Nebraska update, site upgrade, and a new home for our posts on censorship and banning teaching about racism

Hey, it’s a positive update for once! In fact, there are a couple of them to share.

You’re seeing the most obvious one – our new site format. We haven’t updated the site since we created it… IN 2008, and while we value history and being old-school, we felt the time had come. We hope you like it.

We’ve also updated our Pages, most notably to include a one-stop shop for all of our continuing coverage of the anti-democratic attempts to censor K-12 and college education in this country by forbidding people to teach about racism or any other “problematic” features of our past and our present in America.

We hope you enjoy both of these upgrades, and that they help you locate the information you need more easily. Maybe we won’t wait another 13 years to make some changes on the old HP.

Meanwhile, we celebrate a positive update on Nebraska, the most recent state we posted about making attempts to ban instruction about racism and other “divisive” facts: the University of Nebraska Board of Regents voted against regent Jim Pillen’s resolution that critical race theory should not be “imposed” on academic curriculum or staff training.

It was close at 5-3, and undoubtedly another attempt will be made after those who did vote against it are worked over by the press and by lobbyists. Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts “strongly urged” the regents to support the resolution, so this battle is not over–both Ricketts and Pillen have “vowed to continue fighting on the issue”. Pillen plans to run for governor, a race that doesn’t seem to be starting in good faith:

Despite the vote, Pillen expressed optimism that Nebraskans have a better understanding of the issue now and that there will be accountability if critical race theory is imposed on students in the future. When asked, he did not provide any examples of such impositions in the past.

Pillen added that “critical race theory should not be forced on our students and staff as an unquestionable fact. They should be free to debate and dissent from critical race theory without fear of silencing, retribution, or being labeled. They should also be free to avoid the concept of critical race theory altogether without penalty, if that’s what they choose.”

This type of unbearable double-speak is so unbearably common now: people should be free to debate and criticize this theory freely, and also free to choose not to do so, and that’s why I want censorship to step in to take away that freedom to debate and freedom to choose.

This censorship as freedom, censorship as freedom of choice, is only gaining momentum.

But it’s a moment of triumph for Truth in its never-ending battle against Myth, and we have to celebrate it. Here’s what NU president Ted Carter said:

Speaking before the vote, NU President Ted Carter told the regents to hold him accountable if there are problems with critical race theory at the university in the future.

“If something actually is being imposed on our students and it’s wrong, we’ll fix it,” he said.

But Carter emphasized that critical race theory is not required for graduation, and he defended the integrity of the faculty and the ability of the students to deal with the subject appropriately.

“Our students are not children,” he said. “Our students are not at threat of having this discussion. They’re there to think for themselves.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education (no public website to link you to) makes the important note that students who are not white “spoke about the importance of discussing topics of race and racism in the classroom”. It’s maddening that the people who are most impacted by racism past and present are so rarely given the chance to speak to the people making the rules about what they can learn, and how free their speech is.

Stay with us in this new format and this new fight for real history and real democracy.

This time it’s Nebraska: another state to ban teaching about racism?

This time it’s Nebraska. On July 26, Governor Pete Ricketts tweeted (because Twitter is where state policy should be formed and debated) that

I strongly urge the Board of Regents to pass the resolution opposing the imposition of Critical Race Theory on students, so we keep academic freedom alive and well at the University of Nebraska.

Additionally, the University of Nebraska should consider it an honor to be listed on the AAUP’s censure list alongside notable conservative institutions, including Brigham Young University, Catholic University of America, and Hillsdale College.

The AAUP is the American Association of University Professors. Nebraska is only the latest state to join the movement to censor K12 and college instruction:

  • On March 18 we wrote about the Iowa state legislature working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. The University of Iowa is being pressured by the state legislature to end diversity education for students and staff.
  • Then on March 23 we posted about the Idaho state legislature attempting to do the same. Then, just over a month later came the terrible update: they did. On April 29 the Idaho House approved legislation aimed at preventing public and charter schools and universities from teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.
  • On May 14, we posted about New Hampshire, whose House Bill HB544–“An Act relative to the propagation of divisive concepts”–is yet another move to make teaching Americans about racism illegal.
  • On June 7, we posted about Oklahoma and Kansas: Oklahoma Governor Keven Stitt signed legislation to ban critical race theory, and department chairs at Pittsburg State received an urgent email summons to “inquire” whether Critical Race Theory is being taught in any PSU classes. “The specific information would be 1. yes or no and 2. if yes which course(s). The response needs a short timeline as I need to have this information to the Dean’s office by the end of the day.”

We believe at this point Nebraska makes 17 states that have passed or are considering legislation to censor instruction. The irony of using censorship to protect freedom is so grating; how can this transparently illogical strategy be so successful every time?

The resolution Ricketts speaks of was introduced by U of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen. It reads:

Whereas the campus and facilities of a university are places for open reflection, discussion, study, research, and learning and

Whereas America is the best country in the world and anyone can achieve the American Dream here and

Whereas education, free speech, and sound learning are the keys to freedom and opportunity in this country and

Whereas we oppose discrimination in any form and

Whereas Critical Race Theory does not promote inclusive and honest dialogue and education on campus and

Whereas Critical Race Theory proponents seek to silence opposing views and disparage important American ideals

Be it resolved that the Regents of the University of Nebraska oppose any imposition of Critical Race Theory in curriculum.

The vague language is so insulting. “Any” “imposition” of “Critical Race Theory”? What’s an “imposition”? Isn’t any syllabus with required reading on it “imposing” that content on students? The word “any” allows just that–a definition of “imposition” so broad it becomes at once meaningless and an effective total ban on anything that anyone decides is “critical race theory”.

The University of Nebraska has been simmering ever since 2018, when a white grad student teaching adjunct flipped off a white undergrad campaigning on campus for the neo-conservative Turning Point USA organization. The two got into an argument, the grad student gave the undergrad the finger, it was filmed, and all hell broke loose as neo-conservatives claimed it as yet another proof that white Americans are under constant threat and attack on college campuses.

The AAUP censured UNL for suspending Lawton from teaching, and that’s the censure list that governor Ricketts says the state should be proud to be on.

U of Nebraska system president Ted Carter and four campus chancellors have published a defense of academic freedom, which reads in part “Issues around race, equity and the fight against racism are an important part of our country’s story and they have an appropriate place in our classrooms,” which says it as well as we ever could.

Once a term like CRT becomes widespread, it’s pretty reasonable to assume most people using it don’t know what it really means. That’s the way neo-conservatives and white supremacists want it: vague enough to be scary, broad enough to include anything they don’t like.

To allow an individual to define, on his own, what CRT is and does, and therefore to ban it for all, is something we would expect in a dictatorship, like when Viktor Orbán re-writes the Hungarian constitution on his lunch break to confirm his own dictatorial powers.

Our response?

Whereas a crucial component of any claim that America is the best country in the world is an appreciation of the Founders, and

whereas the Founders welcomed and dedicated themselves to open debate, and

whereas the Founders wrote in great detail and great specificity about how they thought this country should be governed, and

whereas the Founders did not hide behind vague wording to hide their agenda, and

whereas the Founders didn’t write threats into our founding documents, and

whereas the Founders didn’t impose censorship to protect any individual agenda,

Be it resolved that all of these vague, threatening censorship laws are un-American, and destroy anything that was great about America.

What makes a country great is its dedication and commitment to facing its problems honestly, in order to slowly but surely resolve them. Find out what your state legislature and state education system are doing and speak out against any attempts to introduce censorship defined as patriotism.

Oklahoma and Kansas ban diversity education

…if it seems like the HP only rears its head when another state legislature or university initiates a crackdown on democracy, in the form of banning instructors from teaching American students that racism was, and is still, a real thing that we are all a part of, some of us benefiting from it even without trying to, others of us suffering from it, then… you’re right!

That is what we’re devoted to this year, ever since we began a series on examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site.

We’ve always been about civics here, and the ever-lengthening roll call of states in the list below is an abject object lesson in how sometimes democracy is chipped away at bit by bit, and sometimes it falls in an avalanche. If you’ve ever seen a glacier bridge calving in-person or on YouTube–an unfortunately common sight as climate change rages on mostly unchecked–you’ll see that small bits fall off, then much larger pieces, then enormous shards, and then the whole structure falls.

We’ve been seeing small bits and larger pieces falling in our democracy for years, as dedicated efforts to shore up and protect white power began in this country in the 1970s, when the impact of legislation from the most recent Civil Rights Era (1950s and 60s) began to be felt. It only took a few small instances of non-white Americans benefiting from equal rights to send those white Americans who are racist into a rage, and the effort to undo all of that Civil Rights legislation began under Nixon, and his touting of the “silent majority” of Americans who were not on board with revolution, rioting, drugs, and all the other fearsome things he associated with Americans living up to our founding principle of liberty and justice for all. There was a break in the action under Ford and Carter, and then neo-conservative forces regrouped under Reagan, and the fight to keep the “real” America–white people–safe from welfare queens and drug dealers and everything else non-white began in earnest.

Now enormous shards are falling. The attempted racist coup on January 6 hit the water hard. But multiple shards are falling in individual states, where it should be so much easier for people to fight back, because it’s their local legislatures hacking away at democracy. This very learned helplessness is itself one of the tools that right-wing conservatives use constantly, telling Americans that their government is corrupt and dangerous at every level, and they should just a) elect a strong-man to go in and “drain the swamp” for them, then b) stay far away from their governmental institutions and let the strong men go to work unchecked and unquestioned.

Perhaps this seems like editorializing rather than history. People often make the mistake of conflating objectivity with neutrality. When we study the atrocities of human history, the failures, the wars, the greed and destructiveness that characterizes all eras, we have to do all we can to gather all the data available to us, so we know what really happened, and we’ve gotten enough information from all sides to understand how the actors in those events defined what they were doing and their reasons for taking action. We then draw conclusions from the evidence about whether those actions helped improve human life, or whether they contributed to making it more miserable, narrow, and hopeless. We are, after all, studying human beings, not electrons or tectonic plates. We’re studying human actions born of human intention. No one takes action without hoping that the action will have a lasting impact on their own life, lives immediately near to them, and, sometimes, on their society or even the world as a whole.

History describes, then assesses those intentions and impacts. The objectivity part is in the work of reading critically and gathering all available data, not just from a few actors, and not just the parts that confirm your theory, or the parts you agree with, or want to hear. The assessment is necessarily subjective, because “impacts” are felt and borne by human beings, objectively (people can’t vote) and subjectively (people feel inferior). Historical actors want to achieve both objective and subjective impact in order to make the change wrought by their actions more impactful, and long-lasting.

So when people attempting to pass, and succeeding in passing, legislation that forbids Americans to learn that racism against black citizens was and still is carried out by white citizens make very clear, plain, unashamed statements about their desire to protect white people from ever feeling implicated in racism at all costs, including the cost of censorship, silencing of black people, and continued racism, we gather that data. It’s in all of these sources:

  • On May 14, we posted about New Hampshire, whose House Bill HB544–“An Act relative to the propagation of divisive concepts”–is yet another move to make teaching Americans about racism illegal.

And then we analyze those statements and draw our conclusions from facts. And the conclusions are, necessarily, objective descriptions of attempts to subjugate black Americans, which can only provoke a subjective response, whether that’s positive, because you want black Americans to be subjugated, or negative, because you don’t.

We don’t. So we will add to our list this week, and feel the alarm of adding not one but two states to that shameful roll call:

  • Oklahoma: Governor Keven Stitt signed legislation to ban critical race theory from being taught in schools. “The bill prohibits public schools and universities from teaching that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another,” and that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.” Proponents say it also bans the teaching of critical race theory, which examines systemic racism and how race influences American politics, legal systems and society. The Oklahoma GOP called on Stitt, a Republican, to sign the bill to “ensure that children are not indoctrinated by dangerous leftist ideologies.” The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have announced their student diversity trainings can no longer remain mandatory under the new law, and the first course has been “paused” – a euphemism for “shut down forever.”
  • Kansas: On June 2d department chairs at Pittsburg State received an urgent email: “Good evening. I have received an email this evening from Dr. Pomatto inquiring for the Provosts office if Critical Race Theory is being taught in any PSU classes. The specific information would be 1. yes or no and 2. if yes which course(s). The response needs a short timeline as I need to have this information to the Dean’s office by the end of the day. Please reach out to the faculty within your programs and have them, or you, get back to me ASAP by the end of the day tomorrow.” Why this information was needed so urgently is unclear, but given our growing list, it seems that someone at Pittsburg State is anticipating inquiries from the Kansas state legislature.

In each of these cases, there is pushback, but it’s very weak. The Oklahoma City Board of Education has protested the new law, but that will not do much to overturn it. And some faculty at Pittsburg State are angrily commenting on Twitter, which is equally impotent. Unless Americans can shake off the political paralysis they are rewarded for, existing laws will not be overturned, and more will come.

Perhaps you will say these new laws must represent the wishes of the majority, and so must be honored as truly American, and consonant with what America is all about and meant to be all about. In reply, we steer you firmly to the original of our “tyranny of the majority” posts: Court decisions are not democracy? It focuses on the judiciary, not the legislature, so after you read that, go to one of our many “tyranny of the majority” series posts that covers state legislation banning gay marriage being overturned by state judiciaries–try Gay marriage in Alaska v. Tyranny of the majority.

We’ll be back with more; that seems clear.