Courtesy as wool for guard wolves
Opponents of the ideology of social justice are faced with a dilemma. The ideology of social justice can never serve as a solid foundation for civil friendship, but it has dominated many of our opinion-forming institutions, particularly, as is well documented, in higher education. We are beginning to understand its power in Tony Elite private schools. K-12’s public education is deeply imbued with this virulent ideology.
One example of the problem is a new federal government-funded report from educators concerned about the future of citizenship education. Many are friends, deeply schooled in the history of political philosophy, and published on Law & Liberty. Focused on Public K-12, Education for American Democracy: Excellence in History and Citizenship for All Learner seeks to show a civil path forward. But his unprincipled model of courtesy only promises a dead end and defeat for those who would maintain self-government. The report recognizes that the country faces internal threats stemming from “civic dysfunction”. The country is “deeply polarized” and Americans “deeply disagree”.
The report never explains exactly which poles separate us. According to the report, the country is affected by cynicism (presumably the problem of the left) and nostalgia (presumably the problem of the right). The report is especially tough for those nostalgic. It seems that many curricula, reading materials, and teacher preparation and development have been shaped by the idea that America is a nation without problems. Students, the report says, “can make it into their teenage years without knowing it. . . that George Washington was not only a fundamental leader, but also enslaved people. “The struggles of“ historically marginalized ”people are well known to professional historians, but their insights have not found their way into an integrated history of America for students. Scientists understand the importance of social movements, but this “new learning” does not find its way into the K-12 curriculum.
According to the report, so venerable are the nostalgic that America has yet to have a Truth and Reconciliation Committee – something the report insists that we must “come to a common understanding of the past.” Maybe one is in sight. As a remedy for such nostalgia, we can “celebrate the agency of those who have experienced oppression and domination.” Equilibrium in America is only achieved when the right loses its nightly nostalgia – that is, when the right loses.
The road to civil suicide
The nostalgic might believe that the nation “is freely designed and dedicated to the suggestion that all human beings are created equal”. It’s hard to tell from the report what cynics think. There is never any mention of identity politics or social justice education or critical racial theory or multiculturalism. Cynics believe that high ideals like surrender to human freedom mask the pursuit of material self-interest or material power. Today’s cynics probably believe that the country was designed around racism and is dedicated to perpetuating racism in any form that old age demands. Cynical students could make it into their teens without knowing that America was designed in freedom – though this problem is never mentioned in the report. The left may have to lose its cynicism, but the report dares not say so. Courtesy not only demands silence from the right, but also consistency with claims made by the left about the “nostalgic” nature of too much American civic education.
Courtesy without a common civilian population is a suicide pact.
But anyone who has signed the report can agree on one thing: Citizenship education does not receive enough funding and honor. America has “unsatisfactory civic knowledge and skills” and majorities are “functionally illiterate about our constitutional principles and forms” because “less time and resources are invested”. Not enough honor. Not testing enough. Teachers enter the classroom “without adequate intellectual support, class time or guidance”. Indeed, “national polarization” itself has “created barriers to investment”. Our deep disagreement makes it “easier to neglect civics and history than to bring controversy over content or pedagogy to court.” Equitable provision of these resources would also help. We don’t teach the wrong things. What we teach seems great. We just don’t teach enough and well, which would probably be fixed with more resources.
The left gives up something in the report. If they want to talk, it seems that the left has to drop threats of violence. The left, blushed from victory to victory, must enter into “a common national conversation about what is most important in American history and civics, how to teach it, and most importantly, why,” as the right must drop it Nostalgia. The right-wingers, losers without much institutional cache, would be happy to talk to them. But why should the left linger and compromise with the nostalgic?
Suppose, against the hope that the left would enter into a truce, what would the conversation be like? To change Lincoln’s letter to Alexander Stephens only slightly after the southern states split off, I would say to the left: “You believe America is racist and should be replaced while I think America is an imperfect guarantor of freedom and repairs should be. That is the only major difference. “
On the basis of such a difference, can there be a common national conversation – an “ideologically pluralistic” conversation, as the report suggests? Interlocutors must share a language – and mean the same thing with the language. The civilian population ignores this problem – but ignoring it is misleading and dangerous. Misleading as it falsely raises hopes of finding a common ground that will form the basis of genuine courtesy. Dangerous as it promises a way out where the left does not shed key aspects of its social justice agenda. Courtesy without a common civilian population is a suicide pact.
The report envisions a new investigative society that will guide questions about America’s past. It offers “seven themes” and “six basic pedagogical principles” as a way forward. The topics are all general and procedural with no content. The principles include things like “excellence for all”, “self-reflection and a sense of growth”, “investigation as a primary learning process” and “practice of constitutional democracy and student freedom of choice”. All involve processes while ignoring the substance or conclusions that citizens should reach. Should students love or like their country? It doesn’t say. Should the investigation lead to conclusions? It doesn’t say. What is america It doesn’t say.
The principles are unanswered because of five “design challenges”. How can we motivate freedom of choice (e.g. protest) while maintaining a republic? How can America emphasize its plurality while maintaining a “common history”? How can we celebrate and criticize compromises? How can we be honest about our past while we love or like our country? These are challenges only if we accept the left’s criticism of the country’s history and only if we accept the left’s view that America is irrevocably racist, sexist, and the like.
All of this leads to an uncomfortable, unfriendly, and perhaps immoderate conclusion: politeness and mutual conversation cannot sustain a country. There has to be a common view of the world and a common experience of what people see. When some look at the police and see a defense of the rule of law while others see instruments of repression, they are not united by a set of common principles or issues. When some see the flag as the land of hope while others see it as a symbol of oppression, there is nothing in common. Political education separated from the truth cannot cure the division of the nation.
The committee that designed Education for American Democracy values courtesy. But the practice of courtesy reflected in the report leads step by step to tyranny.
The way to civil peace
Compare Education for American Democracy with the 1776 report. The 1776 report identifies identity politics as the contemporary corrosive factor for American civic education. The 1776 report never focuses on resources and deals with the way today’s raining ideology of social justice poorly educates American students and encourages Americans to despise their country. The 1776 project compares identity politics to “the false theories that have led too many nations to tyranny”. Instead of being polite, it tries to find out the truth. The project offers a path to civil peace and friendship, but only after a comprehensive attack on identity politics.
In contrast, Educating for American Democracy refuses to identify those spreading the ideology that undermines education towards decent, informed patriotism. it focuses on the lack of resources; and it would have caved the right floor to the left without getting anything in return.
Education for American Democracy faces a fundamental question that is impolite to ask. Does education for social justice or identity politics agree with classical liberalism or the idea of a decent nation? The 1776 project could hardly be clearer on these issues. This newly awakened ideology projects intractable group conflict into politics and stigmatizes rational considerations and compromises as services to the oppressive status quo. It undermines the idea of individual rights and replaces them with group identity, whether repressed or repressed. It also establishes the inequality of the law as the normal expectation of political practice, making it just a matter of whose ox will be eaten.
To get by in the short term, we need to suppress such questions and focus on the need for more resources without asking what those resources will fund. Politeness demands that, despite evidence to the contrary, we assume that our ideological competitors have good motives and a desire for civil friendship. American democracy education inadvertently combines all the problems of unprincipled courtesy with naivety towards the imperial claims of today’s left. Wolf weeps over American nostalgia as it cloaks the wolves of wakefulness under a blanket of embarrassed courtesy.