THURSDAY, JULY 1, 2021
The winding road back to the tribe: We'll offer two cheers, or maybe just one, for Michelle Goldberg's latest column.
If we were grading her column on the curve, her column would rate an A-plus. With respect to the current red-hot dispute about critical race theory and public schools, Goldberg did the sorts of things which very few opinion writers in Our Town have done.
Good lord! Goldberg suggested that the infallible people who live in Our Town may not be completely infallible with respect to these critical matters! As we noted yesterday, she broke every rule in the tribal playbook, offering such thoughts as these:
She said she "disagrees [sic] with some ideas associated with critical race theory." She said there's "material that critics lump in with C.R.T. that strikes [her] as ridiculous and harmful."
She said she's seen (antiracist) training programs for public school administrators which she regards as "risible." Before she was done, she even said this:
"There’s a version of antiracism based on white people’s narcissistic self-flagellation that seems to me to accomplish very little."
Is Goldberg allowed to say that? In these ways, she was doing what few other thought leaders in Our Town have been willing to do:
She was suggesting that there's a limit to the wisdom Our Town's thought leaders bring to this roiling debate. She was even suggesting this:
Some concerns being voiced by Others may even have some merit!
Goldberg suggested that all the wisdom in this dispute may not be found in Our Town! Given the embarrassing way Our Town's other leaders have been performing, this was astonishing conduct.
Soon, though, she wriggled off the hook. Let's examine the way she did that.
Having voiced her criticisms of Our Town, Goldberg erected a stable of straw men. You can see the transition right here:
GOLDBERG (6/29/21): My own position is basically anti-anti-critical race theory, in that I disagree with some ideas associated with C.R.T., especially around limiting speech, but am extremely alarmed by efforts to demonize and ban it. There’s certainly some material that critics lump in with C.R.T. that strikes me as ridiculous and harmful. I’ve seen the risible training for school administrators calling worship of the written word “white supremacy culture.” There’s a version of antiracism based on white people’s narcissistic self-flagellation that seems to me to accomplish very little.
But I’m highly skeptical that many public schools are teaching that “every white child and family today is invariably complicit” in white supremacy...
“Every white child and family today is invariably complicit in white supremacy?" Are "many" of our public schools teaching that doctrine in some explicit way?
We'll guess that most of our public schools aren't! But how would some such general assumption invalidate The Others' complaints and concerns?
As she continued, Goldberg claimed that conservative activists are merely "cherry-picking or inventing lurid anecdotes to try to discredit the whole project." In some unknown number of cases, that may well be true.
That said, she offered no examples of this lurid cherry-picking. Instead, she turned to a cherry-picked example of her own:
GOLDBERG: 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.
Goldberg is aware of no problem at her own kids' public school. To the best of her knowledge, her kids "have not been ordered to confess their white privilege," she now sarcastically said.
Her own kids haven't been frog-marched away and forced to confess! In some unexplained way, this reinforced her suspicion that white kids aren't being explicitly proselytized in "many" public schools.
Before long, she was cherry-picking another example—a silly example Time magazine had already cherry-picked. Her column ended like this:
GOLDBERG: 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.
According to Time, a Missouri mother had been perhaps a bit overwrought concerning her son's instruction. According to Goldberg, the teaching to which he'd been exposed "wasn't exactly a Maoist struggle session."
Somehow, this showed there was no nationwide radically leftist instruction occurring. Werewolves of London again!
Goldberg's children hadn't been forced to confess their white privilege. A ninth-grade kid in some Missouri school hadn't been exposed to a Maoist struggle session.
On the basis of these pointless examples, Goldberg was somehow able to evaluate what's happening in schools nationwide. Obviously, this doesn't make a lick of sense, except as a way to reestablish fidelity to the tribe, and to its prevailing dogma in the current dispute.
Initially, Goldberg had broken every rule in the book! She said our own thought leaders have behaved in ways which are risible, ridiculous—harmful.
Some of this conduct, she had said, involves Our Town's narcissism—its impulse toward self-flagellation. She had said this version of antiracism accomplishes very little. She had cited, by name, a very smart writer who thinks there is a problem.
Especially given the current context, this was remarkable conduct. In a slightly different world, it might have led Goldberg to suggest that we try to eliminate various types of imperfect judgment and practice when it comes to the way we teach our frequently brutal history in our public schools.
"At times like this, that simply can't happen," top anthropologists tell us. "Examples will be cherry-picked, and the wisdom of the tribe's central view will once again be confirmed."
Meanwhile, what about the eighth-grade kid we've been trying to get to all week? What about that eighth-grader's tale—the story he recently told about about his history class?
We'll try to get to that kid tomorrow as we continue with Goldberg's column. We'll also look at the way Kevin Drum found his way back to the tribe—but regarding Goldberg, there's this:
As Goldberg's column unfolded, she had made one other attempt to be fair to The Others' concerns. She spoke to an expert who does believe that "left-wing overreach" and "unbalanced curricula" can be found in some or many schools.
We give Goldberg a lot of credit for doing that. It flew in the face of the propaganda being peddled everywhere else Our Town was discussing this topic.
In the end, she wriggled on back to the tribe. But that will happen every time, several top scholars have said.
No one had made her kids take a pledge. Somehow or other, this told Goldberg that the schools, nationwide, are alright.
But what about that eighth-grader's tale? Why don't we cherry-pick his story? Why don't we highlight his tale?
What about the eighth-grader's tale? In Our Town, do we love our ongoing tribal war more than we care about him?
Tomorrow: The eighth-grader's tale