Today’s historians favor emotion over evidence and fiction over fact.
Om On June 16, I received an email from the American Historical Association (AHA), of which I am a member, trumpeting their “strong opposition” to anti-critical racial theory legislation nationwide. Amid our nearly ubiquitous virtue signaling culture, in which businesses and organizations rush to embrace the Awakening Day cause, I could have been forgiven for not paying attention to this case.
It turned out to be worth a closer look. The post noted that the AHA had drafted a statement, joined by the American Association of University Teachers, the Association of American Colleges and Universities and PEN America, deploring “Legislative efforts to restrict education on racism and American history ”. It has since been co-signed by 130+ organizations, many of which represent higher education institutions.
The statement is a tour de force in presenting both spurious arguments and false narratives.
These bills, the statement said, are aimed at “suppressing teaching and learning about the role of racism in US history.” If that was the purpose of the law, we should all share their outrage.
Yet state governments do not try to erase racism from history textbooks. Consider the bill that was recently proposed in Texas. At no point does this force public schools to remove the history of racism in America from their curricula. Any course in American history worth taking can and should cover the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Movable Slavery, and Jim Crow, as well as the Emancipation and Civil Rights Movement. Slavery and racism are indelible sins of our country’s past. On this you will find universal agreement, within the AHA and any other educational body.
The problem is, the torrent of critical race theory being forced on schoolchildren goes way beyond giving them proper history lessons. He indoctrinates them into the idea that invisible systems of racial oppression permeate every part of American life whereby a nebulous group of people considered white subjugates a nebulous group of people considered non-white. Take it from a Virginia mother who survived Maoist China: Critical Race Theory, she says, is “the American version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.” Rather than making an empirical examination of the inequality of outcomes, Critical Race Theory dishonestly attributes all racial disparities to racial discrimination.
The Texas bill is a cure for madness. This is not to “water down the discussion of ‘concepts of division’,” as the statement asserts. Instead, it rightly prevents schools from teaching students that “an individual, by reason of race or gender, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive” and that “an individual should be victimized. of discrimination or to suffer unfavorable treatment solely or in part because of their race or sex ”, among other heinous ideas. Does AHA want our children to learn so much?
The statement also argues that state governments “hamper the ability of students to learn and engage in critical thinking” by shifting “responsibility for the evaluation of a program and topic from educators to elected officials.” . In other words: let a coterie of unelected activists decide what schoolchildren need to learn, not those who are accountable to voters. The American people, 58% of whom have an unfavorable opinion of critical race theory, recent study finds Economist/ YouGov poll, want this stuff in public schools, so they can remove officials who want it.
The signaling of the virtue of the declaration will not shock those of us familiar with the historical profession. A 2016 study of Econ Journal Watch found that among history professors at U.S. universities, Democrats outnumber Republicans 33.5 to 1 – the most skewed ratio of any field in the study. It must have made sense for the AHA, virtually all of whose members are center-left, to release the statement at a time when silence is violence.
Like Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street newspaper noted, the state bans are a reaction to an educational dictate that race should be the focus of class discussions. Scholars of American history know that you cannot study it without studying racial prejudice. But to say that this is the defining characteristic of America is deeply anhistoric.
Some historians have had the courage to challenge the ever-growing awakening of the discipline. Gordon Wood, James McPherson, Sean Wilentz and others called Nikole Hannah-Jones of Project 1619 for factual errors. Sadly, they are a dying breed. If the AHA’s statement is any indication, historians today favor emotion over evidence and fiction over fact.