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1 in 9 Voters Want No Discussion of Slavery in School; Larger Fractions Would Ban K-12 Discussions of Socialism, Current Racism

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:

Annika Dandekar, "Voters Oppose States Censoring Discussions of Racism in Schools," Data for Progress, 2023.02.28.
Annika Dandekar, “Voters Oppose States Censoring Discussions of Racism in Schools,” Data for Progress, 2023.02.28.

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.


  1. AmyB 2023-03-09

    23% don’t want current racism discussed in schools…do they think that just because there are laws against discrimination & for equality that racism isn’t happening? I have to wonder how many would change their mind if it was their child that was the target because of their name or the color of their skin.

  2. Loren 2023-03-09

    What are we supposed to talk about in an education environment, rainbows, lollypops, and unicorns? Oh what a beautiful life. just ignore problems and they magically go away. Life is good!

  3. sx123 2023-03-09

    Slavery is about as bad as it gets. With slave owners, human traffickers, human trafficker customers, etc being human debris numero uno.

    So, it should be discussed for sure.

  4. Donald Pay 2023-03-09

    There is a lot of great news in that poll. What you see is that uncenored history gets a big green light, and even divisive or controversial subjects gets approval. That’s not a great poll for Noem’s standards effort. The closer teaching gets to specific current movements support drops off, but is still a majority. And, of course, anything mixing controversy with money is going to get dicey, as the question on reparations shows.

    The poll clearly points out that attracting the ignorami is not going to be a winning formula nationally. Americans are too smart for the type of historical whitewashing that Noem and DeSantis seem to favor. DeSantis and Noem picked the wrong issues, if they want to win a national race. It’s time to scrap the Neom-Hillsdate dumbed down history, and start listening to parents and teachers.

  5. All Mammal 2023-03-09

    I think General Milley concisely and movingly says it so well. Watch until 3:14. The good guys in this clip make me feel proud and patriotic.

  6. bearcreekbat 2023-03-09

    Legal slavery is still permitted under the US Constituion and has been permitted and used since the civil war ended:

    . . . inmates . . ., once cleared by the prison doctor, can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement. Legally, this labor may be totally uncompensated; more typically inmates are paid meagerly—as little as two cents per hour—for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens. How is this legal? Didn’t the Thirteenth Amendment abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude in this country?

    Not quite. In the shining promise of freedom that was the Thirteenth Amendment, a sharp exception was carved out. Section 1 of the Amendment provides: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Simply put: Incarcerated persons have no constitutional rights in this arena; they can be forced to work as punishment for their crimes. . . .

    Angola’s farm operations and other similar prison industries have ancestral roots in the black chattel slavery of the South. Specifically, the proliferation of prison labor camps grew during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War, a time when southern states established large prisons throughout the region that they quickly filled, primarily with black men. Many of these prisons had very recently been slave plantations, Angola and Mississippi State Penitentiary (known as Parchman Farm) among them. Other prisons began convict-leasing programs, where, for a leasing fee, the state would lease out the labor of incarcerated workers as hired work crews. Convict leasing was cheaper than slavery, since farm owners and companies did not have to worry at all about the health of their workers. . . .

    More than a century later, our prison labor system has only grown. We now incarcerate more than 2.2 million people, with the largest prison population in the world, and the second highest incarceration rate per capita. Our prison populations remain racially skewed. With few exceptions, inmates are required to work if cleared by medical professionals at the prison. Punishments for refusing to do so include solitary confinement, loss of earned good time, and revocation of family visitation. For this forced labor, prisoners earn pennies per hour, if anything at all. . . .

  7. Jake 2023-03-09

    BCB-that news is information that we all can consume and think about, for certain! And to be doing that “legally” today is quite horrible, don’t you all think? What you say, grudz!

  8. ABC 2023-03-09

    Incarceration is the new slavery.

    Those in custody

    1. Should have full voting rights.
    2. Should be paid Minimum wage if they work
    3. Should all be told that they have the right to run for federal office, just like Orange Jump Suit Trump.
    4. Minimum wage jobs could be used to pay restitution
    5. They should all have the option of watching reruns of Jetsons.

    George Jetson and the 2 hour work week!

  9. leslie 2023-03-09

    This is a tip of an iceberg identified in a pre-Jan 6 report.

    Dems have got to do more to protect Democracy.

    “First and foremost, we must rewrite the rules of our democracy. That’s doing much more than just the voting, corruption, and money-in-politics reforms in HR1 or the VRA renewal,” the document stated, referring to the centerpiece legislative offerings of the Democrats’ pro-democracy agenda. “We must commit to structural reforms that, at a minimum, include DC and Puerto Rico statehood and expanding the federal courts….

    Liberals must also “embrace more aspirational goals of ending the Electoral College and establishing a constitutional right to vote,” it continued, plus more basic aims like the elimination of the Senate filibuster. Should Democrats fail to achieve those aims, the report proposed divisive and punitive measures, like denying certain federal assistance to sections of the country that consistently reject Democrats and yet hold a veto over legislation because the system is tilted in their favor….

    Democrats still have a thick sheaf of legislative proposals for reforming campaign finance, congressional redistricting, voter registration, early and mail-in voting, federal election oversight and more. In December, Congress passed a bipartisan measure to reform the Electoral Count Act, the rickety 19th Century law that Trump’s allies sought to exploit in 2020 to obstruct the transfer of power.

    But these days Democrats are not really promoting ideas to address the most distorted features of the American system. Far from crusading for DC statehood, they are squabbling among themselves over whether to nullify changes to the city’s criminal code enacted by left-wing local lawmakers. A short-lived flirtation with court-packing withered in a blue-ribbon presidential commission that issued an equivocal report.

    …the profound unfairness of a system that awards equal representation in the Senate to South Dakota and California.”

  10. Jake 2023-03-09

    Sooo, in today’s world of politics in the U.S., we have two main political party’s; Republican and Democrat, right?

    The one who is acknowledged as being the party in power when Slavery was outlawed- (Republicans under President Abraham Lincoln)- is now the party under Trump -(the twice impeached POTUS) who now wants again to e President!!! What a turn-around of events!

    Today, not just in South Dakota, but in practically ALL Red GOP states (uncanny, isn’t it, how the descriptive “Red” used to mean the Communist Soviet Union and Communist China; both favorites of MAGA types) , the GOP Republicans would like to ‘enslave’ women to child-bearing, kids as young as 10 to remain pregnant and those who may be born different from them in sexual identification to be enslaved by their ‘masters’ in the GOP!!!!

  11. bearcreekbat 2023-03-09

    Jake, I agree. I sometimes wonder whether an earlier SCOTUS would have found State imposed prisoner slavery or involuntary servitude to be cruel and unusual in violation of the 8th Amendment. The current Justices on the SCOTUS, however, seem unlikely to be receptive to that argument.

  12. Richard Schriever 2023-03-09

    One wonders how those 11% feel about the “discussions” of slavery in the bible?? What would the correlation be between the two groups opposed in both institutions?

  13. Mark Anderson 2023-03-09

    Watch this: It’s what is happening at New College in Sarasota. I have a fond relationship with New College. Years ago I was sitting at the oldest bar in Sarasota the Bahi Hut, with a visiting artist the bar happens to be exactly between Ringling College and New College, you can’t wear a hat at this bar by the way. The visiting artist asked me about New College and I said something stupid like “their students are all incredibly smart but their artwork still sucks”. I had a tap on my shoulder and the table behind us were New College art students. We had a long discussion and I agreed to give a number of critiques. This lead to shared visiting artists and shared shows. Just a wonderful collaboration with really intelligent students. I thought about teaching there after I retired but it’s not grading, you don’t grade. You write a page of info on each student after each class. Instructors usually punt after a couple of years so it’s unbelievably work heavy for each instructor.
    If my posted address doesn’t work, just enter MSNBC and New College and you can find it on youtube. It’s Alex Wagner talking with the students. About 10 minutes, They may look strange but they are enquiring and smart.

  14. leslie 2023-03-10

    Well said, Jake!

    What a mess we are all in right now!!

  15. Donald Pay 2023-03-10

    The abolitionists were the Black Lives Matter movement of mid-19th Century. It’s funny how some folks look up to the people who do the right thing, as long as they did the right thing in the distant past. If they do the right thing now, some people try to write them out of history,

  16. All Mammal 2023-03-10

    Mr. A- LONG LIVE NEW COLLEGE! DeAssitch is a gremlin with no friends. He somehow makes the governor of SD look harmless. Although, he actually is copying her playbook. I wonder if he also uses Lewandowski as a consigliere because of their duplicity.
    I love what the students of New College had to say and I am proud of our youth. For newer generations to produce great people proves the USA won’t lay down and die. We just like to do electrical work with the wires hot, so to speak.

  17. Mark Anderson 2023-03-11

    All Mammal, what is so great about New College is the diversity of their students and their intelligence. There is a great article from a graduate who is now a Rabbi in Atlanta about the takeover. It’s just nuts that the shortstop who believes he’s centerfielder is killing education in Florida.. Now the Rumble from Ontario is now setting up shop on Longboat Key. Every right-wing ahole is setting up shop in Sarasota. I continue to rumble my own protests down here. I’m retired so the aholes have no way to get at me. Anyone who believes in debate and Democracy needs to look at New College. It’s the first step for the takeover fascists who want to do it all over America.

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