The teachings of historical past
The Greek word for “investigation”, given phonetically, is “Historia”. The English “story”, which is led through the medium of Latin, comes from this root – which, by the way, is a feminine noun in Greek. This is lost to the authors of the California proposed Ethnic Studies Model curriculum, which is being developed to meet the requirement that all students of the California university system take a three-credit course on the subject. The model curriculum uses “deliberate answers” – which is possibly a “misspelling” answer – to render the word either “Herstory” or “Hxrstory”, apparently to obliterate the random “His”.
Such “targeted academic language” is intended to “challenge various forms of oppression and marginalization”. The purpose of academic language is actually supposed to be to challenge ignorance and shed light on the truth. Education that does this is also a powerful tool for challenging oppression. A language that confuses or obscures – like the term “ethnic studies” what actually the study of marginalization and oppression is – is not. Indoctrination is even less.
What we have in the California curriculum, however, is something else: indoctrination based on obscurity. If the state was telling students what to think, could it at least do so coherently?
The latest version of the curriculum, released for public comment in December, is designed to improve upon an even more ideological and widely ridiculed earlier version. In the previous version, “hxrstory” would appear in the body of the document. In the December issue it appears only in a footnote. How traumatized would the authors be to learn that Leo Strauss predicted their writing technique?
As Emily Benedek points out in Tablet magazine, the earliest curriculum documents that referred to the state of Israel as “Israel / Palestine” and Israel’s independence as Nakba, an Arabic nickname meaning “catastrophe,” don’t seem to know it Jews other than exist as agents of privilege. That hasn’t changed entirely. (A discussion question for students in the December version: “When, how and which Jews have experienced racial privileges?” A fact sheet in the same version: “Many fair-skinned Jews identify with the idea of being presented in white …”)
There is an even deeper problem, and that is the deeply confused conception of education at the core of the project.
“Confused” is a fitting descriptor because the summary document presenting the curriculum is a jumble of contradictions. It doesn’t deserve the Orwellian label. It’s just incoherent. In the name of promoting “holistic humanization,” the focus will be on the experience of exclusion of four ethnic groups in the United States that reflects at least two levels of specificity. Ethnic studies are presented as a separate discipline, but the document states that it should pervade a host of others, from literature to geography to mathematics, in one document.
Teachers should “present topics from different angles and have different stories and opinions within groups (stay in the realm of inclusion and humanize the discourse …” (emphasis added). In other words, multiple points of view, but not too many. By the way, those are of you who hold views outside of the acceptable range appear to be involved in “dehumanizing the discourse”.
When education becomes the maid of activism, it invariably becomes politicized. And those who politicize only succeed because they already have the power to do so.
Students are supposed to “reach their own conclusions” but one of the results of the ethnic studies is that students have and respond to certain views, including a “criticism” [of] Reich building ”and advocacy for“ social justice ”. Criticism of empire building and “systems of power and oppression” includes, as a helpful (and footnoted) example, “patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, exploitative economies, ability awareness, ageism, anthropocentrism, xenophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism blackness , Anti-indigenousness, Islamophobia and transphobia. “
There is a lot, but to name just one: the attack on “anthropocentrism” – apparently the belief that humans exist differently from others in the order of creation and are (trigger warning) higher than others – would make Judeo-Christian religions as sources of oppression to be wrung out from repentant students. Which can be the point (see above in relation to the Jews). When it comes to “exploitative economies,” one wonders if California could sustain its sizeable government services without the revenues these systems generate.
In any case, participants in this curriculum will:
connect us with past and contemporary social movements fighting for social justice and a just and democratic society; and to conceive, imagine, and build new opportunities for a post-racist, post-systemic racist society that fosters collective narratives of transformative resistance, critical hope, and radical healing.
The conclusion seems inevitable: students seem free to come to any conclusion they want, except one that calls into question the premises of the entire company. A student who, along with Friedrich Hayek, considers “social” to be an unhelpful term for thinking about “justice” does not achieve the learning objectives of the curriculum. Neither does a student question whether racism can best be described as systemic rather than individual. Anyone who does not advocate social justice has probably not learned their lesson.
And should the student see social justice differently – one could even say it differently – one shudders to think. For example, the social movements to be examined do not include the pro-life movement. More than half of Latino Americans – a percentage higher than the general population – believe that abortion should be illegal. This, of course, arises from religious views that are also anthropocentric.
The incoherence of all of this could be reduced to this question: If “teachers should trust the intellect of the students” as stated in the curriculum documents, can students question the need for an ethnic studies curriculum? Apparently not, as state law requires students to take it.
And here we stack irony on incoherence. We learn that ethnic studies lead to a criticism of colonial and “hegemonic” rule. Hegemony, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “taking a political position” or some other kind of “domination over others”.
Has it occurred to the authors of this curriculum that they live in California, a one-party state that is more than one-tenth of the US population? This criticism of hegemony is hegemonic imposed by agencies led by a governor and a bicameral legislature, all of which have been under democratic control for a decade. The activism that the curriculum seeks to enforce aims to maintain the kennels’ political power. For a discipline possessed by power, the suppliers of that discipline seem remarkably indifferent to their own.
This is one of the fundamental problems of viewing education as the handmaid of activism. It is invariably politicized, and those who politicize invariably succeed only because they already have the power to do it. This is a classic study of power replication under different guises. That the figure is “resistance” is one of the oldest tricks in the power book. Because of this, the Cuban “revolution” is still referred to as one more than six decades after its victory, and Mexico has managed to bring “institutional” and “revolutionary” into the name of the one party that made up most of the 20th century. Century dominated his politics.
Power works in its own interest. However, it may serve the interests of those in power over the curriculum at California’s public universities not to accept a language or degree in which most people, including those whose rights are allegedly recognized, do not recognize themselves. (Note that only three percent of Latino Americans use the curriculum’s preferred “Latinx”; only a third of the minority Latinos who have heard the term are in favor of its use.)
In a broader sense, the problem with the curriculum is not its political imbalance. If so, the solution would be to align it with other perspectives. The real problem is that it is primarily being politicized. Real education – liberal education – can lead to activism, just as it can lead to a good job or any number of other goods, but that is not its goal. In fact, this benefit is least likely to be achieved when it is directly sought. If teachers do indeed respect students’ intellects, activism would be expected to lead in different directions when students whose intellects are not only respectable but fallible reach different conclusions. But that would represent coherent thinking. Clear thinking should of course be the first goal of education. But ideology plunges into where clarity is afraid to step.