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It could seem that the joy about educating controversial materials has died down, however, like that
Dallas morning information reported, Gov. Greg Abbott solely mentioned the difficulty forcefully on the finish of November: “Our schools are for education, not for indoctrination. We will put an end to this nonsense in the coming legislative period. Schools need to get back to basics and stop pushing ‘woke’ agendas.”
Abbott was referring directly to class discussions about gender identity, but I know that public school teachers are still acutely aware that they are in danger in their classrooms when they bring up a controversy that has to do with an America that does not always realize its ideals. One of the ideals that we require teachers and students to practice is instilling critical thinking. But does the state really want such an idea?
Critical thinking involves asking difficult questions: how and why do things happen, how and why do people say what they say, and how and why should people speak to change the things that need to be changed?
Those who do not ask such questions before engaging in public discourse, before offering a class in a public school, or before writing new education legislation, are blind to the larger picture that shapes history, that shapes opinion; also they want to pass such blindness on to the next generation and to the next and so on.
All people concerned with what is taught in public schools should think carefully about how new ideas should be presented to students. But do we really want to ask teachers to forego thoughtfulness in order to capitulate to vague, imperative rules?
In rhetoric lessons we read and discuss topics that are causing the most excitement at the moment, that have a local connection and that have clearly opposing sides; in other words, we’re discussing questions like whether critical race theory should be banned in Texas.
Since opponents of critical race theory argue that it indoctrinates students, it is necessary to study some of the best arguments for confronting controversial speech. We read John Milton, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison on this subject.
But should I also teach Jamelle Bouie’s “Undemocratic Democracy” — a provocative essay that challenges the notion that all people living in the United States have always been equally protected by fundamental ideals that, among other things, govern who speaks freely may and who is not?
These authors appear to be entirely relevant in shaping a discussion of the larger picture in the debate over whether CRT is harmful indoctrination. One context is given in Milton’s profoundly influential essay Areopagitica: Different parts of a building (different ideas) are brought by people who know their own parts well, but may not understand at all the parts that others bring. But the difference in parts (in ideas) can be of essential value in the completion of a glorious edifice that is richer precisely because no one has a God’s perspective on the whole construct.
Milton was an early proponent of the idea—radical in 1646—that censorship prevented critical thinking from being inculcated.
But wait: it now turns out that Bouie’s essay cannot be taught alongside Milton’s; Bouie’s work is part of the 1619 Project; An essay on whether speech was free for all in America is now banned in Texas. Hasn’t the state denied teachers the ability to make connections, to make topics relevant?
Should teachers encourage students to engage in intellectual conversations that are of great depth and subtlety? Or should we use vague terms like “awakened” to cut out what challenges students to think about how and why their leaders make certain types of rhetorical decisions?
How can we help students deal with the depth and subtlety of history and literature if we are unable to ask students to look at as many different ideas as possible and ask how they are changed by it, or always have to formulate more elegant rebuttals to these ideas?
A teacher’s highest calling is to help students think for themselves, so when
you decide what they think they will vote well, not motivated by hostility towards information contrary to their beliefs and not motivated by political expediency.
Texas will need independent thinkers in the years to come precisely because some state leaders are so suspicious of where that independence is coming from.
David Newman teaches English at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi and lives in Odessa. He wrote this column for the Dallas Morning News.
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