“The common curse of mankind, folly and ignorance, be thine in great revenue!”William Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida (Act 2, Scene 3)
I am a little confused how describing someone as “woke” is some sort of criticism or mockery. The antonyms of woke are deadened, damped, or dulled. So if one is woke and thus not deadened, damped, or dulled, how is that a negative trait?
Once again, it would seem that many Americans prefer the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia to the realities of history. Rather than embracing necessary and long overdue change to many of the once firm and false foundations of much of our educational doctrine, they revert to the age-old tactic of name-calling and rigid ignorance of reality.
Critical race theory, one such controversial philosophy—which I am willing to bet most people who oppose it cannot define it and will not take the time to understand it—cannot be adequately evaluated unless we are willing to openly debate the value and necessity. Fortunately, much like the latest iteration of banning books they’ve never read, operating from a position of willful ignorance doesn’t make the issue disappear. They also claim parental rights to control the tenor and content of their children’s education by limitation and restrictions rather than open and informative debate.
Such claims of parental rights are not new. They were the basis of previous contentious changes within the educational system. The primary one, compulsory education, once brought out the same argument. Yet progressive wisdom prevailed, and the courts upheld the societal benefit of such policies.
No one would argue against the benefit of a better educated society, thus the benefit of such progress.
There are those who promulgate the myths of Sharia law or forced Socialism infesting the U.S. in an attempt to spread fear and concern. They would limit the study of religion in schools— an essential element of civilization from a historical not doctrinal perspective—to a Judeo-Christian focus (and some might be willing to ignore the Judeo aspect.)
While those who supported compulsory education weren’t called “woke,” their opponents’ categorization of them was essentially the same, progressivism. And while we are using antonyms to make a point, the antonyms of “progressive” are “antiquated” or “regressive.” Does not sound like a sound basis for educational choices or anything else.
Clearly, those who would choose to ignore the past by refusing to teach about it are doing a disservice to the country and our society.
And so there are now bills pending and passed in state legislatures all over the county seeking to halt progress under the guise of protecting America from controversial issues. But, as always, the devil is in the detail with such measures. One such bill in Kentucky—Senate Bill 138, also known as the “Teaching America’s Principles”— seeks to limit the scope of education to what they see as the most supportive of their whitewashed version of American history, stripping out some of the harsh realities.
While these documents should be taught and discussed in school, limiting such educational practices to these documents alone is a restriction on the very freedoms they seek to proclaim as equal for all Americans.
In the language of the bill,
“The understanding that the institution of slavery and post-Civil War laws enforcing racial segregation and discrimination were contrary to the fundamental American promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, but that defining racial disparities solely on the legacy of this institution is destructive to the unification of our nation;.”
One would be wise to recall that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights applied at the outset to white men. It took the courts, in fits and starts, to force the application of these inalienable rights to women and minorities.
A basic reading of the elements of critical race theory, if one bothered to make the effort, shows that the doctrine does not teach racism as the sole legacy of the institution, but rather a fundamental element of it with lasting effects in today’s America.
The bill also prohibits educators from requiring politically or socially ideological assignments if they go against the student or their family’s values or beliefs.
“Any instruction or instructional materials on current, controversial topics related to public policy or social affairs provided to public school or public charter school students, regardless of whether the individual that provides the instruction is employed by the local school district or public charter school, shall be:(a) Within the range of knowledge, understanding, age, and maturity of the students receiving the instruction; and (b) Relevant, objective, nondiscriminatory, and respectful to the differing perspectives of students.”
So, suppose the language is taken at face value. In that case, one could not teach about the basis of the rise of Nazism, which enjoyed some support within the U.S. before we entered into the war, the rise of right-wing dictatorships in Central and South America with our help, or, even closer to home, the prevalence and influence of the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S. Such lessons are important as a precaution against return of such policies. They would have you believe eliminating the teaching about such historical facts is not a risk but a benefit.
I’m certain this is not looking at reality with an open mind. One needs to understand evil to recognize it. Unconscious bias is a threat that needs to be exposed and eliminated and the only way to do that is to acknowledge its existence and remove its cause.
Clearly, there are instances where political correctness in the guise of cultural sensitivity goes too far. I began this piece with a quote from William Shakespeare—perhaps the greatness master of the English language—whose work has come under scrutiny and removed from some curricula because of sexism, racial stereotypes, and white male dominance themes. That is precisely the point of teaching such monumental material and placing it in the proper context. You don’t ignore it, you analyze it and make it instructive.
Legislation which prohibits teaching controversial material or seeks to ignore the realities of the past—Shakespeare was a product of his time—runs the risk of diluting and diminishing teaching each new generation the important skill of critical thinking. By some standards we should ignore everything Washington or Jefferson ever said or did because they were slaveholders or deny Lincoln’s place in history because he thought blacks to be inferior to the white race.
These are Lincoln’s own words
“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality … I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman, or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men.“Abraham Lincoln September 18, 1858 at Charleston, Illinois, Lincoln
Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson changed over the years. Did they come to fully embrace ‘all men are created equal?’ Only a thorough study of all available material can reveal the truth. We should be able to separate the chaff from the wheat and see the good these men did in the light of their inadequacies. Trying to wedge the square peg of history into the round circle of contemporary thinking is an exercise in futility.
The language and relevant intent of these latest attempts at political control over educational curricula are reminiscent of the thirty-seven Anti-Evolutionary bills that banned the teaching of evolution in schools. Kentucky’s anti-evolution bill failed by just one vote, but Tennessee and other states came to the rescue. Thus we had the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial.
Using the logic of this latest bill limiting educational parameters, one could argue that evolution might fall under the category of controversial social indoctrination once again. Today, fifteen states have passed legislation requiring the inclusion of Slavery and Racism history in the curriculum; thirty-five states have banned it.
I think these states seeking to ban such teachings “doth protest too much.” But don’t listen to Shakespeare, he was a bigot and sexist barbarian.
Such measures ignore the benefit of a complete understanding of historical events and their ramifications today. One needs to understand how slavery or other such institutions took hold both to recognize and prevent their rise in the future and to combat the lasting effects of slavery and racism.
In the Brown University “Slave and Justice Report,” there are some eye-opening disclosures about Rhode Island’s connection to the slave trade that was never part of any history of slavery I was taught in school. Our education about slavery began and ended with the Civil War. The gist of the story was the North were the heroes and the Southerners the slavers. The truth was infinitely more complex. The reality is something both troublesome and critical to a full picture of slavery and racism. Thus, the importance of a complete and balanced analysis of its continuing effect on our society to this day.
Just because something is uncomfortable or contrary to what we may believe is a poor reason not to teach it or seek a complete understanding. I would argue it is more of a reason to teach it. Such wisdom comes at the cost of challenging our beliefs with a broader perspective on history which can only come from more expansive material, not limiting it to that which reinforces what we want to believe.
This is a complex subject requiring a great deal more analysis. This forum is insufficient for such discussion, but I thought it essential to at least stimulate some debate. As an addendum to this piece, I’ve listed the documents Kentucky requires exclusively in their schools (among the most interesting is the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 US 537 (1896) which upheld racial segregation under the separate but equal doctrine and is considered one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in history, yet never explicitly overturned) and the text of President Reagan’s A Time for Choosing speech which is one of the permitted documents. Reagan’s words do not reflect the reality of his Presidency.
The Mayflower Compact
The Declaration of Independence
The Constitution of the United States
The Federalist No. 1 (Alexander Hamilton)
The Federalist Nos. 10 and 51 (James Madison)
The June 8, 1789, speech on amendments to the Constitution of the United States by James Madison
The first ten (10) amendments to the Constitution of the United States, also known as the Bill of Rights;
The 1796 Farewell Address by George Washington
The United States Supreme Court opinion in Marbury v. Madison, 5 US 137 (1803)
The Monroe Doctrine by James Monroe
What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? speech by Frederick Douglass
The United States Supreme Court opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, U.S. 393 (1857)
Final Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln;
The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln;
Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States by Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton;
The September 18, 1895, Atlanta Exposition Address by Booker T. Washington
Of Booker T. Washington and Others by WEB. Du Bois
The United States Supreme Court opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 US 537 (1896);
The August 31, 1910, New Nationalism speech by Theodore Roosevelt
The January 11, 1944, State of the Union Address by Franklin D. Roosevelt;
The United States Supreme Court opinions in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 US 483 (1954) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 349 US 294 (1955);
Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.
The August 28, 1963, I Have a Dream speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Time for Choosing by Ronald Reagan.
For those who have never heard or read this speech, it is important to do so and keep in mind that Reagan presided over one of the most significant increases in government spending in American history.
I am going to talk of controversial things. I make no apology for this.
It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, “We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self government.”
This idea? that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream-the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, “The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.”
The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.
Public servants say, always with the best of intentions, “What greater service we could render if only we had a little more money and a little more power.” But the truth is that outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector.
Yet any time you and I question the schemes of the do-gooders, we’re denounced as being opposed to their humanitarian goals. It seems impossible to legitimately debate their solutions with the assumption that all of us share the desire to help the less fortunate. They tell us we’re always “against,” never “for” anything.
We are for a provision that destitution should not follow unemployment by reason of old age, and to that end we have accepted Social Security as a step toward meeting the problem. However, we are against those entrusted with this program when they practice deception regarding its fiscal shortcomings, when they charge that any criticism of the program means that we want to end payments….
We are for aiding our allies by sharing our material blessings with nations which share our fundamental beliefs, but we are against doling out money government to government, creating bureaucracy, if not socialism, all over the world.
We need true tax reform that will at least make a start toward I restoring for our children the American Dream that wealth is denied to no one, that each individual has the right to fly as high as his strength and ability will take him…. But we can not have such reform while our tax policy is engineered by people who view the tax as a means of achieving changes in our social structure….
Have we the courage and the will to face up to the immorality and discrimination of the progressive tax, and demand a return to traditional proportionate taxation? . . . today in our country the tax collector’s share is 37 cents of -very dollar earned. Freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp.
Are you willing to spend time studying the issues, making yourself aware, and then conveying that information to family and friends? Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community? Realize that the doctor’s fight against socialized medicine is your fight. We can’t socialize the doctors without socializing the patients. Recognize that government invasion of public power is eventually an assault upon your own business. If some among you fear taking a stand because you are afraid of reprisals from customers, clients, or even government, recognize that you are just feeding the crocodile hoping he’ll eat you last.
If all of this seems like a great deal of trouble, think what’s at stake. We are faced with the most evil enemy mankind has known in his long climb from the swamp to the stars. There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States. Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation.
They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right. Winston Churchill said that “the destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits-not animals.” And he said, “There is something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.