by James T. Murphy
Culture wars, the key word there being culture, appear to do more to separate that to unite. When a white male from a middle American suburb, working hard to provide the family the safest and most comfortable environment possible, is bombarded from the left with the notion that his state in life is built upon the slave ships that started landing in pre-america territory in 1619, and although such an assertion is embraced by many of his neighbors, a combination of resentment and rancor may easily infiltrate the debate, if indeed the subject is even debatable, a questionable proposition at best. On the other hand, when a black or brown male from the same suburb is confronted by the police his alarms automatically go off, sometimes justifiably, others not so. Nevertheless, keeping in mind that the authority of the police officer must be applied with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel for any miscalculation can, and often does have a fatal effect, it is an intelligent conclusion to draw that the fellow may automatically draw upon some level of apprehension, and even intransigence, with a resultant escalation of circumstances following. In effect then, asking either exposed civilian to the table for ceasefire talks, although it is recognized in the latter case it is sometimes much more than a metaphor, is like offering a “God Bless You” to the sneezing atheist. There is no frame of reference. And maybe that is the point, that is, to divide and conquer, the well worn gambit of despots everywhere. What then are the ramifications for the children in these present day wars?
First of all, it seems beyond reproach that all the young ones should be back in the classrooms. Although there have been, in some quarters, mostly the union halls of the teaching profession, enthusiastic arguments for the notion that classrooms would be super-spreaders of the invisible enemy COVID-19, most of the insistence has been almost completely invalidated, and for some time now. Safety measures, in place in charter and parochial schools since September, 2020, including parental self-screening and heightened custodial programs providing COVID resistant surroundings, have demonstrated children can safely gather, and learn. If not for the culture wars, in this instance science versus powerful intolerance of partisan players, willing educators in the public sector may have had a chance to sprinkle the ABCs across the school rooms of America, in real time, other than electronically. Unfortunately, vast numbers of children have been fleeced and swindled out of at least a full year of academic culture. Who will stand and take responsibility for that one?
Nor does it stop there. Prior to the pandemic, and in the present environment, when the school bells finally ring for those youngsters left behind in all this, the teaching of the ABCs would, in many schoolrooms, be permeated with and by critical race theory, that school of thought which espouses that racism is ordinary, for white folks, and not aberrational. First presented in the ‘70s and early’ 80s through the writings of Derrick Bell of the University of Washington Law School, CRT embraces a conviction that the freedoms insured by the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution) are not neutral, and God given to all, but rather were meant to propagate the designs of the white classes of the day.
Now it goes without saying, and of course it is therefore about to be said, that a truly free society bequeaths its opportunities and freedoms to all, indeed “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...” So in the abstract, nothing could be clearer. It is in the practice however that the ideal has been, without a doubt, blurred and disregarded, and which is now subjected to that same aspect of human nature, one that seeks to obtain an ideal by driving a wedge between, in this case, our two champions of everyday living cited above; that particular characteristic of humanity that seeks to rank one above another.
Following through then, it is one thing to, properly, teach children that hate speech has no place in the schoolyard. It is something else entirely however when they see a fanaticism against those that would, however misguidedly, spew his/her venom in the public square. If education is actually meant to balance the scales of right from wrong in all things intimate to human affinities, it must then allow for differences of opinions, an intention at least, clearly set forth by those white males so many years ago. It is the application that is inadequate, not the intention. Further, no one philosophy, however well-intentioned, could ever hope to encapsulate all there is to discern about humankind. The objective is to create a society of safe spaces for all, short of the lawless of course. Anything less is just more folly, counter to the design of the Constitution. And if anyone can spot folly, it’s a child.
Undoubtedly the culture wars will continue, and it may be that, in some sense, that is as it should be; to recognize a pluralism; to strengthen that diversity through appreciation and respect for our variegated society. The idea of course is that there will come a time when all will live together peacefully, and such an idea must be sown, watered and thus nurtured throughout the classrooms and playgrounds of academe. From the ivied halls of Harvard to the playrooms of pre-school, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Socrates.