Zinn), and less leftist philosophy.
In his congressional testimony, he parroted the falsehood that slaves were viewed at the founding to be three-fifths of a person — although Milley couldn’t even get the fraction right, claiming slaves “were three-quarters of a human being when this country was formed.”
In fact, Southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention wanted slaves to count as full people for purposes of allocating congressional representation (to pad Southern influence). Northern delegates did not want slaves to count at all, since they were denied both the vote and their freedom.
Does this mean the Southern delegates viewed slaves as fully human while Northern delegates saw them as not human at all? Of course not. The three-fifths compromise was just that, a political compromise, not an assessment of human worth. I have never read any writing from the founding era claiming slaves were three-fifths (or three-fourths) human.
Cadets and Taxpayers Should Demand Better
As Milley’s testimony indicates, the problem here is not a lone (relatively junior) civilian USAFA political science professor. The problem is that her sort of thinking is clearly not limited to her. Professors at USAFA are not tenured. Her op-ed presumably had to be reviewed and approved for publication up the chain. She would not be allowed to teach CRT if her superiors were opposed to it.
So the real culprits here — to the extent they do not take meaningful action in response to Garcia’s piece and curriculum — are Col. Miriam Krieger, USAFA Political Science Department head; Brig. Gen. Linell Letendre, USAFA dean of faculty; and Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, USAFA superintendent.
The United States Air Force Academy, and the U.S. Armed Forces more broadly, should not be teaching military personnel to judge people by the color of their skin, to judge America’s history as deplorable, or to embrace poisonous academic fads. They should be teaching the best that has ever been said or written, and the skills necessary to fight and win wars, not second-rate social justice theories hatched in the faculty lounges of decaying Ivy League universities.
USAFA cadets deserve better. So do the American citizens who expect excellence from their military, and the taxpayers who pay USAFA’s bills. Not only do they deserve better, they should demand it.
Jeffrey H. Anderson is president of the American Main Street Initiative and served as director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2017 to 2021.