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George Rebane: Herding CRT’s ideological cats

George Rebane | Other Voices

“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that ain’t so.” — Will Rogers and others

Herding ideological cats is a job editor Alan Riquelmy at The Union is tasked with as the chair of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. On the whole he does a commendable job in composing the Editorial Board’s weekly debate into a cohesive Our View column that appears in its Saturday edition. The newspaper’s Nov. 20 topic was a particularly hairy one — critical race theory as taught in our K-12 schools.

The recent public forum on critical race theory was held at the high school board meeting with most attending being critical race theory’s ideological devotees, while denying that it is taught to Nevada County kids.

Their opposition was a group calling itself Protecting American Ideals whose members presented evidence that indeed the tenets of critical race theory are taught in our schools, and that such teachings are destructive to the kids’ learning and practicing American ideals.

As Riquelmy points out, neither side was there “to listen to the presentation,” but instead to “participate in the pageant” of people with made-up minds. Moreover, our editor reveals that even the Editorial Board “couldn’t reach consensus on an issue this contentious.”

As Riquelmy sought to pour oil on the column’s troubled waters, he ran into a couple of items with which I have a nit or two.

First, our editor seems to hold the common understanding that there exists only one history. Serious students of history are the first to point out that there are countless histories, each of which aims to present a cohesive narrative of a period’s chronicled events. The job of historians is to identify the causal basins and beams (sequences of “this caused that,” etc.) of every notable milestone they explicate. And as we know, causality is both slippery and many-headed. To every gathering of causal sequences, one can quickly come up with yet another one that tells a different plausible story of the times.

Another popular error embedded in our society can be laid at the feet of the late Sen Daniel Patrick Moynihan — “you can have your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts.’” Wrong! It is easy to see in this age of the internet, 500-plus media channels, and facile international communications that there are many disparate sets of “facts” which attend and characterize any issue or notion. It is only the loudly talking heads and media pundits who each purvey their own facts as the gospel upon which their narrative finds footing and reflects their biases. We consumers of history and facts have more than an ample smorgasbord from which to choose what suits our fancy or yields to our grasp.

Finally, critical race theory does have a widely accepted definition composed of tenets considered to be true. These are collected and displayed on various websites — e.g. britannica.com/topic/critical-race-theory. The tenets presented generally agree. They are not a mystery.

But here is the meat of the argument about critical race theory being taught in our schools — the theory does not have to appear in a school’s syllabus for its tenets be taught to students. The tenets of any body of thought can be marbled piecemeal into any of a number of different courses to communicate its desired ideological perspective. Today there are even handbooks to show teachers how to inject critical race theory into all STEM(!) subjects. And that is demonstrably what students tell their parents what is happening, and that is what the parents are up in arms about here in Nevada County and across the country.

Our editor admirably concludes, “Sure, we want our children to learn about history without the politics of the day tainting it. We don’t want our kids saddled with the sins of the past. We want a vibrant new generation to leave school armed with knowledge and critical thinking skills, questioning a country they love when needed and fighting for it when required.”

And then he adds the kicker, “But we also want people who think like us going to the polls.” It was ever thus.

George Rebane lives in Nevada City.


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