Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ insistence that the state Board of Education (BOE) adopt a rule prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) and the content of The New York Times’ 1619 Project in Florida’s K-12 public schools — where they are not and never have been taught — is totally consistent with his now fully matured governing style of ostentatiously solving nonexistent problems dear to the hearts of right-wing populists whose primary psychic sustenance is paranoiac outrage.
He is, however, right in principle about the impropriety of teaching CRT and the 1619 Project to children, as much as it pains me to say so.
Both are over the top examples of Maslow’s Hammer: If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Consider the hammer that is the framing of the 1619 Project. This Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of essays is based on the proposition that the history of America began with the purchase in 1619 by Virginia colonists of the first Black slaves from English pirates and that the central story of the country from then until now is slavery and its consequences. Everything else is a sidebar.
Looking unflinchingly at the hard truths about slavery and its sequels is one thing, a necessary thing, but wallowing in them exclusively, which these essays do, is something else. (Cue the cries of “White Fragility!”)
Moreover, the underlying scholarship of the Project is sometimes suspect.
For example, the introductory essay by the project coordinator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, originally stated that the reason the American colonies declared their independence in 1776 was to protect the institution of slavery from the increasing hostility in Great Britain to the practice. This unleashed a torrent of criticism from professional historians, and Hannah-Jones was forced to modify this statement to “one of the primary reasons some of the colonists” decided to opt for independence was to protect slavery. One. Some. Now the statement is non-falsifiable, and if true, trivially so.
Hannah-Jones also mentioned World War II, but not to give an approving nod even in passing to the Tuskegee Airmen or the Black soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division. No, from her perspective, World War II was just the particular conflict from which Isaac Woodard happened to be returning when he was beaten and blinded by racist policemen in Alabama.
“Anti-Black racism runs in the very DNA of this country …,” according to Hannah-Jones, and her fellow contributors to the 1619 Project agree. Matthew Desmond writes about how American capitalism today is “low-road” and “racist” as the result of the ineradicable taint of slavery. Khalil Gibran Muhammad blames antebellum sugar plantation slavery in Louisiana for the fact that Black women now have twice the diabetes rate of non-Hispanic White women. And so on, essay after essay.
This is not to say there is not a wealth of excellent information, much truth, and real value in the 1619 Project, because there is. But it is to say that the content is uneven, off the charts tendentious, and more than a little controversial.
As for CRT, the BOE rule defines it as “the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of White persons.” The theory that racism is inherent in White people and the country’s laws and institutions is, in fact, the foundational premise of CRT, as reading Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement and similar works amply demonstrates.
“(M)odern colorblind constitutionalism supports the supremacy of White interests and must therefore be regarded as racist.” (Neil Gotanda) “The origins of property rights are rooted in racial domination.” (Cheryl I. Harris) “The interests of Blacks in achieving racial equality will be accommodated only when it converges with the interests of Whites.” (Derrick A. Bell, Jr.)
You get the picture, and the picture is problematic for K-12 public schools. If America is inherently racist and if racism is evil, then, logically, America is inherently evil.
This is strong stuff for children who might be too young to drive, who lack the legal agency to have consensual sex with an 18-year-old classmate, and who cannot go to R-rated movies unaccompanied by an adult.
There is a high probability that hearing it from an authority figure standing in the front of a classroom while sitting amid peer pressure in abundance will result in uncritical acceptance by immature youths of what is arguably purposeful political indoctrination.
And political indoctrination of any persuasion, left or right, should not be the business of K-12 public schools.
That is what college is for.