Guest Commentary By Tom Argersinger
Head Administrator, Veritas Christian Academy
Over the course of this school year, I have received a number of requests for more detail regarding the definition of the term “critical theory” as the phrase has been used frequently over the last few months. There is much information out there on this topic, but I will begin to unpack it in this post.
In short, a “critical theory” has a distinctive aim: to unmask the ideology (set of ideas) falsely justifying some form of social or economic oppression—to reveal it…and, in so doing, to contribute to the task of ending that oppression. (Sourced on 9/28/21 at Marx & Critical Theory | Philosophy)
Here’s my take on the great challenges that the widespread use of critical theory, and it’s popular cousin, critical race theory, bring to our society, and particularly to education:
It oversimplifies the problem of oppression.
The roots of critical theory are found in the writings of Karl Marx, the German philosopher and economist, who assumed that human political life, and all of history, should be viewed through the lens of “power.” He assumed there is a wide difference between the “oppressors” and the “oppressed,” and that the oppressed people should work actively to bring down the oppressors who are exerting power over them.
Looking at history through only one lens tends to make us short-sighted, and leads us to miss important cause and effect relationships that don’t fit with our preconceived notion of how a historical event, political system or human condition should be viewed.
It roots the response to the problem of oppression in a non-Biblical worldview.
Critical theory is closely related to post-modernism, a philosophy that rejects the idea of absolute or objective truth, and replaces it with the belief that we construct our own reality from the inside out our ability as humans to discover truth and knowledge in the world around us.
So why is critical theory and its kin so dangerous?
Because these ideas are being intentionally and openly perpetuated through the three most influential centers of our culture:
- Teaching and learning in public and many private schools, Kindergarten through college
- Entertainment and the arts
- The media, especially social media
These three sectors provide a powerful and pervasive platform for the central tenets of a worldview that, in reality, is a complete game-changer for society, because it feeds our sinful desire to be the center of all things and the one who ultimately decides what is true and good.
The Big Picture
For nearly 200 years, a basic Christian perspective held sway in American culture and society. This perspective served to balance the natural human tendency to “make ourselves little gods” and see everything from our own reference point.
Unfortunately, since the turn of the century America has become increasingly “post-Christian.” Ideas related to critical theory and postmodernism are rapidly taking root, and have in fact become the new governing ideas in our culture.
Nature abhors a vacuum and so do societies. Therefore, if Christianity is no longer the guiding worldview of our society, then something must take its place.
Critical theory, and its cousins critical race theory and revisionist history, altered textbooks and the bold redefinition of basic terms (such as “women” or “man”), fits the bill nicely as a replacement worldview for society.
Why? This worldview allows us humans to fulfill our greatest desire: to be “like God” (See Genesis 3:5 ). It gives us a reason to do what is right in our own eyes, without fear of real accountability for our beliefs, convictions and actions.
So why should we care?
Well, as parents and educators we should deeply care, because there is no such thing as “neutral” education. All teaching arises from a worldview, or way of seeing the important things in the world.
How we answer the “Eternal Questions” (What is True, Real, Good and Beautiful) literally defines the bedrock upon which our teaching and learning rest.
God, as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, gets to decide on definitions. He decides what is True, Right, Beautiful, and Real. In fact, He Himself is the definition of those four central aspects of existence: He is Truth, He is Rightness (or Good), He is Beauty, He is Real.
In closing, I ask this question: How can a society possibly hang together and not simply blow apart if there are no mutually agreeable standards?
The answer seems to be a “self-evident truth:” totally autonomous individuals do not make for a peaceful, prosperous and truly successful society.
I strongly urge you to check out this link to a great article by Pastor Tim Keller. He unpacks in more detail what I have tried to do here:
Tim Keller – A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory
Thank you for reading this long post. Pray with us at Veritas Christian Academy that God would continue to give us strength, clarity and wisdom as we daily pursue our mission of educating high school students through a Biblical worldview education.
May God give you wisdom as you parent and lead your children towards Jesus.