Krugman on the Thought Police Skip to content

Krugman on the Thought Police

If we ban teaching anything that makes people “uncomfortable,” where does that leave actual education?

3 min read
Photo by Matt Popovich / Unsplash

I read Paul Krugman’s NYT columns . . . well, I would say “religiously” except I’m a secularist. This morning’s column is a particular insightful — and disturbing — one: Attack of the Right-Wing Thought Police:

Now, however, freedom is under attack, on more fronts than many people realize. Everyone knows about the Big Lie, the refusal by a large majority of Republicans to accept the legitimacy of a lost election. But there are many other areas in which freedom is not just under assault but in retreat.

Let’s talk, in particular, about the attack on education, especially but not only in Florida, which has become one of America’s leading laboratories of democratic erosion.

We here all know that “Critical Race Theory” is a concept taught only at the university level and that it’s a method for examining the history of American racism. No one teaches it, no one has suggested teaching it, at grade, middle, or high schools (though it might be a good idea).

But the right wing would-be autocrats have seized on it as yet one more tool to attack anyone they don’t like (on the flimsy excuse that critical race theory is being used to attack people its proponents don’t like). A number of states have banned it already using specious arguments about how it makes students (and more importantly, their parents, who vote, uncomfortable). Now Florida, the far right’s laboratory for testing new ways to control, is expanding on that ban.

There’s a bill advancing in the Florida Senate declaring that an individual “should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.” That is, the criterion for what can be taught isn’t “Is it true? Is it supported by the scholarly consensus?” but rather “Does it make certain constituencies uncomfortable?”

“Certain constituencies,” of course, means certain White constituencies. They don’t care about making Black constituencies uncomfortable; if anything, they want them to be uncomfortable, afraid even, so that they know their place is at the back of the bus and down on the farm.

Nor are Blacks the only target.

What’s really striking, however, is the idea that schools should be prohibited from teaching anything that causes “discomfort” among students and their parents. If you imagine that the effects of applying this principle would be limited to teaching about race relations, you’re being utterly naïve.

For one thing, racism is far from being the only disturbing topic in American history. I’m sure that some students will find that the story of how we came to invade Iraq — or for that matter how we got involved in Vietnam — makes them uncomfortable. Ban those topics from the curriculum!

Anyone who argues that the United States is or ever has been less than exceptional or successful will be told to shut up or the law will come after them.

And what about science, which after all makes all those fundamentalists (and many, though not all, evangelicals) uncomfortable?

Then there’s the teaching of science. Most high schools do teach the theory of evolution, but leading Republican politicians are either evasive or actively deny the scientific consensus, presumably reflecting the G.O.P. base’s discomfort with the concept. Once the Florida standard takes hold, how long will teaching of evolution survive?

Geology, by the way, has the same problem. I’ve been on nature tours where the guides refuse to talk about the origins of rock formations, saying that they’ve had problems with some religious guests.

(I’ve had the same experience: We visited a natural history museum in Livingston, Zambia, back in 2001. The guide checked with us to be sure we were OK with evolution before showing us around; he said he’d a lot of trouble with visitors who insisted it was all made up.)

The point is that the smear campaign against critical race theory is almost certainly the start of an attempt to subject education in general to rule by the right-wing thought police, which will have dire effects far beyond the specific topic of racism.

Krugman also warns that the “thought police” will include vigilantes, similar to the ones Texas is empowering against abortion providers.

Last month Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, proposed a “Stop Woke Act” that would empower parents to sue school districts they claim teach critical race theory — and collect lawyer fees, a setup modeled on the bounties under Texas’ new anti-abortion law. Even the prospect of such lawsuits would have a chilling effect on teaching.

Revealed religions, Christianity in particular, have always had problems with dissent or doubt. It’s in the New Testament:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:6

This is religion, fundamentalist religion, masquerading as politics. And it is an existential threat to our freedom to think — to doubt.


Written by Dan K. Cross-posted from Daily Kos..

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