MONDAY, JUNE 28, 2021
In search of Our Town's "hot air:" On Saturday morning, the Washington Post's op-ed page was CRT all the way down.
As is standard practice on Saturday mornings, the page featured three opinion columns, plus some of the week's best cartoons. All three columns concerned issues of critical race theory and the public schools.
Below, we offer links to the three columns. The hard-copy headlines were these:
Colbert King: In D.C., critical race theory is simple truth-telling
Alexandra Petri: I'm for free thinking...about the things that I believe are correct
Alyssa Rosenberg: Ken Burns is an optimist. But he's very worried about America
In fairness, only one of the four cartoons dealt with CRT. That said, the three columnists all adopted a fairly standard position:
They excoriated Republicans and conservatives for the dumbness of their complaints concerning critical theory. No one suggested that there could possibly be any dumbness on display in Our Town concerning this current topic.
The scorn was general, and was sometimes quite heated. Rosenberg had interviewed Ken Burns, the celebrated film-maker / historian, about this ongoing topic. Below, you see the heart of her account of what Burns had said:
ROSENBERG (6/26/21): [Burns] believes in looking hard at the nation’s flaws because he believes one of the things that makes it great is its capacity to learn from the past and make progress, even if the country backslides along the way.
That attitude is what drives his opposition to laws attempting to regulate the way schools teach American history, including by banning critical race theory—previously a relatively esoteric academic discipline—and the curriculum based on the 1619 Project.
“Our children are way too smart” to be protected from history, Burns insists. “We don't really care about them if we think that they have to be fed pablum for their entire life.”
The dangers of such hypersensitivity about the past and its connections to the present aren’t just limited to children, he says.
“I think this is the greatest threat to our republic ever. Not the Depression, not World War II, not the Civil War. This is it,” Burns told me. “This moment of all these intersecting viruses, of novel coronaviruses and of racial injustice—a 402-year-old-virus. And it’s an age-old human virus of lying and misinformation and paranoia and conspiracy. This is the pill that will kill us unless we do something.”
As a counterexample, Burns points to South Carolina, where he’s helped raise money for the soon-to-open International African American Museum. That state is not immune from partisan debates about school curriculums. But at least some of the state, Burns says, “understands it has a rich and diverse history that isn’t just the old antebellum plantation bull----” and has been able to develop new kinds of tourism in response.
According to Rosenberg, Burns opposes laws "attempting to regulate the way schools teach American history, including by banning critical race theory." Depending on the particular law in question, he may well be right.
That said, Rosenberg's presentation of Burns' view struck us as highly standard. Included was the mandated statement that people opposing CRT "don't even know what it is."
In a great may cases, that familiar claim may well be accurate. That said, Burns was highly exercised about the current state of affairs.
Just for the record, the various states and their subdivisions have always "regulate[d] the way schools teach American history." They've done so through the adoption of mandated history curriculums.
Down through the many long years, some of these state and local curriculums have shown more wisdom, some have shown a great deal less.
According to Rosenberg, Burns believes the current wave of proposed laws represents "the greatest threat to our republic ever." The proposed laws represent "an age-old human virus of lying and misinformation and paranoia and conspiracy."
It's "a 402-year-old virus," Burns apparently said. He was tracking back to 1619, a newly controversial date in our nation's tribal wars.
Burns was so exercised about the current threat that he even uttered a word Rosenberg couldn't print in the Washington Post! On the brighter side, he cited the fact that "at least some of the [people in the] state" of South Carolina were insightful enough to see beyond this "old antebellum plantation bull----."
So Burns framed the current state of affairs. Simply put, The Others were very dumb and very bad. Those in Our Town were enlightened.
In this way, Burns adopted an extremely familiar framework as he warned about the nation's demise. According to an array of experts, he'd adopted an extremely tribal framework. Such frameworks place all the good, decent, intelligent people within a speaker's own tribe.
To our ear, Burns' presentation wasn't just extremely familiar, it was also a bit simple-minded.
“Our children are way too smart” to be protected from history, Burns apparently insisted at one point. But is that true of our first- and second-graders? Even in their later years, is there no possible version of history which might mislead Our Town's brilliant kids?
We'll guess that no one asked.
We live in highly tribal times. In our view, Rosenberg's column was identifiably tribal.
Within the framework of her column, The Others are unfailingly dumb, and borderline evil. But over here, within Our Town, even the children are smart!
This is the type of bombast we're now absorbing over here in the streets of Our Town. In the towns where The Others live, they're routinely being exposed to different types of tribal bombast—and rarely the twain shall meet!
All this week, we'll explore an extremely offensive questions. Dumb as they undoubtedly are, is it possible that The Others may have some valid concerns or complaints concerning the matters at hand?
Is it possible that various people here in Our Town are capable of making mistakes concerning the way our nation's history should be taught in our public schools? We'll even be asking that as the week proceeds!
At times like these, top experts say, humans are rarely exposed to questions about the conduct of people within their own tribe. For those of us within the blue tribe, we will rarely be exposed to doubts about the conduct which occurs in Our Town.
On Saturday morning, three Post columnists sang one familiar tribal song about this critical matter. This morning, Karen Attiah may have topped all three with her own column about this same topic.
Attiah denounces all the "hot air" being expelled by The Others. But is it possible that some such air may also be coming from us?
We'll explore this very important question during the heat of the upcoming week. We'll probably start with a column by George Will—more precisely, with the alleged situation in a private school to which his column refers.
We're likely to start with a reference from Will! In fairness, he's staunchly anti-Trump. But even on a provisional basis, are you willing to go there?
Tomorrow: Can we possibly see something odd about these unusual numbers?