September 30, 2021
I participated this week in a panel discussion about critical race theory. My position was that the level of controversy over CRT in public schools is a symptom of the larger problems of:
- an impoverished civics education curriculum (borrowed from event moderator and UVU history professor Michael Goode) and
- parents being blindsided by how antiracism is presented to their children (referencing the activist component of CRT, as described by fellow panelist and Claremont religion professor Kevin Wolfe).
The video to the full panel discussion can be found here.
One of the more thought-provoking comments from Wolfe was when he described the words and experiences of Henry David Thoreau and John Brown. Wolfe “chose Brown and Thoreau, in part, because when critics of critical race theory suggest that it shames white people, I wanted to show that it can only shame you if you have a particular perspective.”
Wolfe’s argument is a serious one that offers a moment for self-reflection. While I don’t believe that a person’s perspective is the only reason that someone could feel shame caused by the ideas of CRT (it is possible to emotionally manipulate people, regardless of their perspective), I don’t need to agree fully with Wolfe’s argument to recognize the value in thinking about it.
To what extent are the elements of our personal perspective on matters of race – as opposed to the arguments or tactics of “the other side” – the real source of our grievances or negative emotions about political debates over race?
Thinking beyond race – do our worries about things like the health of our democracy stem solely from the arguments, beliefs or tactics of our political opponents, or are they driven by elements of our own personal political perspectives?
These are healthy questions to ask for people who strive to be reasonable, principled and grounded in the facts, and who value intellectual humility. And as the UVU panel illustrates, it is often by participating in discussion with those of a different perspective that we gain the opportunity to ask such questions.
If more of us sought and embraced such opportunities instead of slipping toward the siren song and intellectually ease of absolute certainty (grounded in moral passion and our limited personal knowledge of the facts) it would greatly add to the health of our democracy and its institutions.
Even though the Supreme Court does not resolve a large proportion of the cases that are presented to it, the decisions it does issue reverberate to affect many other disputes through the principle of precedent. Its decisions on a handful of cases can, over time, expand and contract the rights of the entire nation.
For many voters, 2020 may have been their first experience with voting by mail. However, VBM in both the United States and Utah specifically is not new. In America, VBM has a history that spans centuries.
The judiciary branch is designed as a responsive, not proactive, branch of government. The court can’t tell Congress not to pass an unconstitutional law or tell the president not to issue a legally invalid order. It must wait until after those actions take effect and someone challenges them.