Those Who Cannot Remember The Past Are Condemned To Debate It

This Michael Powell look at the tensions inside the ACLU in The Times is must reading. It’s an echo of many orgs in the ed sector, but more importantly it’s an actual case look at the divergence between liberalism and progressivism we’re seeing today.

That split seems relevant to this argument from FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff, of Coddling of the American Mind fame. In Persuasion he takes a look at K-12 schools and viewpoint diversity (and other issues like mental health) and offers up a ten point list of principles.

Lukianoff notes,

If you believe that K-12 schools should inculcate specific political beliefs, you must consider how differently you would feel if those beliefs were, for example, the imposition of the belief that America is—and has always been—a utopia, that all must express unrelenting patriotism, and that to question American exceptionalism is a punishable offense. I oppose any of these attempts to enforce specific political beliefs, and I hope that parents and educators will agree.

The problem, as I see it, is that is how many Americans do feel! And they’re not all wrong. Sentiments here don’t always cut cleanly along racial or other lines (for example, as we’ve noted around here a lot over the last four years, the median white progressive is to the left politically, substantially, of the median African-American on some key issues). But Lukianoff’s counterexample is not a thought exercise, it’s one pole in the debate about what to teach in schools. As with all our debates the loudest extremes drive the debate and polarize the discussion.

Still, you don’t have to be a Zinn or 1619 adherent to think that there is a problem here. We don’t do a great job teaching history – at all and in all ways. Depending on political context we toggle between the America as a hell hole and America as a mostly unblemished hero’s journey and don’t do justice to the complexity. This, even as most sensible people know the reality is more complicated – either intuitively given what they see around them and experience or because they’ve cracked a few books. Or ideally both.

Solving this in schools is as much a capacity as an ideological problem. And it seems like we can’t outrun it, now or historically, and whether we’re talking history standards, an ethnic studies curriculum in California, or the 1619 project, history is what we’re ultimately debating here and it’s a long running debate. So what we need are more constructive ways to talk about these issues and develop high quality curriculum. We may also need some degree of choice although living in a society means you can’t entirely outrun these questions that way, either. And realistically, we’ll continue to muddle through. Although liberalism seem to provide a better framework for that muddling no one has found a way around these questions in diverse society.*

*Yes, the Dutch, I know. I’ve spent enough time there to appreciate the benefits and limits of that model in a U.S. context. That said, I wouldn’t say no to a junket to investigate further!