Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Not so Bad News"

Yeah "not so bad" as opposed to horrifying downers. Remember I said I'd try to post something hopeful or at least not totally bummed out? Well an old reporter pal gave me the heddz up on this article from the Nation.

Scans good to me. See what you think.

"You've Got to Be Carefully Taught"

I spent Memorial Day in New Orleans, where I watched a group of citizens lay a wreath at the foot of a statue of Jefferson Davis. It was a jarring reminder of how the South understands American history. Memorial Day was founded after the Civil War to honor Union soldiers. When Southerners choose to memorialize Confederate leaders, it is an act of subversive historical revision and an indication of the unresolved political and cultural anxieties that stir just below the surface of the "New South."

The white New Orleanians paying their respects to Davis made me nervous. Few things disgusted Confederates more than property-owning women, free blacks and evidence of miscegenation. I am all of these, so I feel the very legitimacy of my citizenship is challenged by their nostalgia. But I noticed that those gathered at the monument appeared to be mostly senior citizens. In contrast, young New Orleanians were hanging out in integrated groups in the park, listening to music, drinking beer and worrying about how the impending hurricane season would affect the BP oil disaster.

The generational divide in how these Southerners spent Memorial Day was jarring and instructive. In May, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill cutting state funding to schools that offer classes "designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group" or "advocating ethnic solidarity." The law aims to ban ethnic studies curriculums and implies that classes in African-American history or Latino literature are dangerous and discriminatory. Then the Texas State Board of Education voted to introduce a considerably more conservative slant to the social studies curriculum. In the revised Texas version of history, there is an increased emphasis on Phyllis Schlafly, segregationist George Wallace and the National Rifle Association, while the United Nations is presented as an enemy of American sovereignty and the separation of church and state is reduced to an ideological suggestion rather than a constitutional mandate.

The celebration of Confederate traitors as American heroes, the whitewash of school curriculums and the conservative reinterpretation of national history are weapons in America's decades-long culture war. These policies reflect an impulse similar to the Cultural Revolution of Communist China: an attempt to gain authority by controlling the very definitions of truth available to young people. After all, it is among young Americans that conservatives are losing this war, and if they are serious about taking back their country, the education of American youth is the critical terrain where they plan to make a stand.

Young Americans are significantly different from their older counterparts. At the end of the Clinton administration a majority of young Americans strongly supported multicultural education and believed that the government should ensure integrated schools and workplaces. In the year George W. Bush was re-elected, an overwhelming majority of young Americans believed gay men and lesbians should have equal protection in housing and employment and should be protected under hate crimes legislation. Barack Obama garnered two of every three votes cast by people under 30. Across parties, ideologies, regions and religions, young people are less likely to subscribe to racial stereotypes, more likely to support legal equality for gay Americans and more likely to believe tolerance is an important ideal. These enduring generational trends have prompted some observers to question the long-term viability of the GOP—which seems to be growing older but not grander.

These statistics are comforting for progressives, who tend to believe that generational replacement will be enough to usher in a new liberal majority. They wax poetic about how the Obama generation—young people coming of age with a black president, female secretary of state and Hispanic justice of the Supreme Court—will undoubtedly extend the social safety net, end discriminatory state practices and create a more just nation. But the differences between younger and older Americans are neither automatic nor inevitable; they are the result of demographic, policy and curricular changes that occurred as the result of protest and struggle in post–civil rights America.

Although poor urban minorities continue to suffer the effects of hyper-segregated communities, young white Americans live in a more diverse world than their parents did as children. More than ever, white children learn in integrated classrooms, have mothers who work outside the home, encounter racial minorities in positions of authority, learn about different religious traditions, read literature by diverse authors, encounter same-sex families as a routine part of the popular culture and have technology-based access to a dizzying array of opinions. These experiences are widely seen as necessary components for contemporary citizenship. In fact, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Bollinger decision, the state's compelling interest in ensuring diverse educational environments is the last legal standard on which affirmative action rests.

Social conservatives shudder with apocalyptic anxiety about these generational trends. They understand that the best defense against this frightening, changing world is to wrest control of the historical narrative. To retake the country, they must first reshape young people's reality by revising the meaning of their daily lives. They must make traitors into heroes, erase the contributions of marginal groups, decry self-knowledge as sedition and reinforce fear of those who are different. I'm reminded of the lyrics of a song in South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein's controversial 1949 musical: "You've got to be taught to hate and fear,/You've got to be taught from year to year,/It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear—/You've got to be carefully taught." Arizona and Texas policy-makers seem to be using the lyrics as a guide to curriculum development, but they may find that the world has already moved beyond their fearful grasp.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell

(From the May 28th edition of the "Nation" magazine.)


Sion said...

An interesting article.

Re: ‘Social conservatives shudder with apocalyptic anxiety about these generational trends. They understand that the best defense against this frightening, changing world is to wrest control of the historical narrative.’

This has certainly been a well-established policy over generations. But in the UK in recent decades the right-wing reaction against the prevailing style of contemporary ‘revisionist’ and ‘liberal’ historicism blew up in their face.

In the 70’s and 80’s the teaching of history in UK secondary schools underwent a radical shift from the ‘imperial’ view to the ‘post imperial’. As late as the 1960’s the British Empire was presented as a divinely inspired and entirely beneficent institution that ruled blacks, browns, ‘chinks’ and other inferior races for their own good, replaced their primitive superstitions with Gospel Truth, and gave them the blessings of law, order, railways, medicine, cricket, and political freedom – none of which they would ever have discovered without the guidance of their racial Masters.

During the 1970’s and early 80’s the revisionist wave exposed the British Empire as a ruthless and rapacious band of racist thugs who pillaged most of the globe for their personal enrichment and - when they were finally forced to withdraw - left behind them a social and political chaos.

The Thatcher regime reacted to ‘modern trends’ in the teaching of History by abolishing the teaching of History altogether. Thatcher and her kind (it’s hard to believe the old Dragon is still alive and hasn’t been hauled before a War Crimes court, or hasn’t died as a result of ingesting her own poisonous bile) concluded that History was simply too dangerous for the masses and so appointed academic minions who were instructed to reduce History to 'Useful Skills'. History ceased to be a vision of human evolution. It became a component of textual analysis. History henceforth was reduced to the critical analysis of ‘documentary evidence’ – the kind of thing that would be a useful training for bank clerks and insurance salesmen.

But the plot exploded in the faces of the right-wing schemers who conceived it. They succeeded in abolishing History – but in the process they abolished National Identity too. They reduced the bulk of the UK population to consumers who thought of themselves in terms of brand loyalties and the football teams which they supported. After twenty years of this psychic vacuum there is no ‘historical narrative’ to wrest control of.

The Thatcher Dictatorship from 1979 to 1990 – and the ministries of the various toadies, lackies, brown-nosers and Thatcher clones who succeeded her – succeeded in creating the ultimate rootless proletariat. The recent Labour administration was reduced to re-defining National Identity for immigrants in terms of Marmite, Cricket, and feelings of loyalty towards that bunch of promiscuously effete degenerates collectively known as the ‘Royal Family’.

If the state manipulators of Texas and Arizona are plotting a cultural revolution with the help of history books they are playing with fire. The ‘old’ style of nationalist history worked in a society with a uniform racial, ethnic and religious background. That kind of society is ‘history’.

Zaek said...

Miscegenation: I'm all for it.

As we've observed so often before, the USA is going down the tubes economically. It's nice to learn there's some kind of improvement in some respects.

It's highly necessary to continue healing these rifts, because our society is going to be severely tested by stresses to come.