March Madness Begins, I Guess

[Newspaper Fail]

On page one of my local paper (named Seacoast Sunday on (duh) Sundays), the headline was:

Complaints vs. schools multiply

Well, that's understandable, isn't it?

Ah, but the article's online version (subscribers only) gets a little closer to what the article's author, Megan Fernandes, sees as the real problem:

Seacoast teachers, leaders face complaints and threats. Here's why and who is behind it.

Ooh, not just complaints, but also threats! And there are people behind those threats! Never fear, Megan will tell all!

And if you look at the (I assume) original headline, the one in the HTML <title> tag, it is:

Mask mandates, race issues cause of threats against Seacoast teachers

Ah, now the complaints are gone; there are only threats.

As it turns out, the "threats" about mask mandates don't seem to be directed at teachers, but school board members. This strategy is described at the site "Bonds for the Win": activists can file financial claims against officials who are "not performing their duties" via "surety bonds". In other words, a new way to subject educrats to legal harassment. Fun, but it smells legally dubious, and likely to backfire on the litigants if their efforts are deemed frivolous.

But the more interesting "threat" involves petition-signing by some local teachers (beware, some very slanted language ahead):

Thirty-five teachers in New Hampshire were recently targeted by requests for investigations, including several in the Oyster River, Exeter and Winnacunnet districts. The complaint about teachers was sent to local districts and the state Department of Education by the New Hampshire chapter of No Left Turn in Education, a group that has made national headlines for seeking to ban books from schools, such as Howard Zinn’s "A People’s History of the United States" and Margaret Atwood’s "The Handmaid’s Tale."

The claims cite New Hampshire's new law, signed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu last year as part of the state budget, which will limits [sic] how teachers can talk about issues surrounding race. The new law is being challenged in court by critics who argue it has had a chilling effect on teachers who fear they will face disciplinary action for fostering open discussion of important topics.

The teachers who were the subject of the complaint were flagged by the No Left Turn group for signing the "Zinn Pledge." The pledge is not new, but it has gained nationwide traction since restrictions on teaching certain race-related curriculum surrounding structural racism and Critical Race Theory, were imposed on educators across multiple states. The pledge’s website does not promote the teaching of CRT, it instead provides learning materials based on the approach to history highlighted in Zinn's book “A People’s History of the United States,” which according to the website, “emphasizes the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history.”

The pledge the teachers signed states: “We, the undersigned educators, refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events.”

Well, yeah, it states that. Among other things. Link below.

The national "No Left Turns in Education" site is here; I don't see any demands that books be banned from schools, but I could be missing something.

I agree with NH Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut (quoted in the article): signing "The Zinn Pledge" is in no way against any existing law. (And even if such a law did exist, it would vanish in a puff of unconstitutional smoke the minute it hit the judicial system.)

But is it true that the Zinn Education Project "does not promote the teaching of CRT"? Read this article from their website and get back to me on that.

It's pretty obvious that late Howard Zinn and his current acolytes are the brave heroes of the newspaper's story. Zinn's book A People’s History of the United States is called out twice, uncritically. Is it a required part of any local school curricula? Interesting question to ask the teachers that signed that pledge, but the newspaper article seems uninterested in that issue.

I don't think Zinn's book should be "banned"; leave it on school library shelves. But on the other hand, it has no place in school curricula without a considerable amount of counterbalance.

Michael Huemer, in a piece I've quoted before, gets to the heart of the problem:

It’s a simple point. Suppose you learned that there was a school staffed mainly by right-leaning teachers and administrators. And at this school, an oddly large number of lessons touch upon, or perhaps center on, bad things that have been done by Jews throughout history. None of the lessons are factually false – all the incidents related are things that genuinely happened and all were actually done by Jewish people. For example, murders that Jews committed, times when Jews started wars, times when Jews robbed or exploited people. (I assume that you know that it’s possible to fill up quite a lot of lessons with bad things done by members of whatever ethnic group you pick.) The lessons for some reason omit or downplay good things done by Jews, and omit bad things done by other (non-Jewish) people. What would you think about this school?

I hope you agree with me that this is a story of a blatantly racist and shitty school. It would be fair to describe the school as promoting hatred toward Jewish people, even if none of the lessons explicitly stated that one should hate Jews. I hope you also agree that no parent or voter should tolerate a public school that operated like this.

Now, what if the school’s right-wing defenders explained that there was actually nothing the slightest bit racist or otherwise objectionable about the school, because it was only teaching facts of history? All these things happened. You don’t want to lie or cover up the history, do you?

I hope you agree with me that this would be a pathetic defense.

So if you agree about that, now you understand how non-woke people (the vast majority of people) would see the parallel argument about the actual schools in present-day America when a large number of lessons involve bad things about America and/or white people.

A People's History of the United States is the hard-left equivalent to Huemer's thought experiment. But does it even meet the bottom-line test of the Zinn Pledge? Does it "refuse to lie"? Well… see Wilfred McClay's review of Mary Grabar's Debunking Howard Zinn; also see Grabar's essay at the Alexander Hamilton Institute, Why I Wrote Debunking Howard Zinn. From the latter:

Not only does Zinn put a far-left spin on events in American history, but he uses illegitimate sources (ideological New Left historians, a socialist novelist, a Holocaust-denying historian), plagiarizes, misrepresents authors’ words, leaves out critical information, and presents outright lies.

No, she's not a fan.

(She also claims that Zinn was once a Communist. The history on that is a mixed bag. FBI informants claimed he was. Zinn himself said he wasn't. There seems to be little doubt that he participated in a number of Communist front groups.)

Also of interest is this Sam Wineburg article from American Educator magazine, published by the not-particularly-conservative American Federation of Teachers. He's not without praise for Zinn. (He "lived an admirable life.") But:

A history of unalloyed certainties is dangerous because it invites a slide into intellectual fascism. History as truth, issued from the left or from the right, abhors shades of gray. It seeks to stamp out democratic insight that people of good will can see the same thing and come to different conclusions. It imputes the basest of motives to those who view the world from a different perch. It detests equivocation and extinguishes perhaps, maybe, might, and the most execrable of them all, on the other hand. For the truth has no hands.

Such a history atrophies our tolerance for complexity. It makes us allergic to exceptions to the rule. Worst of all, it depletes the moral courage we need to revise our beliefs in the face of new evidence. It ensures, ultimately, that tomorrow we will think exactly as we thought yesterday–and the day before, and the day before that.

Is that what we want for our students?

I'd say not. Were I a local conservative activist, I'd limit my immediate demands to finding out just what's being taught in schools. Is it Zinn? Or even Zinnian? If so, are there alternative takes presented? If it's Zinn-only, there's an excellent case for demanding changes.

But if that happens, it's a safe bet that my local paper won't report it fairly.

Last Modified 2022-03-01 5:43 PM EDT