The Outstater

April 1, 2021

Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge. ~ Carl Jung

A FRIEND THINKS he was present at the beginning of critical race theory. It was a seventh-grade bible study in the early 1960s in a small town on the Great Plains. 

A student from a nearby college was leading the study and, hoping for a moment of agonizing self-appraisal if not spiritual awakening, she asked each of the participants to say whether they would drink after certain others at a water fountain. She hoped to correct some wrong thinking in her little troop of callow Baby Boomers.

But none of the youths there knew what to say. The few families in town that met the teacher’s description of questionable water-fountain imbibers were ranchers or railroaders like everyone else, indistinguishable in income, culture or dress. The thought of not drinking after them had never occurred.

Nonetheless, the session sparked a lot of thinking, although perhaps not what was intended. Several would wonder if there was something they hadn’t been told, something about these “others” that was dangerous somehow. Some would wonder why, if the water fountain was open to everyone, the question had to be asked at all.

But the upcoming summer journal is not about critical race theory per se, an evolving and difficult to define attempt at social engineering by corporate and government institutions. Rather, we explore the impetus behind it and how educators might inadvertently or even purposefully hobble an upcoming generation, particular that penultimately impressionable group from kindergarten to grade eight. 

We argue that what some students are learning today is only tangentially related to fairness in dealing with race, sex or other differences. And for argument’s sake, we group this new pedagogy into what we will call Identity Politics, the idea that groups can be characterized as good or bad, greedy or kind, in the same way as one might characterize an individual.

This conception of equality sacrifices the unlimited opportunities of freedom for a common denominator, a concern written into this foundation’s mission statement 32 years ago. William Voegeli, reviewing the life work of Thomas Sowell for the Claremont Review of Books, gets it right:

“Constant state interventions will be needed to minimize the consequences, good and bad, of individuals’ choices, habits and dispositions. For the sake of group equality, the disciplined, responsible, and ambitious will be penalized so that those who can’t or won’t manifest these qualities are rewarded.”

Finally, we argue that the engines driving Identity Politics are the eternally recognizable ones of envy and power, a thought to be explored more fully this summer. For now, it is enough to say teachers should be ever so careful to provide their students a full context regarding any subject entwined in those two base human motivations. — tcl


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