CRITICAL MATTERS: The current eighth-grader's tale!

FRIDAY, JULY 2, 2021

Rodney King versus Brabender: Is there a problem in our public schools concerning the teaching of history? Let's be more specific:

Is there a problem in our public schools concerning the teaching of our frequently brutal racial history? Is there a problem concerning that?

Very frankly, we can't tell you! There are dozens of public schools in the country. The total stretches to well over a hundred such schools in all.

It's hard to know what's going on in that many public schools. Unless a person is a clairvoyant, as Michelle Goldberg is.

Somehow, Goldberg was able to reach an assessment of this matter at the end of her column in Tuesday's New York Times. She cherry-picked an utterly pointless (alleged) example, then offered a sweeping assessment:

GOLDBERG (6/29/21): A recent Time magazine cover story about the battle over critical race theory featured a Missouri mother worried about the discussions of identity in her son’s ninth-grade classroom. The example she showed a reporter was an English assignment asking students to reflect on the “assumptions that people make about people in the different groups you belong to.” This is not exactly a Maoist struggle session. The sort of antiracist education that’s sparked a nationwide backlash isn’t radically leftist. It’s elementary.

That's the way her column ended. We humans are wired to "reason" this way, despondent top scholars have said.

Goldberg had offered one (alleged) example from one Missouri classroom. We doubt that she'd fully explored what happened there—but at times like this, so what?

Based upon an account from Time, Goldberg decreed that the ninth-grader in question hadn't been subjected to a Maoist struggle session. Apparently on that basis, she was somehow able to offer an assessment of what's happening nationwide!

This is the way we're wired to reason, major top experts have said. Especially at highly tribalized times like these!

We're wired to align ourselves with a tribe and to endorse that tribe's Storyline. We're wired to declare, in the end, that the Our Tribe is right. 

Any pointless example will do! At times like these, top scholars say, it's No Anecdote Left Behind!

Based on a couple of cherry-picked examples, Goldberg was somehow able to say that the antiracist education taking place around the country is basically A-OK. 

In many places, that's probably true—but what about the other places? Consider a part of Goldberg's column which we haven't yet described.

Before she gave our schools a sweeping thumbs-up, Goldberg did something very unusual. She seemed to describe all kinds of problems with our own tribe's current antiracist views. 

Analysts almost never do such things at tribalized times like these! We offer two cheers for Goldberg for breaking with such tribal rules.

Good lord! Goldberg seemed to say that Our Town's antiracist views are sometimes "ridiculous" and "risible," even "harmful." Also, "There’s a version of antiracism [which is] based on white people’s narcissistic self-flagellation," she said.

She even cited a very smart writer, Damon Linker, who believes that there is a problem with the way our history is being taught in our schools. That said, by the end of her column, these observations had been erased as Goldberg found her way back to the tribe. 

Along the way, Goldberg had gone one additional extra mile. To her credit, she had spoken with a specialist who thinks there actually is a problem in our schools.

At a highly tribalized time like this, we give Goldberg very high marks for having done this. Below, you see the account she offers of the specialist's tale:

GOLDSTEIN: At my own kids’ fairly progressive Brooklyn public school, they were assigned an age-appropriate book about police shootings, “Something Happened in Our Town,” which I appreciated because it helped me explain last summer’s demonstrations to them. They have not, to the best of my knowledge, been ordered to confess their white privilege.

I emailed Bonnie Snyder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to ask if we are outliers. FIRE plays an interesting role in the debate over C.R.T., because it both defends students and teachers from left-wing overreach and fights C.R.T. bans on free speech grounds. Snyder seems sympathetic to Linker’s view; she has a book coming out in the fall denouncing classroom indoctrination. So, I asked her, where is this indoctrination happening?

“We’ve noticed that the problem of unbalanced curricula seems most advanced in elite, affluent private schools and then also in so-called public-private high schools in affluent areas,” she said, though she believes it’s spreading to more average schools. Even if you agree with her definition of “unbalanced curricula,” it’s hard to see how something happening mostly in rarefied liberal milieus explains the fights over C.R.T. breaking out all over the country.

In that passage, readers are exposed to the specialist's tale. According to experts, you also see one of the ways the tribal member will find her way back to the tribe's mandated wisdom at tribalized times such as these.

First, the specialist's tale: 

Rightly or wrongly, the specialist said "the problem of unbalanced [antiracist] curriculum" currently seems to be "most advanced" in affluent private schools. Rightly or wrongly, she also said that the problem seems to be spreading to "more average schools."

Rightly or wrongly, that's what the specialist said. Now, note the way the columnist found her way back to the tribe:

Instantly, the columnist shifted her gaze! Told that there was a spreading problem, she said this couldn't possibly explain all the complaints The Others have been lodging.

Some of The Others must have been wrong, the columnist now surmised! In this way, the columnist pointed the finger of blame at Them. In this way, she shifted away from the specialist's claim that a problem exists, and is spreading, right here in the streets of Our Town.

(This is human history's oldest story, despondent anthropologists claim. At times like these, observers will always sight their gaze to perceived problems in Other Towns.)

In closing today, we're going to offer two stories. One story will concerns a former first-grader of our own acquaintance. We'll also link you to the current eighth-grader's tale.

As shown above, Goldberg offered an anecdote about her own kids' (very good) public school. Were we willing to tell it, our own anecdote would concern a (very good) public school two kids we know have attended. 

We've observed in that (very good) public school on three separate occasions. The atmosphere in the school was so good, we thought we'd died and gone to heaven. At the time, it was, on balance, a low-income school.

 Allowing for personal privacy, we'll just tell you this:

Something like eight years ago, a child came home from this (very good) school with some very large, hugely improbable worries. Based upon this incident, a sensible person might sensibly draw this conclusion:

It's hard to know how to teach our brutal racial history to very young children. Despite the unyielding dumbness on display in Our Town, this task isn't easy at all!

It's also hard to know how to teach our racial history to kids who may be older. And trust us: If there's way to screw this project up, people are going to find it!

This brings us to the eighth-grader's tale, a story he told in an email to one of his teachers. You can read his story here

Much as we heard in the specialist's tale, he attends an "elite" private school. For further context, just click here. We may discuss his tale next week, or even this afternoon. Also, these comical data!

We live in highly partisan, tribalized times. We're willing to offer this advice:

Always reject the tribes. 

Their mandated, dueling tribal wisdoms will rarely involve any wisdom at all. This is the oldest of all war stories, an array of top scholars have said.

This afternoon: Brabender versus King


34 comments:

  1. "The sort of antiracist education that’s sparked a nationwide backlash isn’t radically leftist."

    Dembot Goldberg is right about that. Nothing your liberal-hitlerian cult does is leftist, radically or otherwise.

    Incitement of racial hatred, which is what your liberal-hitlerian cult does, is a well-known far-right, hitlerian M.O.

    We know it, and you know it, dear Bob. And nevertheless you're identifying as a card-carrying liberal. Sad.

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  2. And now may I present the idiotic and inane comments from the tribal defenders ...

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  3. “Also, these comical data!”

    Happy Independence Day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a patriot, you should know that July 4th is Sunday, not today. Today is not Independence Day.

      Delete
    2. Anonymouse 11:28am, try reading the actual blog occasionally.

      Delete
    3. The blog says nothing whatsoever about Independence Day or the 4th of July. Your holiday wishes are premature and I am surprised that you do not know what day July 4th is, being a Republican and all.

      Delete
    4. I’m not surprised at all that you doubtlessly think the movies Independence Day, American Pie, and Yankee Doodle Dandy were about the Founders.

      Delete
    5. Yankee Doodle Dandy IS about the 4th of July and Independence. It is a film that depicts patriotism during WWI and George M. Cohan's contribution to the war effort. American Pie is a stupid teen movie, but Independence Day is hearkening back to the American revolution in the speech that the President-in-exile gives to inspire the fight against aliens. So, yes, two out of the three are references to our own Revolution and Independence.

      Your comment had nothing to do with our country's independence or July 4. You think you are being clever with these quips but they are too approximate to hit any mark. You need to go away.

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  4. History, huh, yeah
    What is it good for
    Absolutely nothing

    ReplyDelete
  5. History, huh, good God
    What is it good for
    Absolutely nothing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. What is Somerby talking about?

    He says:

    "There are dozens of public schools in the country. The total stretches to well over a hundred such schools in all.

    It's hard to know what's going on in that many public schools."

    But:

    "According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the United States has more than 24,000 public secondary schools;"

    And that figure does not include the middle and elementary schools!

    Perhaps Somerby meant to refer to school districts but left out the word "district"?

    But:

    "There are approximately 13,800 public school districts in the United States. These districts collectively educate approximately 55.2 million students."

    How can Somerby have no idea how many public schools and districts exist and yet proclaim himself an expert on the NAEP test? Or anything else pertaining to schools.

    And he didn't even bother to look up how many schools there are -- something that takes seconds using a search engine!

    Then he claims that Goldberg cannot know what is going on in that many schools. But he is wrong about that. Unlike himself, she may do some research. And there is public information about the policies and curriculum of each of the districts across the country. And there exist analyses of the schools as a whole and in specific places. Because there is a literature on this compiled by researchers in the field of education. And because educators share "best practices" and compare notes on their teaching, hoping to improve it.

    Somerby has no idea what he is talking about.

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  7. "She cherry-picked an utterly pointless (alleged) example, then offered a sweeping assessment"

    She used an example to illustrate a generalization. There is no need to list EVERY example of a generalization and Somerby's claim that she "cherry-picked" is disingenuous when the right has not only cherry-picked but manufactured examples of left-wing ideology affecting education.

    The right is making the claim that CRT-influenced wokeness has run amok. Goldberg cannot prove a negative, no matter how many examples she includes in a column that has limited space.

    Somerby needs to address this, if he is going to assert that Goldberg is wrong when she claims the right is making up a problem that does not exist:

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/fox-news-concerned-parents-on-critical-race-theory-are-actually-just-gop-activists

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  8. "Always reject the tribes."

    No anthropologist would suggest this, because tribes have aided human survival throughout hard times.

    No political analyst would suggest this, because our political system is organized around political parties who represent differing viewpoints, programs and proposals. Thus political affiliation is an important way of assessing whether a candidate shares our values and concerns.

    No social scientist would suggest this. Because people who are socially isolated become disillusioned and drop out of social contact with others, which weakens their support systems and leads to psychological and sociological dysfunction. Isolated (tribe-less) loners commit mass shootings or suicide.

    No thinking person would agree to this because failure to organize one's thoughts using existing structures makes it difficult to communicate with other people. It leads to absurdities such as the demand that Goldberg list every negative example of a school NOT imposing CRT on its students before she can draw any conclusion.

    When Somerby calls for us to eschew tribes, he is mainly trying to damage liberal adherence to its parties and candidates, in order to promote opportunities for Trump and Q-Anon and whatever cretins the Republicans are currently foisting on an unsuspecting public. He calls on silly readers to imagine themselves as courageous independent thinks while blindly following Trump's call to storm the Capitol or avoid vaccine or buy more guns and "get" Pence and other enemies. Because someone without a tribe is not a thinking person. And yes, that includes The Others, who are demonstrably mentally ill to have done what they did on Jan 6. Bandy Lee might argue that they were ill to have voted for a mentally ill President in the first place. Somerby among them.

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  9. How cute! Somerby attempts to refute Goldberg by making up his own story about a child of his acquaintance.

    We get the point that anecdotes prove nothing. But they do illustrate abstracts and they make real things that are distant when described in other ways. Somerby's anecdote has too few details to make it real in any way -- purposefully, since his intent is to show that anecdotes can be unconvincing. But Goldberg's story does seem likely, whereas Somerby's is lame.

    Then there is that letter supposedly written by an 8th grader. Does the writing sound like any 8th grader you've ever met? It doesn't to me. It sounds like an adult wrote it, for the specific purpose of showing malfeasance by a teacher. It looks apocryphal, the more so to anyone who has worked with students in real life and knows what their thinking, organizational skills and writing style is like. This is not plausible at all.

    Actually, it provides more support for this:

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/fox-news-concerned-parents-on-critical-race-theory-are-actually-just-gop-activists


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  10. ‘She even cited a very smart writer, Damon Linker, who believes that there is a problem with the way our history is being taught in our schools. That said, by the end of her column, these observations had been erased as Goldberg found her way back to the tribe.’

    Will Somerby critique Linker’s opinion piece?

    Linker asserts that Republicans are ‘reacting to something real’ without giving any evidence. He asserts that there is a problem without surveying any schools to find out.

    He states that parents don’t want their children taught that ‘the country was founded on an ideology of white supremacy in which every white child and family today is invariably complicit regardless of their personal views of their Black fellow citizens.’ I’m sure parents don’t want their children taught any number of things. That doesn’t prove it is happening. Linker never finds out if that is going on.

    He simply assumes that conservatives have a point.

    He seems to place himself in a group called ‘liberal centrists’:
    ‘the country needs liberal-minded leftists to ally with liberal centrists in taking a stand against the pious simplicities proffered by illiberal ideologues on both extremes.’

    And who gets left out of Linker’s plea? Notice he never admonishes any conservatives to take any action here. Only liberals need be on the hook and tasked with all the responsibility for changing the discourse. Of course.

    Finally, Linker likens the liberal anti-anti-CRT (his term) rhetoric to what he calls anti-anti-Communism during the McCarthy years. In other words, he thinks liberals in the 1950’s, instead of condemning McCarthyism, should have found common ground with conservatives in condemning communism, just as he thinks that modern liberals should join conservatives in condemning CRT.

    I leave that as an exercise for the reader to decide if Linker is making sense.

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  11. Would Somerby or Linker be OK with teachers examining the viewpoint in the 1619 project and debating it with their kids? I’m talking about possibly high school and definitely college age students. It wouldn’t be an indoctrination, just an examination of the viewpoint and the evidence for it.

    Unfortunately, even this will not be possible with all of these new GOP laws, and that is the GOP’s way of shutting down even a discussion of that view, and it tends to lead to an indoctrination into the conservative viewpoint.

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  12. mh, that is a sensible post, thanks, they are sometimes in short supply here. What is the "conservative viewpoint" as you see it? I think both "sides" have a point, from what I've read.

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    1. What is the conservative side of this and how do you consider it sensible?

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    2. What do you think the conservative side of this is? Explain why you think it's either sensible or not sensible.

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    3. I'd say it's teach more about racism in American history v. don't vilify white kids because they had nothing to do with 1619, slavery, or Jim Crow. But, definitely start out teaching that "race" is a delusion created by racists because you can't judge someone by their skin color. Then explain how that delusion has hurt black people in America's history, and is still a problem among some "white" people. Avoid terms like "whiteness," "white supremacy", etc. which tends to shove people into delusional racial categories.

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    5. 4:51:
      So, it’s ok to use the term ‘racist’ but not ‘white supremacy’, even though white supremacy is part and parcel of racism in America’s history and determined the treatment of blacks for 300 years and has left a quantifiable legacy of inequality.

      Also, you say ‘race’ is a delusion, but it hurts ‘black’ people, even still today, so that presupposes that you must discuss ‘race’ in order to understand racism, which still exists. And, if it is bad, that is a value judgment, is it not? Will that also be banned?

      Whatever you think any of this means, it doesn’t really matter, because the Republicans are going to tell you what is ok and not ok, whether you like it or not.

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    6. But it is a strawman to say that teachers are vilifying white kids instead of teaching racial history.

      White supremacy is a thing because there are people who consider themselves white supremacists, it is an ideology, and it historically was represented by Hitler, who existed and should be taught about. Further, it is embedded in the American Eugenics movement too. So it is a term which cannot be avoided.

      In teaching that race is a delusion, it is important to point out that racism exists and is a problem that people of color are still dealing with because it has not been eradicated from our society. I think the right is not on board with that.

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    7. mh, yes, it's complicated. You can talk about "race" but it needs to also be explained that it is a delusion. That delusion hurts people with darker skin even today. Skin color is not relevant when determining a person's fundamental worth. Deluded people think it is relevant. If I say "black" that is a category that was created by racists, i.e., deluded people. So, yes, delusions exist and hurt people.

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    8. 5:43
      Of course they do. Delusions like white supremacy. Whether or not it’s a delusion, though, it still informs policy today.

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    9. It seems you're not sure it's a delusion? But, it's a loaded term that is serving to divide people into "racial" categories. Of course, it brings to mind "white supremacist" neo-nazi KKK skinheads, which is what it's intended to do. Let's think of something else.

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    10. @6:05
      Changing the subject doesn't make bad things go away, but educating kids might make them resistant to the attempts of white supremacists to recruit them when they go away to college or are vulnerable in the years immediately after high school because friends have gone their separate ways. Talking about these things explicitly is a way of inoculating children from extremist movements that target them explicitly.

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  13. Here’s a sample of what conservatives think.

    This group is called ‘No Left Turn In Education .’ (Note that even their name implies that their main goal is to oppose liberalism. The name isn’t ‘For Good Teaching’ or something).

    Here’s a sample of their views:

    ‘all too often words such as diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, anti-racism, systemic racism, human rights education and health education concealed an aggressive, radical totalitarian ideology.’

    One of their goals is:
    ‘Restore American patriotism in the classroom, including presenting our nations as consistently forward-thinking in its elevation of individual liberty and democratizing traditional Liberalism.’

    https://noleftturn.us/mission-goals-objectives/

    That sounds like indoctrination to me...

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  14. mh, do they represent all conservatives? Is this teacher a conservative? If she is, she has a very different viewpoint from your conservatives.
    https://www.fairforall.org/profiles-in-courage/dwight-englewood-whistleblower/

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    Replies
    1. I would say they represent a significant portion of conservatives, probably a majority.

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