crucible (noun): 1. a pot in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature 2. a difficult test or challenge
“We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment,” says Deputy Governor Danforth, the man who oversees the Salem witch trials in Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible.”
Mr. Danforth is, in a word, uncompromising in his mission to prosecute accused witches. His view of the world contains no uncertainty:
“But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time – we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world.”
It was Danforth’s arrogant self-assurance that struck a chord with me while we read “The Crucible” in my 11th grade English class this fall. It reminded me of what was happening in nearby Guilford.
Over the summer, a slate of five alternative candidates won the Republican primary for the school board’s open positions. Their goal was to rid Guilford schools of Critical Race Theory (CRT), a framework that critics have termed an “anti-white, radical leftist agenda [that] is being used by public schools to indoctrinate students.”
The CT Examiner reported that Danielle Scarpellino, one of the GOP candidates, said in her nominating speech “that she felt the current Board of Education had shown an ‘inability to oversee our superintendent Paul Freeman’ and said that she would ‘ensure that [the children’s] education is free from all indoctrination.’”
Curiously, the new slate of GOP candidates offered no tangible evidence that Critical Race Theory – originally developed for law students in the 1970s – is employed in Guilford schools. Ambiguous anecdotes and innuendo were offered, but any connections to CRT were tangential, at best. Indeed, the charges were not unlike the “spectral evidence” that led to the hanging of accused witches in Salem.
“At a certain point, the high court of the province made the fatal decision to admit, for the first time, the use of ‘spectral evidence’ as proof of guilt,” explained playwright Miller. “Spectral evidence, so aptly named, meant that if I swore that you had sent out your ‘familiar spirit’ to choke, tickle, or poison me or my cattle, or to control my thoughts and actions, I could get you hanged unless you confessed to having had contact with the Devil.”
Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible” as an allegory for another “witch hunt,” namely, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s pursuit of communists in the mid-20th century. Miller found himself in the crosshairs of McCarthy’s inquisition but would not give in to the power-hungry politician’s fear-mongering. Miller refused to name suspected communists in 1956 and was charged with contempt of court, a charge later reversed by the Supreme Court. As for McCarthy, he was eventually censured by colleagues and died a “broken man” in 1957.
The connections between McCarthyism, “The Crucible,” and the CRT saga in Guilford are conspicuous. Each involves self-righteous judges who accuse innocent suspects of fabricated indiscretions, a scenario that often leads to mob mentality. The Republican candidates in Guilford could very well be Joseph McCarthy or the Salem judges; the potentially triggered residents of Guilford, the frightened citizens during the Red Scare or the terrified residents of Salem.
Just as McCarthyism faded and the terror in Salem subsided, the anti-CRT candidates were defeated. An impressive 60% of Guilford voters turned out on Nov. 2 and rejected all of the GOP candidates, opting instead for a “fusion ticket” of two Democrats and three unaffiliated candidates. Cooler heads – rational, thinking heads – prevailed. But the controversy left an indelible mark.
Many see the anti-CRT movement as a red herring, a decoy created to distract the public from a wider agenda. True, eight states have adopted outright bans on what they call Critical Race Theory and another 15 states are considering limits on classroom discussions of race. But additional goals have been noted, including banning books, providing parents the means to police teachers, and packing school board meetings to gain overall political influence.
Once again, the parallels between “The Crucible” and Guilford’s anti-CRT candidates become clear: Opportunists drum up fear, startle the public, and deter any sense of reason.
The classic “Twilight Zone” episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” depicts this scenario in chilling fashion. As aliens observe the havoc they have wreaked in a neighborhood with the simple introduction of fear and doubt, one alien says to another, “Throw them into darkness for a few hours and then sit back and watch the pattern … They pick the most dangerous enemies they can find, and it’s themselves. All we need do is sit back and watch.”
Anti-CRT activists are sitting back and watching right now.