Louisiana State Rep: Slavery Wasn't 'Good,' But Should Schools Be So Negative About It?
A Louisiana lawmaker offered some very compelling testimony yesterday against his own bill to banish "critical race theory" and other "divisive concepts" from all levels of public education in the state, including colleges and universities. Way to go, guy! During a four-hour meeting of the House Education Committee, state Rep. Ray Garofalo, who chairs the committee, was trying to explain that when teaching about history, schools must stick only to the "facts," and present all sides of anything controversial. Like for instance, the history of chattel slavery in the United States.
"If you are having a discussion on whatever the case may be, on slavery, then you can talk about everything dealing with slavery: the good, the bad, the ugly," Garofalo tried to explain. But he was immediately interrupted by state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, a fellow Republican, who pointed out the rather obvious point that "There's no good to slavery, though." That prompted everyone in the hearing room to erupt in laughter, as Garofalo tried to backpedal:
Well, then whatever the case may be ... You're right. You're right. I didn't mean to imply that and I don't believe that and I know that that's the case. But I'm using that "good, bad, and ugly" as a generic way of saying that you can teach any facts, any factually based anything, regardless.
Hilferty then walked Garofalo through why "just the facts" is just plain antithetical to how history works, because the very process of doing history is a matter of interpretation. And damn it, if you say "divisive concepts" shouldn't be taught, well then you're making the teaching of real history impossible.
Also, a great big shout-out to Louisiana's Bayou Brief for observing that Hilferty came really
close to unraveling the central mistake of Garofalo's entire premise: His fundamental failure to recognize the ways in which our understanding of history is both constructed by and contingent on who we empower with its retelling.
That's the very flaw in the entire GOP project to suppress "critical race theory" in general, and the "1619 Project" in particular: They pretend that there's only a single, "factual" way to teach US history (that is, "patriotically") and emphasizing any other perspective, like making slavery and the experience of African Americans central to understanding the USA, is somehow "political." As if an exclusive emphasis on the Founders, without calling too much attention to the detail that most held human beings in bondage, were merely objective, apolitical "fact."
In the effort to "depoliticize" education, it's worth looking at all the assumptions Garofalo's bill, Louisiana HB 564, would enshrine as facts. Garofalo's personal spin on history and truth would require that teachers and school districts be legally punished for teaching any of the following, in the bill's cartoonish version of what critical race theory supposedly is.
Mind you, nobody actually favors teaching that anyone has "negative or positive characteristics that inhere in the individual's DNA" except possibly Andrew Sullivan. That, however, is what the bill claims is the upshot of pointing out that American history is full of white supremacy, because it might make some white people feel bad. It would outlawteaching:
- That either the United States of America or the state of Louisiana is fundamentally, institutionally, or systemically racist or sexist.
- That an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently or systemically racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, or has negative or positive characteristics that inhere in the individual's DNA.
- That an individual should be discriminated against, favored, or receive differential treatment solely or partly because of the individual's race or sex.
- That an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility or is to be held accountable for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
- That any individual should feel or be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological or emotional distress on account of that individual's race or sex.
- That the concept of meritocracy or traits such as a strong work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by a particular race or sex to oppress another race or sex.
- That the concepts of capitalism, free markets, or working for a private party in exchange for wages are racist and sexist or oppress a given race or sex.
Similar language appears in other GOP bills, like a recently passed Iowa law prohibiting virtually all the same "divisive concepts" in diversity training.
Most of this, of course, is bafflegab that not only caricatures what actually gets taught in schools, but also dresses up white grievance in the language of "equality," right down to prohibiting any emphasis on "racial equity and gender equity" (bad and discriminatory!) instead of "racial equality and gender equality" (good and fair). Somehow, the bill didn't manage to slip in any gripes about "reverse racism."
Ultimately, the Education Committee didn't buy Garofalo's arguments, such as they were; it voted 7 to 7 on moving the bill forward, which neither killed it nor advanced it to the full state House. Garofalo withdrew the bill and said he'd work on it a bit more.
Because there's one thing guys like him love, and that's a Lost Cause.
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