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Credit goes to my Twitter-friend Jeryl Bier who picked up on this earlier today and spelled it out in a Twitter thread. If you’ve been following the news about anti-CRT bills you may already know that the core of the debate is quite often being obscured by a media that would much rather give the bills the “Don’t say gay” treatment. For instance, the Associated Press ran a story in January about Florida’s anti-CRT bill under the headline “Florida could shield whites from ‘discomfort’ of racist past.” The first paragraph of the story uses the same description. But as Allahpundit pointed out at the time, that’s not an accurate summary of the bill.
When NY Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote a column about the bill a few days later he also mischaracterized it. He wrote, “the criterion for what can be taught isn’t ‘Is it true? Is it supported by the scholarly consensus?’ but rather ‘Does it make certain constituencies uncomfortable?’” Here’s what I wrote at the time.
Krugman is caricaturing the bill in a way that will please his left-wing audience. But what it’s actually saying isn’t objectionable. Students may wind up feeling bad when confronted with the uglier aspects of American history but teachers shouldn’t tell them they should feel bad because of their race.
This sort of mischaracterization of Florida’s anti-CRT bill (and others like it) has been common in the media. So it’s a bit of a surprise to see the NY Times correcting columnist Charles Blow for doing essentially the same thing others have been doing for months, including in the pages of the NY Times. Here’s what Blow wrote in a column published Sunday:
Earlier this month, the Florida Legislature passed the “Stop WOKE Act,” another so-called anti-critical race theory law. This one invoked the idea that a lesson that may make a person “feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” should be banned.
Again, this is the same shorthand used by the AP, Krugman and many others. But yesterday the Times corrected the piece. Here’s how that same paragraph reads now.
This month, the Florida Legislature passed the “Stop WOKE Act,” another so-called anti-critical-race-theory law. This one invoked the idea that teaching that a person “must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress” should be banned.
It’s a slight change to the words but a significant change to the meaning. The new version makes it clear that we’re not talking about lessons that “may” make a person feel guilt, we’re talking about lessons that say a person “must feel guilt.” That’s an improvement but it still leaves out a lot. Specifically, what is it that the law prohibits people from being told they must feel guilty about?
Fortunately, the correction at the bottom of the page is better.
Correction: March 28, 2022
An earlier version of this column mischaracterized a Florida bill that would ban the teaching of critical race theory. It would prohibit promoting the concept that people “must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.” It would not ban lessons that may make people feel guilt.
So it’s one thing to teach a lesson that makes people feel guilt but it’s another to teach kids that they must feel collective racial guilt over past actions. That’s the distinction that’s made in the bill and it’s the one the media has been doing its best to overlook for months. Kudos to the Times for the correction and, while you’re at it, maybe have a look at the earlier column by Paul Krugman.
The history of slavery, the Civil War and Jim Crow are lessons that need to be taught and no one is saying otherwise. And if students are learning about these topics, in an age appropriate way, they are probably going to feel something. That’s normal and appropriate. It’s also appropriate to ensure teachers aren’t unleashing the horrors of these topics on young children in ways that aren’t age appropriate and then using their shock and horror to reinforce the idea that they must feel collective shame and guilt over this history because of their race.
In 2014 Slate published an interview with a German woman about how the holocaust is taught in Germany (at least how it was taught in the 90s when she went to school. She described how the topic was first introduced when kids were 9 or 10 and how they later took a trip to see Dachau Concentration Camp. But it wasn’t until she was 16 and on a trip to Poland that the topic really sunk in for her and her classmates:
When I was 16, I participated in a student exchange with a Polish school, and we went to Poland for two weeks. In general, we had a great time, and the people were lovely. But of course, as a German when you are in Poland, you have to visit Auschwitz. This name stands for everything that happened, and the gate with its infamous writing is known everywhere. We came there as a mixed German-Polish group, and were separated so everybody could have a tour in their native language. So we were only 15 German teenagers, and that made it pretty intense. For me, it was the first time that I really understood the full monstrosity of the Holocaust, not only intellectually but also emotionally—and made the connection to my own family. If you have never been to Auschwitz, this is what you see there.
And when I saw these things that were taken from the prisoners (there is also one room just filled with hair), all the pieces came together in my mind, and I realized the first time on an emotional basis the whole horror. And I think I was not the only one. I found the toughest guy in our group, who would normally never show feelings, standing in front of a display cabinet with baby shoes crying. When the tour ended, we didn’t know how to look our Polish friends in the eyes again, because I think most of us felt unbelievably guilty as it was “our” grandparents who did that to “their” grandparents (together with many, many other innocent people). I remember us even talking about the fact that we were insecure on how to deal with that. Luckily, our Polish friends were pretty cool: When they saw us again after their tour and saw that we were all shocked and some still crying, they came up to us and told us that we shouldn’t be ashamed at all and that we are not responsible for the deeds of our ancestors. It took me a few years to get to the point where I could really feel that way, but I got there.
Maybe some kids won’t ever have an experience that powerful about slavery or the holocaust but I think many will if it’s presented accurately and in an age appropriate way. And if students do find themselves feeling the weight of that history they may indeed feel some shame and some awkwardness about it with classmates. But the important part is that the teacher’s job should not be browbeating kids into those feelings. Teachers should be more like the Polish friends in the story, i.e. acknowledging the feelings but also letting students know that they shouldn’t be personally ashamed because they aren’t personally responsible.
That’s what the Florida bill is about and, while it’s certainly not above criticism, it would be an improvement if left-wing critics could at least admit what it’s really about rather than produce a straw man argument like Charles Blow attempted to do in his column.
Source: This post first appeared on HotAir