Data for Progress surveyed 1,199 likely voters nationwide last month on their views of censoring discussions of racism in schools. I am heartened to read that the survey finds a strong majority of voters opposing legislative efforts to quash history and civics education that dares confront America’s history of social injustice:
However, I am disturbed to learn that 11% of respondents—one in nine supposedly sensible American voters—say that teachers and students should not discuss slavery at all in K-12 schools. Slavery, the underpinning of early American economic growth, the root cause of the American Civil War—positing that such a fundamental part of American history not be whispered in school is more insidiously stupid than saying we should teach English without Shakespeare, geometry without the Pythagorean Theorem, or P.E. without dodgeball.
Twice as many respondents, 23%, would ban discussions of current racism. I can imagine a parent saying, “Well, let’s dwell less on the past and focus more on current problems,” but these survey results from the uncomfortably large racist-denialist fringe point in the opposite direction: apparently a chunk of the population can live with talking about racism as an artifact of the past but don’t want kids to hear any suggestion that race relations aren’t all hunky-dory now in our perfected Union.
Not talking about racism won’t make racism go away. Quite the contrary—not discussing and understanding racism and its real effects on individuals and society will only let it fester and drag the nation into more injustice and practical harm.
In the middle of that racist resistance to fact are 18% of respondents who don’t want any discussion of any economic system other than capitalism. Note that the survey didn’t ask people if schools should promote socialism or Marxism; it just asked if “Economic theories and systems other than capitalism (such as socialism or Marxism)… should or should not be discussed in K-12 schools in an age-appropriate manner.” If those 18% of know-nothings had their way, teachers couldn’t lead students through a discussion of the empirical evidence that, in the past century, capitalist economies have outperformed socialist economies. They couldn’t even discuss the core reason that Russia became the Soviet Union and that the United States and the USSR were locked in a Cold War for decades.
Even if you believe socialism was a fleeting error (and South Dakota’s budget proves that it isn’t), and even if you believe that racism was an aberration in America’s past as we marched toward fulfillment of the Founders’ dream of universal equal opportunity, you have to support teaching our kids about those mistakes, so they’ll be ready when some knucklehead comes up to them and says, “Hey, let’s pass some socialist laws and make black people slaves again!” they can say, “No, dummy, we tried socialism and racism before, and look how badly those things turned out.”
Fortunately, the Data for Progress survey shows a sensible majority of Americans still support a sensible, fact-based education for all students. But the fact that even a fraction of Americans can support totally censoring discussions of historical and social reality shows we must remain vigilant and vocal in protecting education from those who would make America dumb and blind to the problems it must solve.