Critical Race Theory is the Opposite of Education
I learned economics from a Marxist.
It was the height of the Cold War, a critical time when the survival of the West seemed in doubt, a time when many people, even those who had no illusions about the growing terror of Soviet communism, fell in love with it. asked if the days of capitalism were numbered.
My tutor at a famous university in the heart of England was one of the foremost socialist intellectuals in the country. His works anatomized – and anathematized – the capitalist system from the traditional Marxist point of view. His larger writings defended a structuralist view of society and its institutions. He did not only denounce the alleged moral inferiority of capitalism. He was convinced of the inevitability of its collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
But Andrew Glyn was first and foremost a teacher, an intellectually insatiable pedagogue with the desire to arouse in his students a thirst for a broad understanding of the discipline. His weekly reading list included the canon of classical economic thought (Adam Smith, David Hume, David Ricardo), John Maynard Keynes and his followers, and extensive knowledge of modern neoclassical and monetarist work (FA Hayek and the Chicago School , Milton Friedman especially).
No thinker, no ideology, was forbidden. It was the early days of the Reagan-Thatcher counterrevolution. Neither seemed guaranteed to be successful at the time, and we were encouraged – indeed required – both to learn what they were doing and to dispassionately understand its intellectual origins.
Glyn was also – unexpectedly for those of us who thought Communists were the shady type with contempt for the protocols of petty-bourgeois society – a rigid disciplinarian. Woe to you if you hadn’t read every week. Forcing attempts to blame our laziness on the class injustices inherent in a medieval university system or the boredom induced by terminally ill capitalism would be greeted with a thin smile and a final warning.
He believed – passionately – that his own critique of the Western system was correct. But he had no intention of forcing his students down a narrow intellectual path that would exclude the possibility of embracing alternatives.
This is the essence of liberal education: the education and development of independent minds by learned teachers of diverse ideological convictions through exposure to the widest range of intellectual research. This is what made England, and then America, the greatest force for civilizational progress the world has known.
And it is in peril.
The crisis that overwhelms our institutions represents the struggle for the ascendancy of an ideology that is literally the antithesis of the educational values that have driven the West’s unparalleled economic, social and technological progress in recent centuries.
Critical race theory – and its various postmodern cousins - is not an interesting interpretation of social and political history that we are free to examine, embrace, or reject. Its supporters do not seek to formulate a critique of modern America to be tested alongside alternatives.
They insist that a traditionally liberal approach to assessing the merits of competing ideas is itself an outgrowth of an illegitimate system of oppression. The rejection of their criticism is the product of false consciousness, since critical thinking itself is invalid, the product of white male hegemony.
It’s not really education, not as the term was understood in the post-Enlightenment era. It is closer to pre-Enlightenment religious instruction: the transmission of doctrinal truth for the practical purpose of saving souls and reorganizing the world. Hence its migration from college campuses to K-12 schools, where its practitioners expect to find flexible and more suggestible minds. They took to heart the old Jesuit maxim about the first seven years of life.
There are encouraging signs that this recent migration itself could sow the seeds of its own destruction. Across the country, parents and the political spectrum are resisting vehemently. In the local elections, voters seized the opportunity to oust ideologues pushing this anti-American extremism on their children.
A growing number of professionals, yet eager to flaunt their progressive credentials, know that they owe much of their success to immersion in the canon of Western thought and are increasingly uncomfortable with it. idea that their children could now learn that Ibram X. Kendi has more to offer than John Locke or Jane Austen.
Most tellingly, attempts by ideology advocates to redefine critical race theory suggest they know how indefensible it is. Efforts by several states to curb its spread have been falsely labeled by journalists and progressives as attempts to prevent children from learning about slavery and segregation. When you have to disguise your own ideology to purge it of its harmful core, you know you are losing.
I learned economics from a Marxist. But the most important thing he taught me was that the open investigation was the antidote to ruinous extremism. It is a lesson that we may finally learn again.
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