Indoctrination by Omission
While attacks on Critical Race Theory (CRT) by Republicans and conservatives have many different claims, one consistent element of these attacks is misinformation.
One of those false associations can be found at the persistently misleading Discovery Institute (infamous for stoking the evolution debate): Critical Race Theory — The Marxist Trojan Horse writes Walter Myers III for the “institute.”
Recently I gave a presentation for a learning in retirement session at my university — The 1619 Project: Should we “reframe” our country’s history to include the consequences of slavery?”
In the opening of the presentation I explain what CRT is, focusing on the Big Lie of the attacks by assuring everyone that CRT is not taught in K-12 schools.
But I also focused on the claim that CRT is Marxist indoctrination:
While some overlap does exist among CRT scholars and Marxist scholars, there often is considerable tension between the focus on centering race and centering social class.
While this slide sparked some important dialogue among the audience, I had begun the presentation (not planned) by noting that the session began with a short video that included a dramatic reading that included the phrase “black-on-black crime.”
I noted that while crime in the U.S. is overwhelmingly within race — the white-on-white crime rate is about the exact same as the black-on-black rate — media, public, and political discourse only utters “black-on-black crime.”
This is indoctrination by omission, and this phenomenon in education raises an important question:
Similar to what I have raised before — Who’s indoctrinating whom? — ”Are we worried about ideology or just one ideology?” is an important question to confront, and we are left with only one real answer.
Conservatives are seeking ways to indoctrinate students within the parameters of their ideology; therefore, the attacks on CRT and the 1619 Project are not calls for academic freedom, the marketplace of ideas, or even “both sides.”
Republicans and conservatives are seeking indoctrination by omission.
As I responded to the Tweet above, I noted that since I teach many students with private religious K-12 schooling, I regularly am asked to “go over” evolution because these very bright and high-achieving students were never taught evolution in biology while attending private religious schools.
Whether is our schooling or our public, media, or public discourse, what is not spoken is just as powerful as what is spoken.
Poet Adrienne Rich writers in her “Arts of the Possible,” the eponymous essay of her 2001 collection of essays:
The matrix of a poet’s work consists not only of what is there to be absorbed and worked on, but also of what is missing, desaparecido, rendered unspeakable, thus unthinkable. It is through these invisible holes in reality that poetry makes it way — certainly for women and other marginalized subjects and for disempowered and colonized peoples generally, but ultimately for all who practice art at any deep levels. The impulse to create begins — often terribly and fearfully — in a tunnel of silence.
In the Bizarro world of conservative thought, simply exposing students to ideas that do not conform to a narrow conservative ideology is a type of indoctrination.
Republicans are trying to control K-12 and higher education in ways that honor mythologizing/idealizing the past and speaking of U.S. history and day-to-day realities of the U.S. through aspirational language — from “Founding Fathers” to “the U.S. is not a racist country.”
Ultimately, what offends Republicans/conservatives about academic freedom and critical approaches to history, literature, etc., is that being critical is inherently a challenge to power and a rejecting of indoctrination.
There is no such thing as objective history, no such thing as de-politicized “facts.”
Contemporary historians are well aware that history tends to be written by the winners, by those with power and authority, and that these versions of history are in the interests of those with that power and authority.
Current attacks on CRT have included direct attacks on the work of Howard Zinn, who popularized seeing history from the perspectives of the losers and marginalized.
Returning to the Tweet above, conservatives are not angry that Zinn’s history is ideological, but that Zinn’s history challenges their singular ideology of mythologizing, idealizing, and aspiring to the detriment of marginalized populations in the U.S.
If we in the U.S. genuinely value individual freedom, each child and young adult deserves education grounded in academic freedom, and academic freedom requires that we attend to not only what is taught but also what is omitted.
K-12 and higher education are not indoctrinating children and teens, certainly not into Marxist ideology, but Republicans/conservatives are endorsing indoctrination by omission — something that if we want to be aspirational is not very American.