And today the scores still routinely fail Black and Brown people while passing whites thus barring many people of color from graduation or college entrance.
However, describing such a state of affairs as “racist” has been criticized by a self-described anti-woke backlash.
People as diverse as Fox News correspondents, old school neoliberals and contrarian progressive academicians have taken arms together to fight against what they see as an overstatement of the degree of racism present in modern America and an attack on free speech.
“…an old-school Black progressive who doesn’t hide his disdain for white liberals and what he considers their Black enablers in academia and the culture. He argues that the anti-racism movement of the “elected” is more performative than intellectually serious and that the white allies who provide the shock troops at universities and street rallies are just as gross as white supremacists because their virtue signaling hides their condescension.”
Ultimately Norman concludes, “I agreed with so much of what the writer had to say about specific hypocrisies of white saviors while disagreeing with much of its premise.”
As a white person, I make no judgment on McWhorter’s overall thesis because I don’t feel qualified to do so.
However, as a classroom educator with more than two decades experience teaching mostly poor and minority students, I feel qualified to address the issue of testing.
The very term “standardized test” means an assessment based around a standard. It privileges the kinds of questions white students are more likely to get correct. After all, that’s how test questions are chosen – not based on the quality of the question but on whether the majority (i.e. white people) get the questions right and the minority (i.e. people of color and others) consistently get it wrong.
It’s not just about knowing math. It’s about knowing the cultural terms, shared experiences and assumptions the math question is embedded in.
McWhorter sees nothing wrong in this. He thinks people of color simply need the tools necessary to pass the tests even if that means being taught to respond as a white person would and to make the same linguistic assumptions and have the same cultural knowledge as privileged white people.
I think it’s kind of sad that in McWhorter’s view Black people would have to engage in such a radical and complete double consciousness or more likely give up their own uniqueness and assimilate as much as possible just to be considered the equal of a white person.
However, another thing he doesn’t seem to understand is that even if he got his wish and the playing field were level giving all children the same chances on the tests, it wouldn’t change a thing.
These exams are made up of multiple choice questions. This is not the best way to determine whether learning has taken place on complex topics. How a linguist could ever suppose even the most rudimentary subtleties of meaning could be captured by a simple A, B, C and D is beyond me.
Wittgenstein, Jakobson, Chomsky… all just so you could choose between a narrow set of prewritten answers!?
“And yet it is considered beyond the pale to discuss getting the kids up to speed: Instead we are to change the standards—the current idea is to bring GPA, performance on a state test, and even attendance into the equation as well. What an honor to black kids to have attendance treated as a measure of excellence. What’s next, rhythm?”
However, it’s not a matter of adding ridiculous or insulting data to the mix to make Black kids look better. It’s about adding enough data to give a clear enough picture of a student’s learning.
At best a standardized test is a snapshot of a student’s learning. It shows what a student answers on a single day or even two or three. By contrast, grade point average (GPA) is made up of student assessments (informal, formal, formative and summative) over the course of 360 some days.
These tests are not just immoral because they’re racist, but they’re bad at the act of fairly assessing.
And part of the reason for that is their embedded prejudice.
An assessment that unfairly singles out certain groups not because of their lack of knowledge of the subject being tested but their different enculturation and lack of similar opportunities as the dominant culture can never be a good assessment.
But even if they didn’t do that, they would be like using a pencil to eat soup.
The systems of our society matter. Using the right tool matters.
Whether we call an appreciation of these facts being “woke,” “antiracist” or anything else does not.
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Description: The title says it all. Stop wasting teachers’ time by making us fill out paperwork that won’t help us do our jobs but will make administrators and principals look good. We make our own plans for ourselves. We don’t need to share with you a bunch of BS with Common Core nonsense and step-by-step blah-blah that will probably have to change in the heat of the moment anyway.
Fun Fact: Teachers in my building rarely say anything to me about my blog. But I got some serious appreciation on my home turf for this one.
Description: We talk about missing teachers, subs, aides, bus drivers, but not parents or guardians. We should. They are absolutely essential to student learning. I think there are a lot of good reasons why parents don’t participate in their children’s schooling, but they will never get the help they need if we continue to ignore this issue and throw everything on teachers and the school.
Fun Fact: So many liberals lost their minds on this article saying I was attacking parents. I’m not. If people were drowning, you would not be attacking them by pointing that out and demanding help fishing them out of the water. It is not “deficit thinking” to acknowledge that someone needs help. It’s authentic advocacy for both students and parents.
Description: It wasn’t just liberals who were butt hurt by my writing – it was neoliberals, too. Comedian Bill Maher actually mentioned my article “Standardized Testing is a Tool of White Supremacy” on his HBO show. He joked that I was devaluing the term ‘white supremacy.” Sure. These assessments only help white people unfairly maintain their collective boot on the throats of black and brown people. That’s not white supremacy. It’s melanin deficient hegemony. Happy now!?
Fun Fact: Maher’s assertion (I can’t claim it’s an argument because he never actually argued for anything) seems to be popular with neoliberals trying to counter the negative press standardized testing has been receiving lately. We need to arm against this latest corporate talking point and this article and the original give plenty of ammunition. My article was republished on Alternet and CommonDreams.org.
Description: Most of the world does not have competitive after school sports. Kids participate in sports through clubs – not through the schools. I suggested we might do that in the US, too. This would allow schools to use more of their budgets on learning. It would stop crucial school board decisions from being made for the athletics department at the expense of academics. It would remove litigation for serious injuries. Simple. Right?
Fun Fact: So many folks heads simply exploded at this. They thought I was saying we should do away with youth sports. No. Youth sports would still exist, just not competitive sports through the school. They thought poor kids wouldn’t be able to participate. No, sports clubs could be subsidized by the government just as they are in other countries. Some folks said there are kids who wouldn’t go to school without sports. No, that’s hyperbole. True, some kids love sports but they also love socialization, routine, feeling safe, interaction with caring adults and even learning! But I know this is a radical idea in this country, and I have no illusions that anyone is going to take me up on it.
Description: Republicans have a new racist dog whistle. They pretend white people are being taught to hate themselves by reference to a fake history of the US called Critical Race Theory. In reality, schools are teaching the tiniest fraction of the actual history of racism and Republicans need that to stop or else they won’t have any new members in a few generations. I wrote three articles about it this year from different points of view than I thought were being offered elsewhere.
Fun Fact: I’m proud of this work. It looks at the topic from the viewpoint of academic freedom, the indoctrination actually happening (often at taxpayer expense) at private and parochial schools, and the worthy goal of education at authentic public schools. Article B was republished on CommonDreams.org.
Description: I ran for office this year in western Pennsylvania. I tried for Allegheny County Council – a mid-sized position covering the City of Pittsburgh and the rest of the second largest county in the state. Ultimately, I lost, but these three articles document the effort.
Fun Fact: These articles explain why a teacher like me ran for office, how I could have helped public schools, and why it didn’t work out. Article C was republished on CommonDreams.org.
Description: These are terrifying times. In the future people may look back and wonder what happened. These two articles document how I got vaccinated against Covid-19 and my thoughts and feelings about the process, the pandemic, and life in general.
Fun Fact: It hasn’t even been a full year since I wrote these pieces but they somehow feel like they were written a million years ago. So much has changed – and so little.
Description: Pennsylvania Republican state legislators were whining that they didn’t know what teachers were doing in public school. So they proposed a BS law demanding teachers spend even more of their never-ending time giving updates. I suggested legislators could just volunteer as subs and see for themselves.
Fun Fact: So far no Republicans have taken me up on the offer and their cute bit of performative lawmaking still hasn’t made it through Harrisburg.
Description: When it comes to stopping a global pandemic, we need federal action. This can’t be left up to the states, or the counties, or the townships or every small town. But all we get from the federal government about Covid mitigation in schools are guidelines. Stand up and do your F-ing jobs! Make some rules already, you freaking cowards!
Fun Fact: As I write this, President Joe Biden just came out and said there is no federal solution to the pandemic. It’s not that I think the other guy would have done better, but this was a softball, Joe. History will remember. If there is a history after all this is over.
Description: On January 6, a bunch of far right traitors stormed the Capitol. This articles documents what it was like to experience that as a public school teacher with on-line classes during the pandemic.
Fun Fact: Once again, history may want to know. Posterity may have questions. At least, I hope so. The article was republished on CommonDreams.org.
Gadfly’s Other Year End Round Ups
This wasn’t the first year I’ve done a countdown of the year’s greatest hits. I usually write one counting down my most popular articles and one listing articles that I thought deserved a second look (like this one). Here are all my end of the year articles since I began my blog in 2014:
It’s almost the poster child for why we shouldn’t ban books in the first place. The story is set in a dystopian society where everyone is raised to be the same and people are discouraged from questioning things or having deep feelings.
The book is most often challenged because parents don’t want their children to have to wrestle with its deep social criticism.
”Submitting to censorship is to enter the seductive world of ‘The Giver’: the world where there are no bad words and no bad deeds. But it is also the world where choice has been taken away and reality distorted. And that is the most dangerous world of all.”
Nothing is graphic or developmentally inappropriate for middle schoolers, but the very idea of children thinking about S-E-X and challenging authority is enough to put it afoul of some censors.
Which is exactly why my students love it.
Too often teachers give students short passages taken from standardized tests where the only reason to read is to hunt for multiple choice answers. It’s dry, boring and meaningless to their everyday lives.
It’s a classic detective story where the characters try to discover why a young teen, Branwell, refuses to speak after his baby sister suffers a potentially life threatening injury.
The plot grabs readers from the beginning and students find themselves really invested in unraveling the mystery. But to do so they come face-to-face with topics ranging from family, divorce, death, bigotry, sexuality and exploitation.
For example, in Act II, scene 1, she mentions getting her period for the first time:
“There is one great change, however. A change within myself. I read somewhere that girls of my age don’t feel quite certain of themselves. That they become quiet within and begin to think of the miracle that is taking place in their bodies. I think what is happening to me is so wonderful… not only what can be seen, but what is taking place inside. Each time it has happened I have the feeling that I have a sweet secret… and in spite of any pain, I long for that time when I shall feel that secret within me again.”
My students often read over this passage without comment. I usually have to draw their attention to it and ask them what Anne is talking about before someone gets it.
You might be surprised at how freeing this kind of discourse is. Menstruation is a natural part of life for nearly half the population, but it’s something we don’t often talk about.
It’s not central to the story and Anne certainly goes into greater detail in her actual diary. However, even this little digression goes to further humanize her and make her relatable, especially to people like my students who are nearly the same age she was when she wrote it.
She becomes so much more than a victim. She’s someone we know – inside and out.
It tells the story of Atticus Finch, a white lawyer in the 1930s Alabama who defends Tom Robinson, a black man, of a crime he did not commit. The story is told from the point of view of the lawyer’s children who go from blissful naivety to uncomfortable understanding.
It’s still an issue, and I make sure not to have myself or any of the students read these parts aloud. We only hear it on an audiobook as we follow along in the text. And even this only comes after we discuss how hurtful that word is.
However, the language isn’t the book’s biggest sticking point today. It’s more often objected to these days on the basis of white saviorism. Critics complain that the narrative should be centered on Tom, the black man accused of the crime, and not Atticus, the defense attorney and his children.
By the end of the book, my whole class – regardless of race – is devastated by what happens to Tom and furious at the injustice he experiences. To be honest, that might not happen to the same degree in a book that signals its message right from the beginning.
In my classroom, the book allows us to discuss so many intersectional issues – gender, economics, belief systems, etc. Plus it gives my students more cultural capital than other texts would. Having read “Mockingbird” allows them to understand more and talk to more people than other more modern books.
He was content to speak in a smarmy tone and make a pretty lame joke about what a racially biased test question might look like.
In fact, that’s probably why he (and his staff) picked my piece in the first place. They saw it as an opportunity to make a joke and whiffed at it pretty terribly.
Here’s the relevant bit of his monologue:
“In 2010 the New York Times used the term “White Supremacist” on 75 occasions. Last year, over 700 times. Now some of that to be sure is because Trump came along and emboldened the faction of this country that is truly white supremacist. It is of course still a real thing. But it shouldn’t apply to something like – as more than a few have suggested – getting rid of the SAT test. Now if we find the SAT test is slanted in such a way as to stack the deck in favor of Caucasians, if there are questions like Biff and Chip are sailing a yacht traveling at 12 knots to an Ed Sheeran concert on Catalina – if Catalina is 12 miles away, how many White Claws should they bring? Yes, then maybe. But of course the SAT doesn’t have questions like that so it becomes a kind of ludicrous exaggeration that makes lovers of common sense roll their eyes – and then vote for Trump.”
Queue audience laughter and applause.
Funny stuff I guess.
Not the comedy staff’s fake SAT question but Maher’s assurance that “The SAT doesn’t have questions like that.”
It’s a real SAT question famously discussed in the infamous 1994 book, The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray – a book that tried to use discrepancies in test scores to prove white people are smarter than black people.
The answer is C, and it relies on a test taker’s knowing the meaning of regatta – something more likely to have come up in the daily lives of affluent white students than in the lives of less affluent minority students. If you don’t live by a body of water and/or don’t have much experience with rowing, you’re probably going to fail this question.
It’s the same kind of question Maher’s comedy team came up with – find something white people are more likely to know than black people – but the Real Time writers just pilled it on over-and-over.
It doesn’t take five repetitions of something to make it biased. All it takes is one.
To be fair, my example is from the SAT analogy section, which was removed from the test in 2005. However, that doesn’t mean they got rid of the bias.
They are literally trying to make up for how biased their test scores are.
Total SAT scores range from 400 to 1600 – or from 200-800 in both Math and Reading respectively.
According to 2018 data, combined SAT scores for Asian and White students average over 1100, while all other groups average below 1000. Meanwhile, students with family income less than $20,000 score lowest on the test, and those with family income above $200,000 scored highest, according to 2015 data. And the difference is significant – a 433 average Reading score for those with the lowest family incomes compared to an average Reading score of 570 for those with the highest family income. That’s a 137 point difference!
And it holds for racial groups, too. The average Reading score on the SAT was 429 for black students – 99 points behind the average for white students.
However, the College Board is trying to justify this by saying the discrepancy is because poor and minority students are more disadvantaged than white, affluent ones. In other words, it’s not the test that is unfair, but American society in providing better resourced schools with lower class sizes and more resources for white kids than children of color.
Freedle says this is because SAT questions likely reflect the cultural expressions that are used commonly in the dominant (white) society, so white students have an edge based not on education or study skills or aptitude, but because they are most likely growing up around white people.
This makes sense if you examine how test questions are selected for the SAT. In his book How the SAT Creates Built-in-Headwinds, national admissions-test expert, Jay Rosner, explains the process:
“Compare two 1998 SAT verbal [section] sentence-completion items with similar themes: The item correctly answered by more blacks than whites was discarded by the Educational Testing Service, whereas the item that has a higher disparate impact against blacks became part of the actual SAT. On one of the items, which was of medium difficulty, 62% of whites and 38% of African-Americans answered correctly, resulting in a large impact of 24%…On this second item, 8% more African-Americans than whites answered correctly…”
In other words, the criteria for whether a question is chosen for future tests is if it replicates the outcomes of previous exams – specifically tests where students of color score lower than white children. And this is still the criteria test makers use to determine which questions to use on future editions of nearly every assessment in wide use in the US.
But if all this isn’t enough to convince you that standardized tests really are a tool of white supremacy, consider their sordid history.
They are literally the product of the American eugenics movement.
Modern testing comes out of Army IQ tests developed during World War I.
These assessments were based on explicitly eugenicist foundations – the idea that certain races were distinctly superior to others. In 1923, one of the men who developed these intelligence tests, Carl Brigham, took these ideas further in his seminal work A Study of American Intelligence. In it, he used data gathered from these IQ tests to argue the following:
“The decline of American intelligence will be more rapid than the decline of the intelligence of European national groups, owing to the presence here of the negro. These are the plain, if somewhat ugly, facts that our study shows. The deterioration of American intelligence is not inevitable, however, if public action can be aroused to prevent it.”
Is it ridiculous to describe the century long racial and economic discrepancy in test scores as something that supports white supremacy – especially when these results are shown time and again to be a feature of the tests and not just an artifact that recreates economic inequality?
Is it going too far to call out the racism of the SAT and other standardized tests like it when even the College Board admits its own scores are biased?
Does it devalue the term “White Supremacy” to point out real world white supremacy?
But Maher apparently isn’t interested in these questions.
After a few moments he moved on to another example of the left gone wild.
But I can’t do that because this isn’t just a bit for me.
Districts that aren’t experiencing a shortage may require a teaching certificate as well, but beggars can’t be choosers. In districts where it is hard to get subs (i.e. those serving poor and minority kids) you can get emergency certified for a year.
And many states are lowering the bar even further!
Not only would lawmakers have a chance to look over teacher’s lesson plans, but they’d get detailed instructions from the absent teacher about how to actually teach the lesson!
They’d get to interact with principals as they’re told which additional classes they have to cover in their planning periods and which extra duties they’d be responsible for performing.
They’d get to do things like monitor the halls, breakfast and lunch duty, watch over in-school suspension, and – if they’re lucky – they might even get to attend a staff meeting and be front row center for all the educational initiatives being conducted in the school!
If our representatives took this opportunity, they would learn so much!
I mean, sure, we encourage kids to stand for the pledge to the flag and things like that but when it comes to telling them how to think – that’s not a public school thing. That’s a private and parochial school thing.
They’d see that public school lessons give students information on a subject but then ask them to come to their own conclusions about it.
In fact, this would be such an educational experience, I think legislators on both sides of the aisle should take advantage of this unique opportunity.
And not even just those in Harrisburg. What better way for school directors to understand the institutions they’re overseeing than to volunteer as subs? What better way for the mayor and city council to understand the needs of children than putting themselves in the classroom when the teacher can’t be there?
It could make them better public servants who craft legislation that would actually do some good in this world and not – like Lewis – just showboat to enrage partisans and stoke them to vote for people willing to feed their fears and prejudices.
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Not only that but the very land we stand on was once the domain of dark-skinned indigenous people.
People who were tricked, coerced and killed if they did not give up this land – if they did not move on to ever shrinking corners of the continent until they were almost all dead, assimilated or stashed away on reservations.
What would it do to a white child to learn all this?
Provide an accurate account of events, I suppose.
These people terrified that children will learn about racism – I don’t think it’s facts that they’re trying to deny.
I mean I’m sure they would certainly like to gloss over the ugliest atrocities committed by their ancestors, but they don’t really seem to dispute the story of conquest that makes up our founding. It’s more the way the facts are being presented.
History is written by the winners and these white people won.
That’s not what they want to hide.
It’s the TONE in which the story is told.
If we talked about the ingenuity of white people in colonizing these others, they might find that tolerable.
If we talked about how great the white people were and how bad the brown and black people were, that might be acceptable.
Even if we spun a tall tale about how subjugating these others was really in their best interests in the long run, that would be okay.
We can’t humanize them by looking at things from their point of view.
We can’t empathize or admit wrongdoing in any way.
In fact, that’s the problem, they say, with public schools.
That’s what they object to.
Public schools teach what it was like to live as an enslaved person. How you could be beaten and murdered with no cause. How you had no rights to anything. How your own children were likewise doomed to a life of servitude and could even be taken away from you never to be seen again.
And not just that but they’re teaching about Jim Crow. They’re teaching about how even after slavery, black people’s rights were almost nonexistent. How they were denied an education, kept in menial jobs, red-lined into ghettos, and often lynched without the slightest provocation.
When children hear about all that, they start to get ideas.
Even the white kids.
It’s not just the history of racism these children are learning, but they’re starting to think that racism is WRONG.
And that’s a problem because it has an impact on how we view the modern world today.
Because there are still black and brown people in the United States.
They make up about 40% of the population and still protest the way they’re treated.
Even if we did as these people want, it would still be up to their kids to make the same twisted conclusions as their parents. They don’t just want us to refrain from pointing in any given direction, but to stop providing counter examples and facts so their kids can’t come to an educated decision.
My 12-year-old daughter just had a nightmare, and I was sitting on her bed trying to calm her down.
“What’s wrong, Sweetie?”
“I’m worried about school.”
That’s something with which I can certainly relate.
Even after teaching for 18 years, I always get anxious before the first day of school, and I told her as much.
“Really?” She said.
“Yeah. But I can understand why you might be even more nervous than usual. I’ll be teaching the same thing I’ve taught for years. I’ll be in the same classroom working with the same adults. Only the students will be different. But you will be in a new building with new teachers…. And you haven’t even been in a classroom in over a year.”
“That’s just it, Daddy. What if the other kids make fun of me for wearing a mask? What if I get sick?”
Our local district is reopening in a week with a mask optional policy and no vaccine requirements.
Her question was expected, but I had been dreading it.
I knew my answers and they sounded inadequate – even to me.
I explained how she would be wearing a mask and is fully vaccinated so it will be extremely unlikely for her to get sick. And even if she does, it will be extremely unlikely she’ll get VERY sick.
“And if the other kids make fun of you, just ignore it. You are going to be safe. If they take chances, they’ll just have to suffer the consequences.”
It seemed to satisfy her, but I left her room feeling like a bad parent.
Even in the Pittsburgh region where we live, the number of kids hospitalized with Covid at UPMC Children’s Hospital has nearly doubled in the last week, according to KDKA. That’s 50 hospitalizations in the past month including 20 in the last week.
When you’re already living paycheck-to-paycheck, that’s not much of an option.
I just don’t understand it.
Don’t my daughter and I have rights?
We hear a lot about the anti-maskers and the anti-vaxxers. A lot about their rights. What about our right to safe schools?
Why is it that the right NOT to wear a mask supersedes the right to go to a school where everyone is required to wear one?
Because it isn’t – as I told my daughter – a matter of everyone having to deal with just the consequences of their own actions. My daughter and I have to deal with the consequences of everyone else’s actions, too.
Or to put it another way – if one person pees in the pool, we’re all swimming in their urine.
If someone else doesn’t wear a mask, hasn’t been vaccinated and hasn’t taken the proper precautions, they can spread the Covid-19 virus through the air and infect whole classrooms of people.
Everyone else could be wearing a mask. It just takes one person who isn’t.
Is it fair that everyone else has to pay the price for one person’s carelessness?
We talk about rights so much we seem to have lost entirely the idea of responsibilities. They go hand-in-hand.
Yes, you have the freedom to do whatever you like so long as it doesn’t hurt another person.
When your actions do hurt others, you have a responsibility to stop. And if you won’t do that, the government has a responsibility to stop you.
But in this anti-intellectual age, we’ve almost completely given up on that idea.
If people take precautions by masking up and getting vaccinated, the worst that will happen is they’ll be unduly inconvenienced. If my daughter and I are forced to exist in the same spaces with people not taking the proper precautions, we could get sick and die.
It’s not like we’re talking about two equal sides here. This is people who believe the overwhelming scientific majority vs. those who get their answers from YouTube videos and political figures. It’s doctors, researchers and immunologists vs. conspiracy theorists, internet trolls and the MyPillow guy.
I’m not even judging – believe what you like so long as it affects only you. But when it affects me, too, then we have a problem.
The lowest common denominator is allowed to run wild. They can do whatever they like and the rest of us just have to put up with it.
That’s why we’re beginning year two and a half of a global pandemic! Not enough of us got the vaccine by the end of the summer.
Now infections are rising and few policy makers have the courage to take a stand and protect those of us who took precautions from those of us who did not.
And don’t tell me our lawmakers don’t have the power. There is a mountain of precedent showing they have.
On the highway, you can’t just go wherever you want, whenever you want. There are lanes, speed limits, traffic lights.
Even vaccines! To enroll in Kindergarten, parents already have to prove their kids have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella and a host of other diseases. Why is Covid-19 any different?
Public safety is a PUBLIC issue not a private one.
It just makes me feel so helpless.
I can’t do anything to protect my students.
I can’t do anything to protect myself.
I can’t do anything to protect my baby girl.
And I can’t wait for the school year to start!
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Those of us who’ve read “1984” have seen this before.
The text is set in Oceania, a state where the government controls the media, education and even people’s thoughts.
The main character, Winston Smith, works at the Ministry of Truth where he rewrites history to match the party line – whatever it is this week.
For example, at a “Hate Week” demonstration near the beginning of the story, people are gathered to cheer their country’s alliance with Eastasia. However, when the speaker abruptly declares that Eastasia is the enemy, people quickly crumple up their banners and acknowledge that Eastasia was always the enemy and they must have been mistaken to think otherwise.
The prospective ban on Critical Race Theory is strikingly similar.
Politicos are trying to erase the United States’ troubled history of systemic racism, gas light any discussion of its current existence and otherwise stifle and control any topic that goes against their party line.
It’s a policy enshrined in page after page of the most famous description of totalitarianism in modern literature.
Let’s take a closer look at some key passages.
‘”There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”‘
Central to the book is a belief in objective truth.
No matter what we think or say, there are facts out there in the world.
Sanity is our adherence to that reality. Psychological well being is the attempt to bring our thoughts and ideas about what was and what is in line with these facts.
Moreover, doing so is the definition of freedom, itself.
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
If we take away an individual’s right to try and square the reality of the world with their internal ideas about it, we take away all of their freedoms.
One must come to an understanding of the world. It cannot be handed down. It must be the result of observation and understanding.
In short, it is a product of education. We’re taught the facts, but it is up to us to make sense of them.
If the facts are obscured from us or if they are misrepresented, our freedom is impinged.
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present…”
In direct opposition to the idea of objective truth is the mutability of history.
To some extent it is completely natural. Over time we come to new understandings. We discover things that had been accepted as facts were misunderstood.
Ideas change and we must keep up with that changing understanding.
However, the danger is when that change is NOT the result of new information or recontextualizing what we already knew. It’s when we allow history to be dictated by politics.
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'”
This idea is essential to the work Winston does at the Ministry of Truth. By rewriting the events of the past and controlling the narrative of history, the Party maintains its authority.
This is the goal of the proposed bans on Critical Race Theory. One political party is attempting to stop the freedom of history based on facts and replace it with history based on whatever is in the best interests of that party maintaining power.
‘”The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware they are oppressed.”‘
Much of the book is focused on how fascist regimes control thought. And primarily this is done through education and the media.
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
If you don’t have the words to express an idea, it’s incredibly difficult to have that idea. We do, after all, think in language.
For example, the definition of “Racism” has shifted over time to mean more than just prejudice or discrimination against a person or people based on their race or ethnicity.
It is now more commonly understood as prejudice plus power – racial prejudice, AND social power to codify and enforce this prejudice into an entire society.
This is what is meant by Systemic Racism, a concept at the core of this fight. Much of the battle against Critical Race Theory is really an attempt to stop this concept of racism from becoming widespread and codified through our school system.
It is an attempt to keep the original definition of racism, to stop people from seeing systemic racism by refusing to accept its reality through control over speech.
Yet the movement, itself, is based on redefinitions and insinuations.
Critical Race Theory is not a concept taught at public schools. It’s a decades old legal framework. It’s about how laws function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities.
It’s as much a part of K-12 public schools curriculum as torts, contract law or civil forfeiture. Which is to say, not at all.
However, the GOP is using it because they think it sounds scary. It’s a self-created boogeyman to incite the Republican base against a nebulous and ever changing idea of what they take to be liberal indoctrination.
As Orwell wrote:
‘”It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”‘
And that’s what we have here. The destruction of words, the destruction of Critical Race Theory from its actual meaning into a trigger point.
It is about insinuation instead of talking about Republican grievances of what this so-called liberal indoctrination is head on. Because if they were to discuss the issue openly, it could never be proven. However, to imply, to hint, to whisper avoids the ability to disprove.
It is Newspeak, the fictional language of Oceania where simplified grammar and restricted vocabulary limit the individual’s ability to think and even articulate certain facts or concepts.
PURPOSE OF EDUCATION
But what is the difference between what Republicans are doing with these bans and the naturally evolving course of history? If education is the process of forming an individual’s ideas and thoughts, how is any of it ever free?
Consider this. Orwell describes the goal of education in Oceania:
‘”Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”‘
We do not want students to be handed down information and simply accept it even if it doesn’t make sense.
Teachers strive to get their students to interact with information, to look at it critically.
And that is the important point – CRITICALLY.
At some point even in Oceania, everyone comes across different ideas, concepts that you may not have considered before or may have actively rejected.
What do you do when this happens?
Winston is expected to believe what the Party tells him to believe. And even in the USA we often act as if being confronted with this reality is the worst case scenario for students. It is the end of the world if they are confronted with a different point of view.
It is entirely absent from public school curriculum.
Critical Race Theory is a legal framework that’s been taught for decades in law schools around the country. And just like torts, contract law, civil forfeiture and a host of other valid topics in law school, the K-12 public schools really don’t cover them much.
Black people are convicted at higher rates and given longer sentences than white people for the same crimes – 5% of illicit drug users are African American, yet Black people represent 29% of those arrested and 33% of those incarcerated for drug offenses. Moreover, African Americans and White people use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of White people.
And on and on.
One has to live in a factually neutral bubble to insist that racism no longer exists in this country, but that’s exactly where these right wing lawmakers are coming from.
After all, their base is almost exclusively White. If they can’t find something to rile up these people and make them feel unduly put upon, they won’t come to the polls. And nothing gets people more eager to vote than fear and anger.
“The slave who knew Christ had more freedom than a free person who did not know the Savior…”
“…Although the slaves faced great difficulties, many found faith in Christ and learned to look to God for strength. By 1860, most slaveholders provided Christian instruction on their plantations.”
“To help them endure the difficulties of slavery, God gave Christian slaves the ability to combine the African heritage of song with the dignity of Christian praise. Through the Negro spiritual, the slaves developed the patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is from the bondage of sin…”
“A few slave holders were undeniably cruel. Examples of slaves beaten to death were not common, neither were they unknown. The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.”
And here’s another excerpt from the same book teaching that black people were just as responsible for slavery as white people and that white people suffered from slavery just as much:
“The story of slavery in America is an excellent example of the far-reaching consequences of sin. The sin in this case was greed – greed on the part of the African tribal leaders, on the part of the slave traders, and on the part of slave owners, all of whom allowed their love for profit to outweigh their love for their fellow man. The consequences of such greed and racism extended across society and far into the future. It resulted in untold suffering – most obviously for the black race but for the white race as well.” (emphasis mine)
Here’s another excerpt from the same book about the benefits of the KKK:
“[The Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”
“While the end was a noble one – ending discrimination in schools – the means were troublesome. Liberals were not willing to wait for a political solution.”
As bad as these excerpt are, they focus only on racism.
The books are riddled with counter factual claims and political bias in every subject imaginable such as abortion, gay rights and the Endangered Species Act, which one labels a “radical social agenda.” They disparage religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures other than those descended from White Europeans.
Nearly 80 percent of scholarship students attend religious schools, and most of those institutions are Christian, according to an investigation by the Orlando Sentinel. The books mentioned above all come from a Protestant point of view. However, roughly 16 percent of scholarship schools are Catholic and use their own curriculum as do other schools including Islamic or Jewish institutions (which combined make up about 5 percent of the schools).
It is clear then that this controversy is worse than a tempest in a teacup.
It’s misdirected anger.
Political indoctrination IS going on in the United States, but it is not happening at our public schools.
It is happening at our private and parochial schools through school voucher programs.
If we ban anything, it shouldn’t be Critical Race Theory – It should be school vouchers.