Like many Americans, I am despondent over the corruption of K-12 education in America. It seems to have inherited all that is retrograde in our colleges and universities since George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis last year triggered a nationwide paroxysm of self-recrimination, based on the erroneous assumptions prevalent in academia, that America is “systemically racist” and that our country can be made virtuous, for the first time in its history, only through the expiation of collective guilt.
There is nothing more dismaying about this view of America than its implication that the original Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was a failure. To me, it always seemed a resounding success. Encapsulated in Martin Luther King’s stirring speech at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, the movement showed America at its very best. King’s injunction that we judge people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character became the foundational principle of my politics.
But, today, at least in academia, that laudable objective lies in ruins. King’s invocation of meritocracy and colorblindness has fallen largely on deaf ears. In fact, for Ibram Kendi, author of How to be an Antiracist – which on many college campuses is considered the last word on all matters concerning race –personal behavior is reducible entirely to collective genetic inheritance. For that reason King’s emphasis on individual moral responsibility ignores the racism that in Kendi’s view motivates nearly everything white people do; indeed, by proposing a solution that cannot eliminate this racism, King was a racist himself.
The solution, according to Kendi, is stark: unless preferences favoring Blacks over whites are brought to bear on every aspect of American life in which social and economic benefits cannot be provided to everyone who seeks them, whites will reserve them for themselves. In fact, their racism is so implacable that the racial preferences necessary to counteract it will have to be applied until Blacks are represented in every American institution based on the exact percentage of their portion of the general population. For a variety of reasons having nothing to do with race per se, the likelihood of this ever happening is close to zero.
In a Kendian world, amicable relations between whites and Blacks, much less any sense of common purpose, would be impossible.
Until recently it seemed there was no escaping this dismal prospect. Letters I had sent to every school superintendent in Connecticut alerting them to the gross distortions in the 1619 Project – which, like Kendi’s book, considers America’s history exclusively the history of slavery and racism — were in all but two instances ignored. And when my colleagues at Central Connecticut State University learned of my letters, I was publicly denounced as stupid and ignorant, and formally condemned as a racist by my faculty union.
Such incivility and intolerance of dissent have long been commonplace on American college campuses. But the moral corruption it reveals has now metastasized into K-12 education. One superintendent in Connecticut has gone so far as to charge the taxpayers in his school district the cost of providing all teachers with copies of How to be an Antiracist, with instructions to inculcate its contents in their students. Notwithstanding the district’s endorsement of “diversity” in the curriculum on which instruction is based, the superintendent did not include in the mailing any critiques of Kendi’s book, some of the most incisive of which have been produced by Black intellectuals such as John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Shelby Steele, and Thomas Sowell. Nor did the superintendent respond to emails I sent him asking why he failed to do this.
But all is not lost. Parents appalled by the reduction of their children’s education to indoctrination in the morally abhorrent and empirically dubious shibboleths of white supremacy and systemic racism are now banding together in efforts to save our country from purveyors of racial hatred like Ibram Kendi who seem intent on destroying it. Should these parents succeed, they will have gone far in restoring Martin Luther King’s vision of Americans of all races recognizing their common humanity and their inherent worth as God’s creation to its rightful place at the apex of America’s guiding principles.
Jay Bergman is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University and serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Scholars