Last month an English teacher at Southington High School distributed to his students materials intended to facilitate “conversations about race, gender, equality, and inclusivity.” Among the claims students were expected to accept without question is that in America racism is “a systemic issue,” and that while “no individual is personally responsible for what white people have done or for the historical decisions of the American government, you are responsible for whether you are upholding the systems that elevate white people over people of color.”
After the materials became public, and parents in Southington made known their objections to the school board and to the superintendent of schools, 72 faculty at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) sent a letter claiming that parents had no business objecting to their children’s education: determining what their education consists of was the sole prerogative of the school system, and any materials Southington students received in its furtherance were intended simply to spur discussions of issues in the public domain, such as “the American historical narrative and whether we are truly an individualistic meritocracy in which freedom and equality reign.”
If debate and discussion had been the objective, the stamp of approval the SCSU faculty provided would be warranted. But what the English teacher intended — and what the SCSU faculty show they favor by supporting him — is indoctrination, not education. Amidst the assurances in the SCSU letter that its signers favor a diversity of viewpoints in the classroom is a statement supporting “white privilege” in the curriculum as a means of helping students to “contextualize” literature. But that would seem to suggest that white privilege in America exists, and that to question its existence is impermissible.
It is not an established fact that America today is systemically racist, favoring whites over people of other races, and that all whites, whether they know it or not, are complicit in this.
If the English teacher and his supporters on the SCSU faculty had merely done a Google Search, they would have come across incisive critiques of these claims; among the most eloquent are those of African-American scholars such as John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, and Thomas Sowell.
Moreover, if they had thought seriously about “systemic racism,” they might have realized how nonsensical it is: surely the ubiquity of Affirmative Action preferences favoring blacks and other “underrepresented” minorities in virtually every institution in America today proves its absence. In fact, the whole notion flies in the face of simple logic: unless they were idiots or clinically insane, the white racists who supposedly control America would not install and perpetuate something so contrary to their own interests.
But what is most egregious about the SCSU letter is not its confusion of opinion for fact. Rather, it is its condescending insinuation that since teachers should be autonomous in determining how subjects requiring special knowledge such as science, mathematics, and foreign languages should be taught, they should also be free to impose their own opinions or those of the school system on issues in history and the social sciences, on which people might fairly and legitimately disagree.
The signatories of the SCSU letter seem to consider teachers everywhere, not just in Southington, uniquely privy to The Truth, and anyone who dares to challenge their presumption of omniscience should simply shut their mouths. To do otherwise, in the overheated language of the SCSU letter, is “to descend down the slippery slope of allowing parents to circumscribe and dictate the nature of public education.” As if that would be the worst outcome imaginable!
The SCSU faculty who signed the letter are wrong.
No less an authority than the United Nations, in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the General Assembly in December 1948, states that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” The good parents of Southington, and parents everywhere else in Connecticut, should reclaim what is perhaps their most essential parental right and obligation, namely to guide the moral education of their children, so that as adults they can act as independent and autonomous citizens in a free society, capable of resisting the imposition of any dogma by government, private organizations, school systems, or college faculties.
Jay Bergman is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University and serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Scholars.