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OPINION | DANA KELLEY: Critical integrity theory

by Dana Kelley | October 15, 2021 at 2:59 a.m.

The definition of integrity is unambiguous: It's the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.

Integrity is widely accepted as a virtuous attribute, and credited as foundational to almost every human achievement considered worthwhile. All major religions emphasize it as a godly trait, and even atheists point to it as the humanist feature that can be honed to a caliber that renders belief in a higher power moot.

Integrity shapes everything. Its presence enhances all things, its absence spoils all things. It is superior to deterrence in combating crime, and superior to company policies in delivering employee productivity.

Among those who founded and devised our form of free government, integrity was considered essential to our continued success and prosperity as a country. Part of the rebellion against England included an aggressive and affirmative repudiation of the corrupt and amoral European aristocracies.

In the early years of the republic, mentions of integrity were made in the form of absolutes. George Washington called religion and morality "indispensable," and the "necessary spring" of popular government. John Adams said public virtue was "the only foundation" of republics.

Universally, education was believed to be the instrument to ensure the development of integrity and private morality that could propagate public virtue. In fact, education that failed to deliver integrity was viewed as no education at all--or worse. Knowledge without integrity, Samuel Johnson said, "is dangerous and dreadful."

Given its indisputable importance, who is teaching kids today what integrity is, why it's critically important and how to develop it?

The traditional sources used to be church, family and school. But the percentage of adults who are religiously unaffiliated (termed "nones" because that's the answer given when asked about church affiliation) has nearly tripled in the last 20 years. Only one in three millennials belongs to a church; it's unlikely their children attend Sunday School regularly.

Drugs and crime have helped decimate millions of families, and of the more than 5 million children with a parent in jail or prison, two out of three will wind up in trouble with the law themselves.

And public schools have done a total 180 when compared to the integrity-strengthening lessons of the century-long, best-selling McGuffey Readers textbooks.

Formal education is a true zero-sum enterprise: there are only so many instruction hours and class periods in a day, and only so many days in a school year. Curriculum selection is thus frequently either/or, which rightly invites high scrutiny.

That's one of the main reasons 34 states have either banned or are in the process of banning the precepts of critical race theory (CRT) from classrooms.

Proponents of CRT have been trying to build credibility by claiming it has been around for 30 years, which is true in that it's been a fringe theory conceived around 1989. Among its many problematic assumptions is the idea that race is a "social construct."

The average person would be hard-pressed to explain that phrase; social constructionism is precisely the kind of psychobabble that might be useful occasionally for abstract contexts, but quickly loses itself in practical applications. By its own definition, virtually everything is a social construct: colors, money, family, illness, religion, even time.

Its intellectual weakness was ironically showcased in 1996, when physics professor Alan Sokal submitted an incomprehensible, "salted with nonsense" (but jargon-filled) article to Social Text, just to see whether the academic journal would publish it--which it did.

When I Googled the phrase "critical integrity theory," the gargantuan search engine returned a rarity: no results. That spells opportunity.

What our schools and our kids need is a switch from CRT to CIT.

Critical race theory is inherently divisive, and attempts to win arguments through a mishmash of illogical, statistical manipulation. To ignore all other factors and only compare outcomes by skin color requires constantly measuring everything only by skin color, which can only result in a perpetual division of all things by skin color.

Critical integrity theory would serve to actually improve all aspects of society and citizenship. The higher the focus and value on integrity, the more it will remedy crippling social maladies such as crime, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence and child abuse. Even on the subject of racism, higher individual integrity is a more potent corrective force than public policy.

Every minute spent arguing over CRT, and every classroom breath wasted over it, is one that could be spent promoting integrity.

In practical terms, integrity is the opposite of politicized narratives like CRT. It is a source of empowerment and enlightenment that emphasizes responsibilities for life and liberty, rather than assigning victim mentalities to whole classes of people.

Properly taught and understood, integrity is more valuable than victory and more defining than material measures. It's bigger than petty circumstances and shines brightest in the smallest acts.

If you're a good person when nobody is watching, you make the country greater.

That's the core of critical integrity theory. Returning integrity to a priority as part of education will improve studies and learning as well as character.

As Dwight Eisenhower said, without it, no real success in anything is possible.

Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

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