From the New York Times opinion page:
By Kmele Foster, David French, Jason Stanley and Thomas Chatterton Williams
The authors are a cross-partisan group of thinkers who have written extensively about authoritarianism, liberalism and free speech.
What is the purpose of a liberal education? This is the question at the heart of a bitter debate that has been roiling the nation for months.
Schools, particularly at the kindergarten-to-12th-grade level, are responsible for helping turn students into well-informed and discerning citizens. At their best, our nation’s schools equip young minds to grapple with complexity and navigate our differences. At their worst, they resemble indoctrination factories.
In recent weeks, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and Texas have passed legislation that places significant restrictions on what can be taught in public school classrooms and, in some cases, public universities, too.
Tennessee House Bill SB 0623, for example, bans any teaching that could lead an individual to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” In addition to this vague proscription, it restricts teaching that leads to “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people.”
… It is because of these differences that we here join, as we are united in one overarching concern: the danger posed by these laws to liberal education.
The laws differ in some respects but generally agree on blocking any teaching that would lead students to feel discomfort, guilt or anguish because of one’s race or ancestry, as well as restricting teaching that subsequent generations have any kind of historical responsibility for actions of previous generations.
In contrast to fragile white children who can’t stand the slightest criticism of their race, schools have ordered several million copies of Charles Murray’s new book Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America as an assigned text that all high school seniors will be reading in August. As we all know, blacks are famously fair-minded and rugged about open intellectual debate, which is why you never ever read op-eds in the New York Times by blacks complaining about trivial slights or children touching their hair.
They attempt various carve outs for the impartial teaching of the history of oppression of groups. But it’s hard to see how these attempts are at all consistent with demands to avoid discomfort. These measures would, by way of comparison, make Germany’s uncompromising and successful approach to teaching about the Holocaust illegal, as part of its goal is to infuse them with some sense of the weight of the past and (famously) lead many German students to feel anguish about their ancestry.
Likewise, what school district doesn’t mandate a class on how black criminals destroyed American big cities in order to instill guilt and better behavior in blacks and to teach white children that they must never forget and never again acquiesce to the criminal violence that drove their ancestors into suburban exile from their once great cities?
… What’s more, these laws even make it difficult to teach U.S. history in a way that would reveal well-documented ways in which past policy decisions, like redlining, have contributed to present-day racial wealth gaps.
In contrast, while you never hear about redlining, countless school districts mandate a week of instruction on how George W. Bush’s Increasing Minority Homeownership diversity push set off the Housing Bubble and Bust of 2008.
An education of this sort would be negligent, creating ignorant citizens who are unable to understand, for instance, the case for reparations — or the case against them.
But mostly the case for reparations. After all, we shall never have equity as long as whites have more home equity than blacks.
Because these laws often aim to protect the feelings of hypothetical children, they are dangerously imprecise. State governments exercise a high degree of lawful control over K-12 curriculum. But broad, vague laws violate due process and fundamental fairness because they don’t give the teachers fair warning of what’s prohibited.
In contrast, who has ever heard of a white getting canceled for some minor violation of state-of-the-art prescribed jargon about race? That never happens.