How the Heritage Foundation Became a Leader of “Red Meat” Attacks on Public Schools Teaching the Truth About American History

I was puzzled last May when Education Week‘s Stephen Sawchuck explained that  the new “Critical Race Theory” controversy was being spun out of places like the Heritage Foundation. I had assumed that the Heritage Foundation dealt mostly with arcane libertarian economic issues and the promotion of small government.

On May 18, to help answer the question, “Just what is critical race theory anyway?,” Sawchuck explained: “One conservative organization, the Heritage Foundation, recently attributed a whole host of issues to CRT, including the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ clubs in schools, diversity training in federal agencies and organizations, California’s recent ethnic studies model curriculum, the free-speech debate on college campuses, and alternatives to exclusionary discipline….  ‘When followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based,’ the organization claimed.”

How did the Heritage Foundation become pivotal in the racist and politically motivated attack on the honest teaching of American history in public schools?  Yesterday, the Washington Post‘s Jeff Stein and Yeganeh Torbati explained that the Heritage Foundation fired its president and moved closer to Trumpism.

The Heritage Foundation replaced former president, Kay Coles James with Kevin Roberts, who, “most recently led the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation” and who “told the Heritage news organization, the Daily Signal, that his top three priorities at Heritage are ‘education, education, and education.'” “Roberts said he was among the most outspoken members of Gov. Greg Abbott’s… pandemic ‘state strike force’ in pushing for an end to coronavirus-related restrictions.”

Stein and Torbati fill in some history: “The Heritage Foundation has long shaped mainstream Republican policy in Washington. It drafted much of Ronald Reagan’s agenda to slash federal spending and launched a ferocious campaign to repeal Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act… The leadership changes mark a retreat from traditional but stodgy fiscal and foreign policy issues in favor of the hot-button education and vaccine debates that increasingly defined the Republican Party in the era of Trump.  The change also comes as Heritage is struggling to compete for right-wing dollars while new think tanks are cropping up around town, including several launched by such Trump acolytes as former White House budget chief Russ Vought and top domestic policy aide Brooke Rollins.”

Stein and Torbati explain the ideological pressures that have driven change at the Heritage Foundation: “Even as Heritage staffers cycled into the federal government to staff the Trump administration, the think tank found itself repeatedly at odds with then-President Trump’s allies. Heritage officials have long decried big government deficits, but Trump added nearly $8 trillion to the national debt, the most by any president. Trump also imposed enormously controversial tariffs on foreign countries, while Heritage has long advocated free trade. Trump took direct aim at the Silicon Valley giants who donate heavily to conservative causes, and Heritage experts criticized Trump’s attacks on China.”

The reporters describe how Fox News pressured for change at the Heritage Foundation: “Tucker Carlson, a Trump ally and arguably the most influential conservative voice in the country, often led the charge. In 2019, Carlson said Heritage ‘no longer represents the interest of conservatives’… In 2020, Carlson included James (then Heritage’s president) in a roundup of conservative leaders who ‘joined the left’s chorus’ in not strongly enough denouncing violence and property destruction at protests of the murder of George Floyd.  James, who is Black, wrote an op ed for Fox News… saying that she does ‘not condone the violence spreading across this country in response to Floyd’s horrific killing.’ She also condemned the ‘ugly racism that stains our nation’s history and afflicts us like a cancer of the soul.’ Carlson called the op-ed a ‘long screed denouncing America as an irredeemably racist nation.'”

Under Kevin Roberts’ new leadership, different priorities have emerged. Stein and Torbati report: “The Think tank is positioning itself to play a key role in the emerging flash points for the party. Roberts has made clear in several interviews that he views cultural questions—including over education and ‘critical race theory’—as top priorities.”

If you look at the Heritage Foundation website today, you will find myriad reports, commentaries, and videos setting up the attack on so called “critical race theory” in public schools.  Here is the inflammatory declaration at the top of the Foundation’s pages on “critical race theory”: “Critical race theory (CRT) makes race the prism through which its proponents analyze all aspects of American life, categorizing individuals into groups of oppressors and victims. It is a philosophy that is infecting everything from politics and education to the workplace and the military.”

It is clear that the position of the Heritage Foundation today is to promote racism itself as the prism through which everyone filters all aspects of American life.