So who are the “snowflakes” now? That’s the term that conservatives have long used to denigrate liberals for being overly sensitive about exposure to opposing views. But those same conservatives today demand that schools don’t expose students to unpleasant facts or controversial opinions, especially regarding America’s complicated racial history.
The right’s obsession with stamping out “critical race theory” from public schools is odd for two reasons: One, the premise of that theory — that centuries of slavery have so engrained racism in American culture that Black Americans today remain at a disadvantage in our laws and institutions — would seem to be common sense. And, two, that theory is the purview of graduate studies and is almost never taught in public school education.
Nonetheless, conservative parents and the politicians who pander to them are all worked up about not just critical race theory but any topic that touches on race or other cultural issues that make conservatives squirm. How many of these folks are the same people who have bristled at the free speech restrictions that college campus liberals have supported in recent years?
This newspaper has consistently supported open debate on campuses and criticized those who attempt to stifle it based on the misguided notion that liberal thought can be legitimately promoted with illiberal methods like silencing or intimidating those who express conservative views. University life is supposed to be about the free exchange of ideas, we wrote in one typical editorial in 2016 that lamented the smothering of campus life by self-appointed thought police who seemed bent on enforcing political correctness at all costs.
The same standard must apply when someone like Texas state Rep. Matt Krause sends a letter, as he did last month, urging schools to scour their shelves for anything that might make students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex” or from making students read any “books or content” that “address or contain” discussion of those topics.
How is this better than lefty college professors lamenting that conservative opinions might trigger their liberal students?
Voters in Virginia’s gubernatorial election this month saw an ad from the eventual winner, Republican Glenn Youngkin, featuring a mother who lamented that her son (a high school senior) was asked to read material so “explicit” that when she showed it to her legislators, “their faces turned bright red with embarrassment.”
She doesn’t mention the book’s title. It’s “Beloved,” Toni Morrison’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about an escaped slave. As important American literature goes, it’s routinely ranked up there with “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” But that hardly matters to those who apparently think their kids are going to melt if they’re exposed in any way to the topic of race in America.