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Squires: Political indoctrination disguised as black history undermines critical thinking

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If education was really so important to modern civil rights leaders, they would be calling for the K-12 education system to be laser-focused on producing more critical thinkers — not on producing the next generation of BLM protesters.

America’s public schools are ground zero for political indoctrination, so it is no surprise that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ decision to reject a proposed AP course in African-American studies caused controversy. DeSantis said the inclusion of topics like "Black Queer Studies" ran afoul of Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, which prohibits instruction that defines people as oppressed or privileged based solely on their race.

Instead, corporate media outlets are doing what they do best: telling half-truths, writing inflammatory headlines, and leaving out key context in order to inflame the public and damage political opponents. No one took the time to explain why students would spend more time reading the black feminist manifesto from the Combahee River Collective than reading the Moynihan Report on the state of the black family. Few pointed out the fact that Florida law already requires teaching African-American history or that the governor signed a law in 2020 that would make the Ocoee Massacre part of the state curriculum.

Jennifer Rubin, a Never-Trump (or Never-DeSantis) columnist for the Washington Post, said the governor has gone “full-blown white supremacist.” That type of rhetoric is exactly the reason noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump is now threatening to sue DeSantis if he doesn’t reconsider his decision.

Crump is the same man who rejoiced when the words “master bedroom” were dropped from Minnesota real estate listings. To him, the name of the largest bedroom in the house is a “repetitive reminder of plantation life” and a threat to a diverse, inclusive society.

The problem with replacing education with indoctrination is not just that you become an easily manipulatable tool in the hands of savvy political actors. The problem is that it makes you stupid. This is one reason the quality of thought, cultural analysis, and social commentary have declined so steeply over the past decade.

These replacements produce people who see the shift in Hispanic voters toward Donald Trump in 2020 and surmise they were caused by the promise of “multiracial whiteness.” It makes people assume — as they've been told by Ibram X. Kendi — every disparity between groups is a function of discriminatory policy.

This problem goes far beyond Florida.

The leader of the DC Public Schools posted a six-minute video on Twitter touting efforts to make the system “a whole-child, anti-racist school district.” With that goal in mind, it’s no surprise pride flags and a Black Lives Matter poster that read “Queer Affirming” made their way into the video as well. Somehow the video failed to include the school system’s abysmal record of performance. In 2022, 20% of black students were proficient in English language arts and only 9% were proficient in math.

This is the problem with a modern education system that is more obsessed with radicalism than reading. It produces students — of all backgrounds — who are navel-gazing know-nothings who graduate barely literate or who matriculate through college picking up more buzzwords than knowledge. These graduates then end up becoming propagators of progressive pablum at the New York Times, Washington Post, the Atlantic, and CNN, where they predictably blame all of life’s challenges on “racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia.”

Contrast the commentary of today’s race scribes with that of John Russell Hawkins:

The Negro is no new species of nature; he is no new issue in the category of life; no new element in the citizenship of this country, and needs no special prescription to suit his needs. His case is one common to a people whose surroundings and environments have placed, or caused them to be placed, in a dependent attitude, and his only hope for rising above the common level of a menial slave is to husband his resources as to change these environments and become the master of, rather than the helpless creature, of circumstances.

Hawkins was an educator who served as president of Kittrell College — a historically black college — in the late 1800s. He was born less than one year before the Emancipation Proclamation. His track record of achievement earned him a place in "Twentieth Century Negro Literature: Or, a Cyclopedia of Thought on the Vital Topics Relating to the American Negro," a collection of essays on matters of race, religion, politics, and uplift that was published in 1902.

Consider that for a moment: Blacks born into slavery wrote more impressive prose and had a firmer grasp on history, philosophy, religion, and human nature than the people who control our media and education systems today. Ironically enough, I first learned about the book containing this essay in a display created by Florida A&M University at Tallahassee International Airport.

Conservatives have a golden opportunity to present an alternative to the activist education model that is focused on literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and agency over equity. But in order to make use of this opportunity, conservatives should resist the temptation to overcorrect in such a way that entire swaths of race-related history or current events become branded as “woke” and dismissed casually.

Recent attempts to “de-canonize” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and claim he is unworthy of honor and respect are one example. Conservatives defend Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as men of their times and tell critics to give their contributions to our founding more weight than their slave-owning pasts. People say this even though abolitionism was as much a part of American history as slavery.

But, somehow, when it comes to King, there is little discussion of why a black preacher in the South whose grandfather was born one year after the Emancipation Proclamation in a part of the country where the median occupation for a black woman was domestic servitude would have different views on race relations, reservations about capitalism, and interest in reparations in the 1960s.

Further, consider the calibration of one’s moral scale when accusations of supporting communism — which King’s own words seem to reject — are seen as worse sins than practicing chattel slavery.

The lessons to be learned here are not primarily about racism. They are about the tendency for people to see the same event from multiple perspectives. Students would benefit from a lesson on why Jefferson was opposed to the Haitian Revolution, even though it took place less than 10 years after the end of the American Revolutionary War. This is why classrooms should be used for open discussion and robust debate — not as boot camps for partisan political recruiters.

Ultimately, parents are the ones who should be directing the education of their children. They should be the ones cultivating intellectual curiosity and a lifelong love of learning from a young age. The ability to acquire knowledge does not stop when you walk across the graduation stage at 18. But when students are taught to see themselves through an oppressed-oppressor framework, learning new things leaves them with feelings of grievance rather than appreciation.

It is unfortunate that many educators across the country embrace the belief that the purpose of K-12 education is to prepare students for their role in our political system. It may help the left win elections, but what good is teaching Jamal how to be an activist if he needs Brad to write his signs?

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