In a revealing 2013 network promo, then-host Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC caused a stir by declaring, in the context of children’s education, “We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children: ‘Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility.’ We haven’t had a very collective notion that these are our children… We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

Conservative critics such as Glenn Beck pounced on this eyebrow-raising statement as evidence that the left is hostile to the sanctity of the nuclear family and has ideologically predatory designs on our children. Harris-Perry tried to backtrack, dismissing these concerns as overreactions and claiming she merely meant that we should all take responsibility for ensuring that our kids grow up in safe neighborhoods and good schools.

Had she phrased it that way in the promo, no one would have objected; who doesn’t want our kids to have safe neighborhoods and good schools? But she didn’t. She clearly, explicitly stated that our children and society are better served if we break the private bonds of the traditional family model, and instead adopt the collectivist view that kids should be shared by the entire community. In other words, as then-First Lady Hillary Clinton put it in a 1996 book title, “It Takes a Village” to raise our children.

Harris-Perry, who has a Ph.D. from Duke University and taught political science at Princeton, is no dummy. You don’t get to host your own political talk show on a major cable TV network unless you are skilled at articulating your messaging. And this was undoubtedly a carefully-scripted and -vetted network promo, not an off-the-cuff remark. It is difficult to believe that both she and MSNBC were clueless or careless about the content of its message. On the contrary – Harris-Perry’s disingenuous reassurances notwithstanding – this promo was crafted to signal to MSNBC’s Progressive audience that she and the network represent their forward-looking vision, as opposed to the hidebound worldview of the capitalist oppressors at Fox News.

Today’s Progressivism is simply rebranded communism, a central strategy of which was what Karl Marx openly labeled “the abolition of the family.” For Marx, the bourgeois family structure was inextricably linked to “private gain,” both of which must “vanish” to liberate humanity from its serfdom. “The family deprives the worker of revolutionary consciousness,” wrote Marxist theorist Aleksandra Kollontai, and therefore must be discarded. Marx’s co-author Friedrich Engels wrote that when the proletariat revolts and transfers the means of production to common ownership, “the single family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into a social industry. The care and education of the children becomes a public affair; society looks after all children alike, whether they are legitimate or not” [emphasis added]. This is the utopian ideal Melissa Harris-Perry was hinting at in her promo (the tagline for which was “Lean Forward”).

Communists single out the family for elimination because, as the fundamental bond of humanity, it is the most formidable line of defense against totalitarian state control, which is the inevitable end of any attempt to fashion a collectivist utopia. To destroy the family, the American left has undertaken a decades-long campaign to denigrate marriage and motherhood, to obliterate gender distinctions, to delegitimize traditional masculinity – and perhaps most importantly, to indoctrinate younger generations into a new, “woke” worldview that is at irreconcilable odds with the capitalist, Judeo-Christian value system of their parents and grandparents.

A half century ago, Progressive activists realized that the overthrow of the Establishment was most effectively brought about not through protest and violence, but via the “long march through the institutions” – particularly in the field of education. After all, children are the future, and the surest and most direct way to shape the future is to mold generations of impressionable young minds who are a captive audience for subversion and indoctrination. This is why domestic terrorists like Barack Obama mentor Bill Ayres and his (literal) partner-in-crime Bernardine Dohrn abandoned bombmaking for the Weather Underground and became respected, credentialed educators working primarily with children (Ayres earned two master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education and a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction; the law professor Dohrn is one of the founders of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law). You will recall that Melissa Harris-Perry, too, was a college educator.

This long march is otherwise known as cultural Marxism which, very simply put, is the application of Marxism not just to economics, where it does not work at all (see the failed state of Venezuela for one notable example), but to the culture, where it takes root exceedingly well. Cultural Marxism grew out of the “Critical Theory” developed in the 1930s and ‘40s by the Frankfurt School of intellectuals including such figures as Theodore Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse. It expands the oppressor-versus-oppressed paradigm of Marxism to apply not just to the working class, but to other groups purportedly marginalized under capitalism: blacks, gays, women, transgenders, and so forth. (The revolutionary left giddily realized at some point that these victim identities also can intersect, forming whole new classes of victimhood with their own unique resentments against the Establishment.)

The aim of Critical Theory is to relentlessly “critique,” as the name implies, every aspect of the social reality of the capitalist West, identify all its ills and power imbalances, and provide practical avenues for correcting those ills and righting injustices. Remaking the world – perfect this time – requires razing the old, flawed world to the ground in the cleansing fire of social justice wokeness, eradicating everything that came before: our history and heroes, our traditions and institutions, our worldview and morality, everything. When wedded to post-modernism, Critical Theory even leads to the repudiation of objective reality itself, as well as the denial of universal truths.

The Frankfurt School was vastly influential in academic circles. Its work was the basis for the proliferation of women’s studies, gay studies, black studies, “whiteness” studies, masculinity studies, and similar programs in social justice indoctrination dominating university campuses today. Not even the hard science departments have avoided infection from these insidious ideas. And thus, our institutions of higher learning have churned out, year after year, decade after decade, young students brainwashed into believing that Western civilization is not a beacon of freedom, prosperity, and progress, but the villain of history, the evil oppressor and exploiter of women, minorities, and non-Western cultures. These students believe America is exceptional only in the degree of its inherent racism, misogyny, and economic inequality.

From college, they then go on to populate positions of control in society: from human resource departments, to corporate boardrooms, to school administrations, to the news media, to Hollywood studios. There they implement their social justice agendas and enforce their identity politics demands, and the culture is steered away from traditional values and attitudes toward the collectivist aims of Progressivism. “Alarmingly, critical theory has burst forth from the walls of academia,” writes Gary Houchen at the Imaginative Conservative. “It is now the guiding philosophy behind much of the corporate world’s requisite ‘diversity,’ ‘sensitivity,’ and ‘bias’ trainings.”

But the cultural Marxism in our schools isn’t limited to higher education; it begins now in pre-kindergarten. The aim of Progressive educators is not to pass down to our youth the incredible cultural and intellectual legacy of our civilization, the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the past; it is not to cultivate their individual potential, nor to develop their critical thinking skills. All of those aims actually work against a revolutionary consciousness. Instead, their intent is to mold and mobilize social justice warriors, to propagandize them on issues for political activism long before they even enter college.

Hence the ubiquity in our schools of Howard Zinn’s mendacious, anti-American People’s History of the United States, the single most influential work of history in the last forty years. Likewise, the more recent dissemination of The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” a work whose stated aim is to reset the founding date of the United States from 1776 to 1619, the year slaves were first brought to America’s shores. The 1619 Project posits that America was founded in racist oppression, not in freedom, tainting its entire history and discrediting the country’s very essence. The conclusions of this program have been debunked by serious historians, and its scholarship has been judged so egregiously shoddy that the National Association of Scholars has called for the Pulitzer Prize awarded to lead writer Nikole Hannah-Jones to be rescinded. Too late: the 1619 Project is now part of a curriculum taught in more than 4,500 schools nationwide. As if that weren’t enough, Hollywood will be helping to spread its corrosive cultural influence. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey is backing a feature film based on it, and the New York Times plans to develop more movies and TV shows from it as well.

The 1619 Project is only part of the left’s obsessive race-mongering agenda in education. Our schools are being flooded by teachers’ union-sanctioned curricula from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization, founded by self-described trained Marxists, supposedly promoting “racial equity.” Until recently, BLM’s mission statement included a call (echoing Melissa Harris-Perry’s promo) to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children.” When that portion of the mission statement finally began to spark outrage, it was scrubbed from their website.

There will be no avoiding or opting out of this racial indoctrination in schools. Larry Sand, president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network, writes in “Indoctrifornia” about proposed legislation for an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) which would require students to take an ethnic studies class in order to graduate: “[T]he model curriculum approves of classes that stress modern day movements and intersectional struggles for social justice like the Immigrant Rights Movement, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Environmental Justice Movements, Feminist Movements, LGBTQIA Queer Movements, and others.” Sand concludes, “The ESMC is nothing more than a Marxist blueprint whose purpose is to indoctrinate California’s children.”

In addition, an offshoot of Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory (CRT), has swept through the culture seemingly overnight, with bestselling authors and race hustlers like Ibram X. Kendi (How to Be an Anti-Racist) and Robin DiAngelo (White Fragility) being celebrated as top “thought leaders” for asserting that “whiteness” is irredeemably racist and that America’s “systemic racism” is an undeniable reality. CRT is so polarizing that Kendi even claims there is no such thing as being neutrally “not racist,” that one is either racist or actively anti-racist. In a City Journal article titled “There is no Apolitical Classroom,” Max Eden explains, “Antiracism, in the current formulation, does not mean equal treatment of others; it is an all-encompassing ideology that demands constant questioning of one’s own actions and motives and the actions and motives of others, with total vigilance about one’s own purportedly implicit racial biases.” Even PBS’ long-running children’s show Sesame Street, which has always leaned Progressive, plans to air a special episode teaching children how to be “anti-racist.”

“Of all the ways identity politics is used as a tool to sow hatred among people where there should be the potential for friendship, ‘critical race theory’ is one of the gravest offenders,” writes Stella Morabito, the brilliant writer on propaganda and totalitarianism. “[T]he insidious ideology is being used to promote estrangement rather than friendship, and hostility rather than goodwill.” It “stokes divisions between people where few or none existed before.”

President Trump recently ordered the elimination of programs in the government promoting the divisive ideas of CRT. That is a good and important start, but presidential fiat is not enough to root out the evil of CRT already metastasizing in our schools. In Loudoun County, Virginia, for example, the school board is set to vote on a policy which does not use the term “Critical Race Theory” but which will essentially enforce it in the public and private lives of teachers and staff through a code of conduct. The policy would cover all communication by Loudoun County Schools’ employees, on campus or off, by telephone, in person, or on social media. Any kind of speech judged to be “undermining the views, positions, goals, policies or public statements” of the superintendent or the school board will not be tolerated.

Also in Virginia, a report commissioned by the Democratic Governor Ralph Northam recommends revamping Virginia’s school curriculum, all the way down to elementary school, to incorporate a narrative of white oppression of blacks as well as of native Americans. Similar narratives are being incorporated into schools all across the country.

CRT is even finding its way into religious school curricula. Joseph Klein at FrontPage Magazine reports that a Minnesota reform synagogue’s religious school program for grades 3-5 recommends that the children read One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia in order to “explore the topic of Racism in America through an age-appropriate novel.” Far from promoting racial harmony, the book “idealizes the violent Black Panther Party of the 1960s and glorifies a mother who abandoned her children to work for the cause of black power.”

The pernicious philosophy of Critical Race Theory is tearing the nation apart. Parents must be hyper-vigilant and confront it and stamp it out everywhere it rears its ugly head in our schools. It not only does not ease racial tensions, it exacerbates them. It is not eradicating racism, but creating racists on both sides of the color line. Of course, this is the intent; the race agitators of CRT and cultural Marxism, aided and abetted by a Progressive news media that has a vested interest in sowing discord and “rubbing raw the resentments of the people,” as infamous strategist Saul Alinsky phrased it, are not interested in ending racism but ultimately in dismantling Western civilization.

Again, the strategy is to turn the younger generation against its parents and their “incorrect” thinking. But the coronavirus pandemic, forcing school closures and creating a new normal of “remote learning,” may have exposed some formerly naïve parents to the disturbing degree of indoctrination going on in their children’s classes.

An English teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, for example, stirred controversy this August when he wrote in a Twitter thread that he was concerned about the “damage” that “helicopter parents” might cause if they overhear his lessons on topics such as gender and sexuality. “We’ll never be quite sure who is overhearing the discourse. What does this do for our equity/inclusion work?” he tweeted. “How much have students depended on the (somewhat) secure barriers of our physical classrooms to encourage vulnerability? How many of us have installed some version of ‘what happens here stays here’ to help this?”

He went on to say, “While conversations about race are in my wheelhouse, and remain a concern in this no-walls environment — I am most intrigued by the damage that ‘helicopter/snowplow’ parents can do in the host conversations about gender/sexuality. And while ‘conservative’ parents are my chief concern — I know that the damage can come from the left too. If we are engaged in the messy work of destabilizing a kid’s racism or homophobia or transphobia — how much do we want their classmates’ parents piling on?”

Parents would rightly be suspicious of a teacher who was trying to keep them in the dark about what he is teaching their kids. But then, Progressive teachers don’t believe parents are the legitimate or appropriate authorities of their own children; indeed, those teachers believe their social justice obligation is to liberate students from their parents’ outdated attitudes and to deprogram them.

Similarly, in August, Rutherford County School district in Tennessee was called out for asking parents to sign a form agreeing not to eavesdrop on kids’ virtual classes, purportedly over concerns they might overhear confidential information. Eventually the district consented to allow parents to tune in with permission from the teacher but not to allow them to record the classes. “What are they trying to hide?” asked one homeschooling mom. “What is the problem? Why won’t they let us sit in? Obviously, because they are teaching our children propaganda that they should not be teaching,” she added.

It doesn’t take a village to raise our children. As Senator Rick Santorum put it in his 2005 book title, “It Takes a Family.” Strong families and a culture that values and supports them will keep the totalitarianism of the left’s utopian vision at bay. For those of us who love our civilization and our liberty, restoring such a culture will require a long march of our own through the institutions now dominated by the left. The alternative is America’s descent into a collectivist dystopia. Take Melissa Harris-Perry at her word: the left wants to take our children. Don’t let them.

Headshot of Mark Tapson

Mark Tapson is a writer, screenwriter, culture critic, and political commentator. The Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center, he has written nearly a thousand articles about the intersection of culture and politics for FrontPage Magazine, Breitbart News, PJ Media, National Review, The New Criterion, and elsewhere. Among the numerous films Mark has worked on are The Path to 9/11 and the award-winning documentary Jihad in America: The Grand Deception. He is currently adapting two books for the big screen. Mark is also the author of a forthcoming book on the war on masculinity from Templeton Press.