I have a lot to say in response to Curmie’s excellent comment regarding the large writers association somehow deciding the the government threatens free speech by regulating itself. For once, however, I think I’ll take my issues up in a separate post, and perhaps in the comments.
Meanwhile, here is Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the post, “PEN America’s Ignorant And Sinister Support For School Indoctrination…”
None of the following should be interpreted as dissent regarding your take on PEN’s First Amendment argument.
That said, I think it’s important to note the phrase “free speech and the First Amendment.” This construction accurately describes the fact that the two concepts, though related, are not identical. Telling a teacher what must or must not be said in the classroom does indeed inhibit free speech; this is, of course, not inherently a problem, which is why such restrictions remain constitutional. But the fact remains that even at the university level I can say things in my private capacity that would rightfully warrant censure (at least) were I to do so while functioning as a state employee.
It’s also worth mentioning that being “constitutional” does not necessarily imply that something is a good idea. Constitutionality means simply that the Supreme Court, configured as it happened to be when the case came before them, determined something to be constitutional, and that no subsequent SCOTUS has overturned that ruling. Thus, for example, abortion and ownership of certain kinds of weaponry are both constitutionally protected (within some limits), although I suspect that a majority of citizens think one or the other ought not to be… it’s just that we can’t agree on which one.
Further, we should understand that both Critical Race Theory and your description of it as “anti-white, anti-American propaganda” are subjective analyses which attempt to clarify or interpret objective evidence. Sometimes the connections are obvious; sometimes they’re more complex, nuanced… or strained. That doesn’t make subjectivity bad or wrong (indeed, it’s necessary more often than not), provided we recognize it for what it is.
In terms of Critical Race Theory in particular, much of the tension comes from an inability (unwillingness?) to agree on a definition of what we’re talking about. Saying that the US was founded “as a racist country” is certainly contentious; saying that some racial inequities were intentionally built into the nation’s founding documents by white men is simply a fact.
We might be able to increase the light to heat ratio of the discussion by turning from our own country to ancient Athens, regarded as the birthplace of democracy. And it was. Sort of. Far more average people than ever before were granted access to the privileges of citizenship: voting, holding office, serving on juries, etc. But citizenship was reserved for freeborn males, both of whose parents were also born in Athens. Thus, far less than half of the total population were even potential citizens. Nor was there was much opportunity for upward mobility in socio-economic terms… none of which suggests that the steps towards what we now call democracy were anything but profoundly significant.
The problem that I see with many of the attacks on Critical Race Theory, especially those emanating from state legislatures in red states, is that too often the definition of what constitutes CRT is so broad that teaching even objective facts that reference race would be prohibited.
I recently wrote on my own blog that whereas you, Jack, didn’t learn about Kristallnacht in high school, I did. What I didn’t learn about were the massacres at Wounded Knee or Tulsa, the exclusion of most black veterans from the benefits of the GI Bill in its first permutation, or the wartime internment of US citizens who happened to be of Japanese descent. Those are facts, not theories, and there are those who would forbid mentioning, much less discussing, those realities, just as there are those who continue to write textbooks saying that slaves “immigrated” from West Africa, or that First Nations people “agreed” to turn their land over to white folks and live on reservations.
By the time students reach high school, they’re old enough and sophisticated enough to learn that young George Washington did not, in fact, confess to chopping down that cherry tree with his little hatchet. They’re also old enough to hear the truth about this nation’s troubled relationship with race. That doesn’t mean they need to hear harangues about their evil (or victimized) ancestors. It does mean that objective facts should be fair game, and that historically contextualized discussion would also be appropriate, providing that opinions are identified as such rather than as inherent truth.