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