Monday, December 27, 2021

Slanted History

Byron Donalds, a former Tea Party activist who as a Republican now represents in the US House of Representatives a portion of southwest Florida, maintains

The number one thing that we all agree on is that history should be taught- objective history should be taught- at all times.  I went to an elementary school where they taught history about our nation- from slavery, through Jim Crow, through the civil rights era. So I learned that in elementary school. Every child should have that.

So you're the one. Representative Donalds was raised in the Crown Heights section in the New York City borough of Brooklyn.  The education he received probably differed from that taught in the largely conservative, Republican states which have become the battleground in the effort to ban the teaching of critical race theory.  He continued

The issue with critical race theory is that it is a subjective view of American history and American law  using race as the lens to focus. And when you bring subjectivity into the classroom, that is what has parents upset, that is what leads to, unfortunately, to children being divided in certain class segments based upon race. That is what's happened in some schools across our country, not all. But when you have something like that occur, that is when parents jump up and they oppose it. We shouldn't have subjectivity. We should definitely teach objective history in our country.

We should, we often have not, and Jelani Cobb interjects to remark "I happen to be an historian and historians really don't believe there is such a thing as objective history."

Oh, dear. We have the ultra-conservative politician being disingenuous about the teaching of American history. And we have the leftist historian arguing that objectivity should not be an aim in teaching history because there is no such thing as objectivity-which is, in the most technical of all terms, poppycock.

History can be taught objectively. If not, the instructor starts with a conclusion she then works backward to defend. Cobb confuses the role of teacher and student because  an objective foundations should be laid by the teacher or professor, whose student then may adopt a particular perspective she is entitled to defend. By contrast, American history presented from a particular vantage point leaves little room for disagreement.

Though the label of "Critical Race Theory" is avoided by educators, "applied CRT" has reached many public school districts such as in Evanston, Illinois and Cupertino, California. Objectivity is abandoned and debate discouraged because there is presumed to be one way, and only one way, to view history. The Atlantic's Anne Applebaum recognizes

Critical race theory is not the same thing as Marxism, but some of its more facile popularizers share with Marxists the deep conviction that their way of seeing the world is the only way worth seeing the world. Moreover, some have encouraged people to behave as if this were the only way of seeing the world. The structural racism that they have identified is real, just as the class divisions once identified by the Marxists were real. But racism is not everywhere, in every institution, or in every person’s heart at all times. More to the point, any analysis of American history or American society that sees only structural racism will misunderstand the country, and badly. It will not be able to explain why the U.S. did in fact have an Emancipation Proclamation, a Civil Rights Act, a Black president. This is a major stumbling block, not so much for the legal scholars (some of whom actually merit the title “critical race theorist”) but rather for the popularizers and the scholars-turned-activists who want to force everybody to recite the same mantras.

I would cite instead the Emancipation Proclamation, a Civil Rights Act, plus Brown v. Board of Education and other judicial decisions. Still, Applebaum realizes that the objective of most of "the popularizers and the scholars-turned-activists" is to force everybody to recite the same mantras. 

That bears what is- or should be- an uncomfortable resemblance to America the Exceptional, the classic educational approach that Byron Donalds may have been fortunate enough to have avoided in his own upbringing. But replacing one set of preconceived notions with another does not create an informed populace. The answer to a sanitized view is not to circumvent objectivity and replace one set of biases with another, but to present American history honestly, accurately, and thoroughly.

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