ANTHROPOLOGIES: Who decides which books get taught in school?

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2023

The way one book was selected: Who decides what books get read in a high school Advanced Placement class?

In these days of political and cultural division, such questions have become severely fraught. In a lengthy report in the Washington Post, Hannah Natanson has described the way one somewhat controversial book got assigned to a bunch of high school students in one public high school.

The school in question is Chapin High in Chapin, South Carolina.  According to Natanson's report, the school is part of "the Lexington-Richland School District 5, which serves roughly 17,000 students and is about two-thirds White."

The perhaps somewhat controversial book is Between the World and Me,  Ta-Nehisi Coates’s widely discussed 2015 best seller. Right at the start of her lengthy report, Natanson sets the scene for the controversy which unfolded:

NATANSON (9/18/23): As gold sunlight filtered into her kitchen, English teacher Mary Wood shouldered a worn leather bag packed with first-day-of-school items: Three lesson-planning notebooks. Two peanut butter granola bars. An extra pair of socks, just in case.

Everything was ready, but Wood didn’t leave. For the first time since she started teaching 14 years ago, she was scared to go back to school.

Six months earlier, two of Wood’s Advanced Placement English Language and Composition students had reported her to the school board for teaching about race. Wood had assigned her all-White class readings from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me,” a book that dissects what it means to be Black in America.

The students wrote in emails that the book—and accompanying videos that Wood, 47, played about systemic racism—made them ashamed to be White, violating a South Carolina proviso that forbids teachers from making students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of their race.

As we noted yesterday, Natanson seems to misdescribe the proviso of the South Carolina law she cites in that fourth paragraph. An anthropologist might offer this initial finding about the turmoil involved in this matter:

For members of our human race, paraphrase can be very hard.

At any rate, the basic scene has been set at Natanson starts her report. In Natanson's account, an Advanced Placement teacher, Mary Wood, directed "her all-White class" to read a recent best-selling book "that dissects what it means to be Black in America."

Two of her students complained, as did at least two parents. As Natanson details in her lengthy report, this produced a major controversy within Chapin High, then within the local community:

NATANSON (continuing directly): Reading Coates’s book felt like “reading hate propaganda towards white people,” one student wrote.

At least two parents complained, too. Within days, school administrators ordered Wood to stop teaching the lesson. They placed a formal letter of reprimand in her file. It instructed her to keep teaching “without discussing this issue with your students.”

Wood finished out the spring semester feeling defeated and betrayed—not only by her students, but by the school system that raised her. The high school Wood teaches at is the same one she attended.

So it went at Chapin High when Wood assigned Coates's book. For ourselves, we wondered how this turmoil had ever come to pass.

More specifically, we wondered who decides:

Who decides what particular books should be read as part of this public high school's Advanced Placement English Language and Composition course?

More specifically, do public schools like Chapin High maintain a mandated curriculum for the various courses which get taught in the school? Or does each individual public school teacher simply select the books which he or she wants to assign? 

Let it be said that Coates' book was going to be read and taught at some substantial length in Wood's Advanced Placement class. It's clear from Natanson's report that Wood was going to spend at least three weeks, and possibly four, on this particular text.

Coates' book was critically praised when it appeared in 2015. But on what basis was it selected for such substantial treatment in Wood's class? Natanson offers this account of the selection process when she describes Wood's reaction to the first phone call of complaint:

NATANSON: Wood thought she was on safe ground. She had taught Coates’s book—and accompanying YouTube videos titled “Systemic Racism Explained” and “The Unequal Opportunity Race”—the year prior. No one complained.

She also counted on the fact AP Lang is supposed to be a high-level class. The College Board curriculum says it can address “issues that might, from particular social, historical, or cultural viewpoints, be considered controversial, including references to … races.” Wood’s supervisor, English department chair Tess Pratt, had signed off on Coates’s book. Plus, Wood had required AP Lang students to read a speech from former president Donald Trump, a balancing conservative voice.

Students were going to read Coates' book—but also, a speech by Trump! As to who selected and approved this plan, the chair of the school's English department "had signed off on Coates’s book." 

For better or worse, someone else apparently wasn't aware of this plan. In this passage, Natanson describes a meeting with Chapin High's assistant principal and with a school district official after the two students complained:

NATANSON: A set of administrative talking points prepared ahead of the meeting, obtained through Wood’s records request and given to The Post, show that Magee and Walters were supposed to start by telling Wood her teaching had sparked “concerns.” They were supposed to mention the South Carolina policy against making students uncomfortable because of their race. They were supposed to remind her of school rules stipulating that “teachers will not attempt, directly or indirectly, to limit or control students’ judgment concerning any issue”—and that “the principal must approve supplementary materials” for classes.

Question! Does Natanson have her thumb on the scale when she refers to that "set of administrative talking points?"

Opinions may differ on that.

Beyond that, does South Carolina actually have a "policy against making students uncomfortable because of their race?" 

As we noted yesterday, it seems to us that the state law in question actually says something somewhat different. But as we noted yesterday, paraphrase tends to be hard!

At any rate, other questions arise:

Based on actual policy and practice, should the principal have been consulted about the assignment of Coates' book? We have no idea.

Also, did the principal know that Coates' book had been assigned the previous year? Natanson doesn't address that question.

At any rate, Wood was told that she should stop teaching Coates's book. Eventually, turmoil gripped the wider community. A basic question thereby arises—a question which comes to us, live and direct, from the realm of basic anthropology:

How well do we the humans tend to cope with differences of opinion? What sorts of skills do we typically bring to political / cultural disputes of the general type described in Natanson's report?

At times of substantial partisan division—when we start dividing into tribes—how do we humans tend to react to opposing outlooks and viewpoints? Given the way our brains are wired, how well do we tend to react to the basic fact that there may be others in the world who disagree with our own general views? 

How well do we humans react to Others? As we noted yesterday, one anthropologist has offered this controversial rubric:

We only talk for a little while. After that, we start to hit.

Tomorrow: As seen on one classroom's walls


104 comments:

  1. It's not only the Left that needs to listen to "the Others". David in Cal, for instance, needs to listen to "the Others", which will disabuse him of believing racism no longer exists.

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    1. On the last thread I specifically said that racism DOES exist. Ah, well, paraphase is hard.

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    2. Political zealots speak in absolutes quite often. I'm sure they meant something else. Like that racism still plays a pivotal role in republican party politics or something like that. Hard to say, though.

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    3. David,
      Yup. Listening to "the Others" for more than 5 minutes will disabuse anyone of the notion that racism doesn't exist.
      It's not all bad listening to them. It's kind of fun hearing them in minute 4, disagree with everything they said in minutes 1 through 3.

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    4. It is Somerby who has said that racism no longer exists.

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    5. Let's get a quote on that... I'll keep an open mind, I promise.

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    6. https://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2018/05/gaps-and-man-at-yale-less-than-twenty.html

      "That said, we'll have to say that the writer's descriptions of "unequal treatment" at Yale didn't strike us as hugely egregious, at least as described, though it would be a much better world if young people never had to feel that they were being perceived or assessed on the basis of so-called race."

      "But people! Someone looked sideways at someone at Yale! "

      From March 24, 2014:

      "Is discussion of microaggressions “a new form of divisive hypersensitivity?” In some cases, presumably yes."

      Somerby, as usual went on to minimize the complaints of young adults and suggest that their problems weren't important because there is a racial gap in NAEP scores between black and white students. He said he wanted to know how extensive the racial slights of young adults were, implying they were limited to just the people discussed in the news article at hand. This is how Somerby tends to react to complaints about racism in daily life.

      Nov 21, 2013:

      "Can we talk? We liberals are in love with the claim that Obama is being reviled due to race. Presumably, that’s true in some cases, and maybe even in many cases, just as Winfrey said.

      But “many” is a highly imprecise term. Meanwhile, our modern pseudo-liberal R-bombing tends to be sweeping and indiscriminate. When we pseudo-liberals bomb, we tend to employ carpet bombing."

      Oct 4, 2011, Somerby similarly dismissed an article about Obama's treatment as unsubstantiated. Then he again accused the left of loving to use the R-bomb.

      On Nov 21, 2013, Somerby criticized Charles Blow, a favorite target. Blow said:

      "For those reasons, some can see racism where it is absent, and others can willfully ignore any possibility that it could ever be present."

      Somerby claimed that Blow was only willing to acknowledge those who fail to see racism and not those who see racism when it isn't there. He spent a long time discussing Rush Limbaugh and whether his complaints about Obama were racial, concluding that Blow was opposing Limbaugh due to tribe, not because Limbaugh is racist. That puts Somerby in the category of people who will not see racism when it does exist. Somerby spent quite a few essays claiming that criticism of Obama was not racially motivated.

      More recently, Somerby has said explicitly that concerns about racism are overblown because racism is no longer a thing. It is more difficult to search for those statements without knowing exact words contained in them. The examples here were easier to find because of words like microaggression (which Somerby dismisses as impossible because the black students claiming them were at Yale). But these examples above should give you the gist of Somerby's argument -- that racism is unimportant compared to educational gaps and poverty among black children, that racism is being used for political reasons by liberals, that tribalism trumps race among liberals, that black writers do not recognize their own political biases, that students today are too coddled to recognize that there experiences of racism are minor compared to the freedom riders who were murdered, those who were lynched and atrocities of the past. Since these are no longer happening (according to Somerby), there is no longer racism that is frequent enough or serious enough to care about. And then Somerby argues in defense of every cop who has shot an unarmed black man.

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    7. Here Somerby argues that Zimmerman was not racially biased against Trayvon Martin for being black:

      "“It’s a case study in how the same kind of bias that causes racism can cause unwarranted allegations of racism.”

      We tend to agree with that. Many of the judgments being aimed at Zimmerman reflect the same kinds of “thinking” that have driven the thinking of mobs and tribes all through the annals of time.

      Through the sweep of our brutal American history, white racists were allowed to act on their judgments in especially repugnant ways. But the process of simple-minded typological judgment remains the same all over the world when members of tribes make simple-minded snap judgments about members of other tribes.

      Time after time, members of the liberal world has been stunningly simple-minded in the past few weeks. We “liberals” can be dumbasses too, and we seem determined to prove it."

      July 18, 2013
      https://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-reach-and-power-of-standard-group.html

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    8. https://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2017/09/where-deplorables-are-over-here.html

      In this one, Somerby argues that the number of people endorsing a racist statement on the GSS, a survey of racial attitudes, is exaggerated because of the poor wording of the survey. Somerby has no expertise in survey construction, but he is certain that the number of conservative racists must be far fewer than claimed by Hillary with her deplorables remark. He also uses this as evidence that liberals are too quick to see racism in people who may simply be nitpicking the question the way he did.

      So, it isn't racism but literal reading of questions that makes people say things like black people shouldn't receive "special favors". That whole framing is conservative, which is why the GSS used it. The number of people endorsing that statement is a valid indicator of racial resentment, among social scientists (which Somerby is not).

      This kind of sophistry has occurred many times over the years. Somerby seems to think that if he can disqualify a single question, then he can overturn the entire existence of racism among deplorables, The Others, white people in general. Meanwhile, the left is called tribal for objecting to racism when it occurs in the news.

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    9. So you were not able to back up the claim that he said racism no longer exists. That's what I thought.

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    10. What happened here is that you stupidly interpreted what he wrote as saying that racism no longer exists because you're a fucking dumb fuck.

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    11. As I see it, I did back up the claim and then you started using profanity and calling names. That's what trolls do when they run out slogans to troll with.

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    12. Well you didn't back it up. Sorry about that. Very very sad to see that you think you did.

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    13. Just provide the quote. You said that he said something. Where did he say it? Just provide the quote. Until then, you have not backed up the quote to which you attributed to him. Why is that difficult for you? What do you not understand about that?

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    14. The commenter well demonstrated Somerby's long history of denying racism, if you want to search the archives, it is full of garbage like that.

      What you are responding to are two issues:

      1) a right wing tendency to be excessively literal, particularly when it suits their agenda

      2) Somerby's world famous coyness, weaponized for plausible deniability

      Like many involved in corruption and/or illegality (the Mafia, the Trump Crime Family) Somerby is careful to not come out and directly say "Hey y'all, I am goddamn motherfucking unrepentant racist. It is fun to swim in the racist pool, y'all, it is untainted by Black people's inferiority and their stinky cooties, come on in!"

      At least the racist rednecks that make up the majority of the South are more straightforward with their racism, which also makes Somerby a coward, in a sense.

      When you fail to speak out about, or even notice, obvious oppression such as racism, that makes you complicit as well.

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    15. You're suffering so deeply.

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    16. June 14, 2021
      "According to McCartney, the conservative parents who complained last week "see any attempt to remedy [racism] as a threat and an insult." After mocking some of the comments made by "the mostly White parents," McCartney set about showing how silly their complaints really were.

      Their complaints don't [seem] super-silly to us. "

      And there was this on Aug 21, 2013:

      "In the world of corporate and for-profit media, race and gender have become the central organizing principle of ersatz liberalism. In our view, this is creating a Very Dumb Politics of the ersatz left.

      We also think that this is serving as a beard for plutocrat interests—that race is being used, again, to distract regular people from plutocrats’ financial interests. For more than a century, race was used to distract working-class whites way from their actual financial interests. Now, it almost seems like race is being used to distract college-educated white liberals.

      One thing is certain: In our for-profit and corporate media, we pseudo-liberals love to drop our R-bombs. It’s the cream we get in our coffee, the joy of our tribalized world."

      So, it isn't that racism exists and needs to be countered, as liberals claim, but that liberals are using racism to attack the right (drop our R-bombs, as Somerby puts it), because we love it and the plutocrats get to distract everyone with talk about race.

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    17. That is so true. He is so completely accurate about that. Comments in this here section back up that claim.

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    18. Also one thing we all need to learn to do is to be able to hold two different thoughts in our head at the same time. Recognizing, the obvious in this case, that liberals use race as a political weapon does not mean that the person recognizing it thinks race doesn't exist or that it's not an important issue. Your logic above is faulty and expresses plainly and in a crystal clear way you're misunderstanding. And why you made a false quote up to support your illogical preconceptions.

      But overall the issue that is more important is that something is the matter. For you to write the way you do and the way you have here, something is not going very well. That, you should address.

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  2. I wish this teacher had used Thomas Sowell as the conservative voice, rather than Trump. Liberals, in effect, have been censoring Sowell for decades. The New York 'Times has apparently banned his columns. He isn't interviewed on the various news and information shows (other than FoxNews.) Consider that for decades he has been the leading conservative intellectual and is black to boot.

    One would think that liberal anti-racists would make a special effort to present a black spokesperson. Why don't they use Sowell? IMO they shun him because he's a black person who thinks for himself and doesn't follow their preferred narrative. Furthermore, his evidence-based books persuasively refute that narrative.

    BTW at age 93 Sowell just published another book. That brings his total to almost 50 books. His books are noteworthy for the amount of factual evidence he presents to demonstrate his points.

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    1. Sowell is the Karl Marx of the Right.

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    2. Conservative intellectual is an oxymoron.

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    3. Why use Sowell when Coates is so much better as a writer and thinker and more closely represents the experience and attitudes of most black people, which Sowell does not?

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    4. How the three critics above read any of Sowell's 45+ books? I'd guess they're just repeating the calumnies that the left uses to deprive their readers of an independently thinking, smart black conservative. Please correct me if you HAVE read some of his books.

      BTW @1:08 is wrong, when s/he says Sowell didn't represent the black experience. Sowell was raised in black ghetto of Harlem, attended segregated schools and was a high school dropout. (He later became a great student, earning a BA from Harvard and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.)

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    5. Yes, Clarence Thomas had a typical early experience too. And yet these men (include McWhorter too) have defined themselves as exceptions to black experience in adulthood. Why? Is that how they managed to get ahead, or is this like the phenomenon of self-hating Jews, only black. That happens frequently enough that there is a name for it.

      The problem with using Sowell would be that you don't teach school children about black culture by presenting them with the views of black men who identify with the white mainstream instead of embracing and feeling positive about their black roots. Being white-identified means they are not qualified to exemplify or represent black identity. Of course you admire these writers. They are telling white people what they want to hear.

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    6. @2:10 My viewpoint may shock you, but I'm not sure that it's important to teach black culture. When I was in school, they didn't teach about my immigrant Jewish culture. They did teach about the dominant Christian culture, and that's just what I wanted. I was going to live in a predominantly Christian society. I needed to learn how to do that.

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    7. Sowell is my cousin, and he is well aware that his station in life is the result of a pernicious form of racism called tokenism.

      Since he has become wealthy off it, he has chosen to keep silent, but at family reunions he is incredibly generous, offering to pay three fifths of the cost for the reunion t shirts; he thinks this is very amusing.

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  3. "As we noted yesterday, it seems to us that the state law in question actually says something somewhat different. "

    Somerby's opinion about what the state law says is irrelevant because he is not the one recommending discipline of this teacher. The impression of the administrators is what counts, not Somerby, who has no impact on the situation.

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    1. Say something positive about Somerby, anything. Just as an exercise.

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    2. There is no proof that Bob Somerby is actively involved with the Right's non-stop voter suppression tactics.
      What did I win?

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    3. I knew that was coming. I was expecting something more along the lines of "he's not quite as big a bigot as X."

      I think I could simulate you fairly readily with an AI.

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    4. I did that already when Chat GPT was first released.

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    5. Why would you blame someone for disagreeing with Somerby when it is clear that they have different views than he does? That's what comments are for -- exploring the topic from different points of view. Your expectation that people should come here to agree with Somerby strikes me as weird.

      Somerby is often being deliberately provocative. Are we supposed to agree with that too? And while we're at it, why is homogeneity of thought a good thing. Perhaps conflict is bad while disagreement itself is good. Somerby never offers a solution to our partisan divide, but maybe he needs to be telling his readers not to shoot each other, rather than stop disagreeing.

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    6. I don't blame anyone for anything.

      You've twisted the point a bit so I will state it. I don't believe this author has ever wrote anything positive about Somerby (or at least in many years). That's not conducive to generating good conversation when the bias is that great in someone.

      I think I may have found our disagreement.

      Are comments supposed to generate productive conversation? Or specifically, your comments? I think we both know they are not.

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    7. Let's also state that 12:58 met your challenge, and when they did, you took a shot at them.
      Which proved your point that TDH is no place for productive conversations.
      Give yourself a win for that one.

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    8. Ok, I’ll go next. Somerby was right 25 years ago when he said the mainstream media wasn’t liberal. Also, that many pundits were actively opposed to Clinton and Gore.

      That was a long time ago.

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    9. Somerby is right that the performance gaps on standardized tests between white and black students need to be reduced. That is the most right thing he has said around here.

      It is too bad that he has recently taken to arguing (without evidence) that any improvement in scores for black (or white kids in MS) must be the result of teachers cheating.

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    10. Anon at 2:22. Really? We can all read, you are trying to gaslight us about what is right in front of our face? When does the posturing stop?

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    11. It's reminiscent and reflective of the attitude that once we secure power, we'll do the right thing. But we have to fight dirty to get there.

      As plenty of famous writers have pointed out, if you sacrifice what you represent in order to achieve the power to change things for the better, you've lost your integrity and are no longer of pure intent. Sullied.

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    12. Yeah it was a long time ago, mh. I miss those days and I'll concede that Somerby got lost somewhere along the way since then.

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    13. Somerby used to criticize the cozy relationship between the media and politicians, yet a month ago when the Trump campaign hosted a dinner at an upscale restaurant for top corporate media executives, producers, and reporters, Somerby was silent, whereas the old Somerby would have been rightly outraged.

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    14. Bob's saving his rightful outrage for when a Democrat does it.

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  4. Off topic...

    George Orwell writes in 1944:

    "It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

    Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning. To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the rĂ©gimes called Fascist and those called democratic. Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others. Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

    But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword."

    Have things gotten worse since then? Liberal has been redefined. Left and right themselves has changed meaning. Socialism? Used to mean control of the means of production by the worker. These days? Used as a broad bludgeon like how he describes fascism.

    Anyway, I just found it interesting that his writing stands the test of time.

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    1. Yes, Fascist is still being used as a swear word. Beyond that, it is important to remember that people used the word to refer to the Axis powers (Orwell said this in 1944) specifically, not just any political and economic system. Orwell was also British, which means that his references to Conservatives, Socialists, Liberals are to their own political parties of that time period, not today's Socialists or any broader socialism as an political/economic system, nor to even a worldwide socialist organization.

      Wikipedia says about the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB):

      "Unlike other left groups, the SPGB did not see fascism as a special threat to the working class. Rather than formulating it as the last refuge of capitalism organising to defend itself against the working class, the party’s writers and speakers tended to view it as a particular type of reform movement. The two specific characteristics identified were that it tended to be a form of national consolidation—unifying fragment nations such as Germany, Italy and Spain—and that it tended to have the mass support of the working class.[5]

      The party's theory made the working class the politically decisive class, therefore if the working class supported fascism, then fascism would prevail. Answers to letters in the Socialist Standard in the 1930s repeatedly made this point. Early writers noted what Benito Mussolini was able to do with the power of the state on his side, a part of a vindication of the SPGB's approach of the workers seizing control of the state. The SPGB therefore declined to join anti-fascist fronts or to make a particular issue of anti-fascism, arguing that the pro-socialist case was the necessary remedy for fascism.[14]"

      This position is very different than the way socialists and leftists feel about fascism today. Nor is fascism confined to certain states (Germany, Italy, Spain) but it is regarded as allied with conservatives and corporatist wealth to undermine democracy in the US and Europe where it is experiencing a resurgence that has nothing to do with nationalism.

      I'm not sure the meaning of the word has stood the test of time and I tend to think that name-calling has always been with us and is not specific to Orwell's discussion of how fascism has been used to label enemies.

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    2. Your last paragraph is spot on, especially. We watch as words slip down the slope into the cess pit of political name-calling. It's a symptom of broken discourse. Not that I expect you to agree with Somerby about anything.

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    3. It isn't clear why the right needs to label Democrats as fascist or socialist or communist when the word Democrat is already an epithet.

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    4. Another insincere commenter. Welcome, you should feel right at home with these "leftists."

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    5. Fascism has always meant enforcing right wing dominance via violence, and leftists have always opposed fascism. Early fascists tried to adopt certain aesthetics of the left in order to con people - a well worn technique right wingers have used forever and continues to this day; if someone got suckered, that’s on them.

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  5. "At times of substantial partisan division—when we start dividing into tribes—how do we humans tend to react to opposing outlooks and viewpoints?"

    Woods behaved in good faith, following the rules and teaching her class as she had done previously without problems. The difficulty arose because the political climate had changed and she was targeted by parents who did not want race discussed at school.

    Who decides what gets taught? Apparently, in that school district, the political activists decide. Should they? I don't think so. AP classes are not part of the standard required courses that a child mask take to graduate. They are optional, advanced work for college credit.

    Somerby doesn't answer his own questions, but it is hard to believe that he thinks an advanced language course shouldn't deal with controversy. He implies the teacher didn't respect diverse opinions in class, but her action in presenting a Trump speech for balance suggests otherwise. It may be that the students/parents in question only wanted to hear their own views reflected, not those of Coates or other students in the class, or anyone else.

    How does one teach students how to deal with controversy in their writing while avoiding controversy? Somerby has said that we humans don't deal with controversy well, but how will we get better if controversy is glossed in school?

    The part I find weird is that these students said they felt shame and guilt while viewing the materials and reading Coates excerpts (she didn't assign the whole book). How might they have felt if there were any black students in their classroom? This was an all white class. What were the reactions of the other white students in that class? Is racism actually controversial? Who thinks racism is OK? Somerby, the parents, other kids in the class, the kids objecting to the materials? Is South Carolina so warped that people there think pro-racism is just a competing viewpoint, as Somerby seems to suggest? Why is this not a moral issue for Somerby?

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    1. Corby, maybe you need to get laid.

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    2. Corby has left the building, but Cecelia might be game if you are seeking pseudo-female company.

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  6. As long as we're critiquing the work of the WaPo correspondent who authored an article about Mary Wood, let's look at a couple of other things that weren't mentioned.

    When students and parents decided to complain, they addressed their grievances to Elizabeth Barndardt, a recently elected member of the school board who is affiliated with the far-right "Moms for Liberty" group.

    Barnhardt quickly swung into action, denouncing Woods' lesson as "CRT." A state legislator stepped up to insist that a mere reprimand was an insufficient penalty for "illegal lessons." Firing was the proper measure.

    But by all means, let's focus on the clarity of the writer's interpretation of state law. That's the real issue here.

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    1. I think we should focus on what's actually good for the kids. Letting politics get it's ugly hands on specifics of education is the mistake. It's like watching a divorced couple use their kid as a weapon against each other, despicable.

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    2. Quaker in a Basement libels Moms for Liberty by calling them "far-right." An ad hominem attack is not a valid way to argue a point. Would it not be better to look at the policies recommended by MFL and explain why those policies are wrong?

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    3. Being "far right" just means you're wrong about many things. Let's hear specifically why Mom's for Liberty" is wrong.
      For instance, you might mention, they aren't really for "liberty" at all. What with "freedom of speech" being part of "liberty".

      Delete
    4. A libelous statement is false and intended to defame. Is it truly false to say Moms for liberty is far-right? What political party do they support? What is their agenda, and does it align with right wing interests?

      Delete
    5. Once Moms for Liberty (or Moms for anything else) affiliates with a political party, it's going to reduce whatever their initial goals were to purely be to sway voters' opinions instead of fix whatever the perceived problems were originally.

      So now they're being treated as a political entity. Their mistake, in my opinion.

      Delete
    6. mh -- the word that makes it a slur is "far". It's accurate to say that some of MFL key policies are closer to the right than to the left. E.g., they favor smaller government and empowering parents to be more responsible for their children. However, the phrase "far right" implies something extreme or radical. It would similarly be a slur if someone were described as "far-left".

      Delete
    7. Is there not a spectrum of views on the right/left, such that some right wing/left wing views are more extreme than others? I fail to see how “far” renders it a slur. And this quibble fails to acknowledge the truth of what the original commenter said.

      Delete
    8. https://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2022/06/what-does-moms-for-liberty-really-want.html

      https://curmudgucation.substack.com/p/moms-for-liberty-and-hitler

      https://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2022/09/moms-for-liberty-are-primed-for.html

      Note the interconnections between Moms for Liberty and other conservative professional activists and fundraisers. It is hard to argue that they are a bipartisan grassroots parents group with such ties, their current activities, and the lack of involvement from less political parents.

      Delete
    9. People on the far left don't consider being called far left as a slur.

      Delete
    10. Sounds like Mom's for Liberty aren't Right at all. They favor small government, just like pro-lifers do.
      Also, they don't want parents to both have to work (sometimes multiple jobs), and instead want parents to have the time to be empowered to be more responsible for their children. I haven't seen their call for wage increases across the board, more union membership, and a higher minimum wage, but maybe I'm looking in the wrong places.
      Can anyone provide links?

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    11. See links above @2:49

      Delete
    12. MH the original commenter stated a bunch of facts. I have no quarrel with those facts. Unstated was the implication that the teacher was treated horribly and unfairly. We are really debating the implication, not the facts.

      One can forgive the teacher for using this book. It was a best-seller, after all. OTOH she could have used books that bring the races together, rather than divide them. That would have been a better choice IMO.

      I wonder how serious the things that happened to the teacher. A comment from a legislator might be upsetting, but it doesn't directly affect her career. The letter of reprimand might be more serious, but I don't know how it will affect her career.

      What might have upset the teacher is learning that her world view wasn't shared by others, including people in power over her. I imagine that she felt virtuous in selecting this book. How did she feel when she discovered that some people saw it doing something bad.
      .

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    13. The populist conservative party weighs in on the UAW strike.

      "You strike, you’re fired.’ Simple concept to me,” Scott said to laughter.

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    14. Nikki Haley: I was a union buster!

      She said this with pride, not dissimilar from the pride I heard growing up in South Carolina when people expressed these common phrases (even to this day):

      White makes right

      That’s mighty White of you (a common alternate way of saying thank you)

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    15. 3:06

      2:52 is being sarcastic, skewering the “Moms”.

      Delete
    16. David, she was threatened with being fired.

      Delete
    17. One of David's pet peeves is bringing the races together, which is why he...(checks notes)...is a Republican who has voted for Trump in the last two general elections.
      It's almost as ridiculous as when he writes that he's pro-choice, or when he thinks Republicans in power will treat him as one of the "good Jews".

      Delete
    18. Like I said:
      https://thehill.com/opinion/education/4086179-six-reasons-why-moms-for-liberty-is-an-extremist-organization/

      Delete
    19. https://www.vice.com/en/article/5d93qd/moms-for-liberty-proud-boys

      Delete
  7. “How well do we the humans tend to cope with differences of opinion?”

    Somerby, just asking innocuous questions.

    Let’s see. When confronted with someone who objects to something you are doing, should you immediately apologize and cease, or do you defend yourself, as Mary Wood did? Were her actions an acceptable way to deal with a “difference of opinion?” Coates attended the school board meeting that was reported on several months ago. Somerby could peruse the discussion that took place, including the suggestion that Wood be fired.

    When the two students and parents had a difference of opinion about the teaching of Coates’ book, how did they handle it? They used the threat of a vague state law to force the book to be withdrawn. That was the way they handled their difference of opinion. Oh, and some recommended firing the teacher.

    One could infer that Somerby objects to Coates’ book and finds its removal perfectly acceptable, thus his innocent question becomes a critique of liberal pushback against this event, but he is too coy to state that clearly. He has stated unequivocally in the past that “children belong to their parents”, so again one could infer that he has already answered his own question about who should decide what gets taught. The answer in Somerby’s view, apparently, is: anyone but the teacher.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "One could infer that Somerby objects to Coates’ book and finds its removal perfectly acceptable"

      On what basis would one make such an inference? (beyond quoting Bob's alarmingly unequivocal statement that "children belong to their parents)".

      Delete
    2. I don’t know, Hector. Why don’t you try recalling what Somerby has had to say about Coates previously:

      “It's hard to force oneself through the big bag of air which is the current version of Coates.”

      And “Coates resorts to a chain of words which conveys a vast great powerful sense of grievance and, truth to tell, little else. In our increasingly pitiful tribe, we defer to such silly plays.”

      From:

      “Our team is an embarrassment, faux!”

      http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2017/09/our-team-is-embarrassment-faux.html?m=1

      In today’s essay, he wants you to know Ms Wood was going to spend three, possibly four weeks on Coats. Just sayin’!

      Delete
    3. What exactly are you saying? State it directly.

      Delete
    4. Somerby is a racist asshole who has repeatedly attack Coates, Blow, Don Lemon, our newest Supreme Court Justice, and other black journalists and professors, because he doesn't like it that they have succeeded where he has not. mh was clear enough for those of us who have been reading Somerby regularly.

      Delete
    5. That's what I thought he was saying.

      Delete
    6. mh,

      I don't think criticizing a writer should be construed as advocating for their removal. Do you?

      Delete
  8. Liz is not only an author, she’s an editor, too:

    https://www.amazon.com/Pretty-Bitches-Called-Frumpy-Undermine/dp/1580059198

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Liz is many things - there are several profiles of her in the media where one can learn many details of her life, but she is not a cousin of DIC, who bizarrely wants to insert himself, Zelig-style, into the discourse, and thinks a shortcut around his ridiculous right wing views is to lie about who his relatives are. Obviously DIC is a sad and lonely lost soul, one hopes he can find peace of mind, but it won’t be through telling his weird lies.

      Delete
    2. Glad you mentioned "Pretty Bitches" @4:35. Lizzie not only edited the book, she wrote one of the essays. The essays were written by women who I would call radical feminists. I may not always agree with them, but they're all good writers. Their viewpoints are worth considering.

      Delete
    3. Lizzie is known to friends and family as Liz, glad you are dropping the lie, as she personally found it creepy.

      Delete
  9. “Beyond that, does South Carolina actually have a "policy against making students uncomfortable because of their race?"

    South Carolina actually does have a cultural policy of making people uncomfortable because of their race, it’s called racism.

    ReplyDelete
  10. If you've ever had the misfortune of being around someone who admires the white supremacy in the US, the idea that the country is going to shit because of race mixing and making dark skin people think they are part of white history is scary to them.

    To be white isn't just to have white skin, it's to be first in history, to lead, to be considered to everyone else at the best.

    That's what "making people feel about about being white" really is.

    It's a way to keep you fighting while they steal your wages, tips, pensions, insurance money. You're too busy sending bomb threats to libraries.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know a lot about racism and white supremacy.

      Delete
    2. I suggest reading anything written by David Neiwert, who has been tracking white supremacist extremists in the Northwest for decades now. Then you will know a lot about racism and white supremacy too @6:31.

      Delete
    3. I'm good. Thanks though.

      Delete
  11. Cecelia is a woman,

    David is Lizzie Skurnick’s cousin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymouse 7:16pm, you badly need to get over me.

      But listen, if I were a man you’d be my type, baby. Now go gnaw on someone else’s toes for awhile.

      Delete
  12. Ms Wood could have asked her class to study the sixth volume of Marvel Comics' "Black Panther" series, also by Ta-Nehisi Coats.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Would that teach the students anything about composition, being a comic book?

      Delete
    2. I agree with Coates' takes on racism - it was foundational to creating America and continues largely unabated; however, yes he is not an academic, nor a public intellectual, he is an opportunist out to commodify white fragility. After all, it is low fruit, not strange fruit!

      Mary Wood seems like an excellent teacher that could wring educational value out of any text.

      imp, or their alter ego, would likely want her to take on Mein Kampf.

      DIC, is Mary Wood a cousin of yours, or maybe a high school classmate, or some such weird circumstance? I am a bit sweet on her, maybe you could pass her a note.

      Delete
    3. “Mein Kampf” is in German, so it’s not useful for teaching English composition. A German once told me it’s badly written, so it’s not a good example for teaching German composition, either.

      Delete
  13. Observing public affairs from a different point of view:

    https://www.mediamatters.org/steve-bannon/steve-bannon-calls-attorney-general-merrick-garland-purely-evil-individual-who-will

    ReplyDelete
  14. It's hard to discuss who is or isn't a racist, because some negative things about blacks ON AVERAGE are true. Blacks do lag Asians and whites academically by several years ON AVERAGE. Blacks do commit a lot more crimes ON AVERAGE than whites and Asians. Blacks do have substantially lower IQs ON AVERAGE than whites and Asians. (Where IQ is defined as the score on IQ tests. I am not saying that the IQ score measures anyone's inherent intelligence.)

    Today's liberals have decreed that it's racist to mention these differences. Thus, the book THE BELL CURVE is deemed racist because it provided the true figures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It isn't about who is and is not a racist. It is about stopping doing racist things to other people and treat people better. Your stats about blacks are a self-justification for being a jerk toward others. Just because people are different doesn't mean you should treat them badly, as too many people do.

      Delete
    2. See, DIC isn't as coy as Somerby, he pretty just says it: I am racist.

      Btw I am surprised how some here misunderstand what a bell curve demonstrates and how it relates to variability.

      Delete
    3. Thanks @11:41 for perfectly illustrating my point. Accurately mentioning these facts leads to accusations of being a racist.

      But policies in any area must be based on reality, or they won't work. @11:41's attitude is widespread, which is a shame. This unrealistic attitude has held blacks back. I don't think @11:41 is a racist. I do think the right aphorism is that with friends like @11:41, blacks don't need enemies.

      Delete
    4. On Average, the dumbest motherfuckers on this planet are republican congresscritters, wouldn't you agree, David?

      Delete
    5. Oh I see how this game is played. It's a fact that the vast majority of mass shootings with assault weapons in this country are by whites. It's a fact that the vast majority of racists in this country are white. It's a fact that the fascistic nationalism in this country is almost entirely populated by whites. It's a fact that the January 6th resurrection was overwhelmingly by whites and that the FBI has identified the primary source of terrorist activity in this country as white. It's a fact that almost all white collar crime in this country involving billions of dollars, including internet crime, is via the activity of whites. It's a fact that the largest recession in the history of our lives triggered by the housing crisis was the result of the avarice and greed of whites, and that an outsized number of financial institutions involved in that crisis were run by Jewish white people.But I am not anti-semetic. It's probably a coincidence.

      As far as Thomas Sowell is concerned, not a big fan of libertarians. First off, they tend to be funded by the Koch brothers, who adhere to that whole Ayn Rand thing whereby greed is good, and government only gets in the way. And incidentally, the NYT didn't black ball him any more than the WSJ blackballs Krugman. The NYT has had more reputable conservative economists on board like Greg Mankiw, as judged by his peers, Harvard chair, Council of Economic Advisors credentials etc. But back to Sowell. He who argues that Reagan style economic policy, the so-called trickle down variety, has been given a bad rap. He may want to tell that to Bruce Bartlett who together with Jack Kemp and others invented it during the Reagan administration. Only to later, being an honest man, abandon it publicly as a failure after years of its implementation revealed such. Nobody but the republican party and so called libertarians like Thomas Sowell believe in the Laffer curve at this late date; it's been mathematically modeled and does not work at anywhere near our current tax rates. For a good rundown on what's wrong with this thinking try Thomas Picketty's opus magnus "Capital in the 21st Century". I will put that book up against any of the 50 or so in Sowell's list.

      In sifting through reviews of Sowell books there are some pretty nutty ideas exposed. He argued in the 80's that the 70% disparity in pay for women must have been the logical outcome of market forces judging their relative inefficiency in the workplace c/w men. Gotta wonder what he would say about the paucity of black head football coaches in the NFL. You see, in the world of libertarians like Sowell, their Darwinian landscape is populated by winners through meritocracy and losers, many black, because they're just plain lazy. Critics of his books point to instances in which he blatantly cherry picks data and ignores others to prove a point. But we've got 50 or so books to put out, so that's trifling. A smart man, no doubt, to be so prolific, way smarter than his brethren, Clarence Thomas, with whom he shares a similar disdain for those not so hard working to become NFL head coaches. Oh yeah, it's their culture holding them back.

      Delete
    6. Or, as DIC would say, their IQ's.

      Delete
  15. A CNN poll says Nikki Haley would beat Biden today by 6 points, and he is tied statistically with all the other non-Trump GOP candidates.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kamala Harris will be the USA's first woman President.

      Delete
    2. Democrats just scored a big win in an election on Tuesday: Democrat Hal Rafter defeated Republican James Guzofski 56 percent to 44 percent in a special election to fill a Republican-held seat in the New Hampshire state House. Assuming Democrats win another special election in November in a solidly blue seat, Rafter’s win means the New Hampshire state House will be tied at 198 Republicans and 198 Democrats (with two independents and two seats still vacant). On paper, that will end full Republican control of New Hampshire state government. (In practice, whoever controls the House could change by the day depending on legislator absences.)

      It’s also the latest example of Democrats outperforming in a special election, a trend that could be a harbinger of a very good year for Democrats in 2024. This New Hampshire district is 6 percentage points more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole, according to a weighted average of the 2020 and 2016 presidential results in the district.* Yet Rafter won by 12 points — an 18-point Democratic overperformance above their partisan baseline.


      Tell us some more about Nimarata Nikki Randhawa, I am so excited for her chances.

      Delete