Lederman: To create a better future, students need an education about race

Indeed, even if it will not result in change for some:

At his sentencing hearing on Wednesday, the teenager who murdered 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket last year acknowledged that he had killed them because they were Black. He believed in the Great Replacement Theory – a racist conspiracy theory that falsely argues that the white race is threatened, and that liberal elites (Jews, in particular) are bringing in immigrants to replace white Americans.

“Looking back now, I can’t believe I actually did it,” he said. “I believed what I read online and acted out of hate.”

It’s impossible to know if this specific person was salvageable – but imagine what role a real education in Black history might play in the life of vulnerable young Americans like him. There are many – a frightening many – other potential bigoted autodidacts reading the stuff he was reading online.

How might their reception of this garbage be influenced by a proper education about the Black experience and the role racism has played and continues to play in society?

And yet, in some states, schools influenced (or forced) by right-wing groups and opportunistic politicians are having to shirk their responsibilities to properly educate their students about race. Some say this is out of a (wrongheaded) fear that white children might feel personal shame and responsibility. Or maybe it’s just plain ignorance; perhaps they actually believe that there is no longer racism operating in society.

But of course systemic racism is at play in the United States. Just ask the descendants of generations of slaves upon whose tortured backs many rich, white Americans built their wealth. Just ask the architects and victims of policies that segregated schools, buses, water fountains and lunch counters, or the laws that denied Black people the vote.

Just ask the family of George Floyd. Or the family of Tyre Nichols, a victim of Black police officers invested in what has been described as a systemically racist institution.

Why shouldn’t American students learn about the racism that has infected their country? It is, after all, the truth.

In the wake of the racial reckoning emerging from the 2020 police killing of Mr. Floyd, the once-obscure concept of critical race theory has become a flashpoint. CRT, which emerged out of the Civil Rights movement, argues that racism is embedded in the U.S. legal system, policies and power structures. But it became a favourite target for far-right blabbermouths and then-president Donald Trump. Its meaning has been twisted and obscured in hysterical campaigns in several states, including Florida. There, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the Individual Freedom Act, more commonly known as the Stop W.O.K.E. (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act, to combat CRT’s “state-sanctioned racism.” (George Orwell must be rolling his eyes in his grave.) Speaking to the state’s board of education last year, Mr. DeSantis said: “the woke class wants to teach kids to hate each other, rather than teaching them how to read.” He called CRT “nonsense ideology.”

This rhetoric is itself nonsense. The kids are still learning to read, of course – even if their options are being limited by other scary developments in Florida schools, such as book bans.

Last November, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of some of the provisions of the law. “The First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark,” Judge Mark Walker wrote in his conclusion.

Then in January, Mr. DeSantis banned a new Advanced Placement course on African-American studies from Florida high schools. The multidisciplinary course, currently in a two-year national pilot program, teaches literature, the arts, politics and history – including the origins of the African diaspora, enslavement and resistance.

Thank goodness there are still some grown-ups in charge. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that his state will expand AP African-American studies. “Black history is American history,” Mr. Murphy said Wednesday.

In Canada, Black History Month gives schools the opportunity to teach Black history and contemporary contributions – lessons that should be happening all year. Schools are also now – finally – teaching about this country’s Indigenous history, embracing the fact that to achieve reconciliation, there must be truth: an understanding of the racist policies that targeted Indigenous people and continue to reverberate.

This is not shaming. It’s explaining.

Teaching about race is not indoctrination; it is education. And if the schools won’t do it, there are all sorts of nefarious websites and sketchy media platforms that are happy to fill in the gap with their brand of brainwashing.

Misinformation has never been so accessible – and so dangerous. Knowledge is power, and public educators have an obligation to their students: to teach them to be critical thinkers, to teach them the honest history of their land, and to have faith that the kids will understand what to do with this information – contribute to a better society, for all.

Source: To create a better future, students need an education about race

Lederman: Florida’s book ban takes censorship to the next level

Of note (age of ignorance):

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder or more depressing on the U.S. book-ban front comes this plot twist from Manatee County, Fla. The school board near Sarasota recently issued an edict that prompted teachers to remove all books from classrooms in response to new rules from the Florida Department of Education.

That policy states that all books in schools must be approved by a librarian (called a “certified media specialist”), or staff risk third-degree felony charges. With some classroom libraries too large to dispose of quickly, teachers have had to physically cover them up, with construction paper in some cases – or risk possible jail time. Teachers are not allowed to choose books for their classrooms. And only vetted books are allowed, to ensure they are free of pornographic material, age-appropriate, and don’t contain “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.” It’s effectively leading to negative-option reading, and that’s led to the removal of such dangerous books as Sneezy the Snowman and Dragons Love Tacos.

Imagine a classroom without books. This is a scene cooked up by fools – who are somehow in charge of education – trying to create a nation of more fools. And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed the bill into law, has presidential aspirations. Imagine edicts like this being issued nationally.

Is the Sunshine State also the most ignorant? There’s stiff competition for the title – led by Texas, according to a report released in November by PEN America.

And if it’s sex these censorious anti-intellectuals are worried about, they may want to have a seat while we break the news to them: Kids don’t need to learn this stuff from banned-book queen Judy Blume, or from Robie Harris’s It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health, another frequently censored volume. They can learn it from the internet, from sources far less trustworthy and much more graphic.

Canadian Margaret Atwood is another targeted author; The Handmaid’s Tale is among the most frequently banned books in the U.S. This month, it was among 21 titles banned by the school board in Madison County, Va. Four books by Toni Morrison also made the list, along with three by Stephen King.

Mr. King, a vocal opponent of censorship, tweeted this month: “Hey, kids! It’s your old buddy Steve King telling you that if they ban a book in your school, haul your ass to the nearest bookstore or library ASAP and find out what they don’t want you to read.”

In the new documentary Judy Blume Forever, which just had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret author calls the resurgence of book bans – which often target her novels – shocking. It’s “as if time stood still and we’re back in the eighties.

We’ve had a few book censorship controversies in Canada, too. Last year, the removal of three books from libraries in the Durham District School Board just east of Toronto, including David A. Robertson’s The Great Bear, was reversed after public outcry.

But book bans in the United States are becoming so rampant that they are now likelier to elicit heavy sighs rather than shock. Still, seeing the statistics in black and white is alarming. According to that PEN report, from July, 2021, to June, 2022, there were 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 individual titles. The two categories most frequently banned in schools were books with LGBTQ themes or prominent LGBTQ characters, and books with protagonists or prominent secondary characters of colour.

Students aren’t going to stop being gay – not that any right-thinking person would want them to – because a book that reflects their experience is no longer available in their classroom. Racialized children aren’t going to stop noticing they are racialized. While books are powerful, they are not so powerful that they can change a child’s identity. Their magic isn’t quite that literal. But they can help kids feel better, less alone.

This is not just about misguided parents. Book banning is a strategic political act, and well-connected advocacy organizations have been pushing it. PEN America has identified at least 50 such groups that are actively seeking these bans. And it is certainly a political choice to devote effort to protecting children from books, rather than guns.

Where does an anti-book culture lead? A recent essay in The Atlantic pointed to two prominent figures who have denounced books: Ye, the former Kanye West, who has called himself “a proud non-reader of books,” and Sam Bankman-Fried, who has said he would “never read a book.” A proud antisemite and a fallen tech bro facing multiple fraud charges, respectively.

I get asked a lot these days about misinformation, by people worried that youth are buying into lies about important issues and historical events. My answer always revolves around making sure young people have access to reliable information – the kind most easily found in books. The library over YouTube, always.

Kids, keep reading. Especially the books you’re being told not to read by villainous higher-ups. You’re the protagonist of your own story – and information is power.

Source: Lederman: Florida’s book ban takes censorship to the next level

Lederman: Stop telling women what to wear – in Iran, but also here at home

Of note. More nuance needed, with the question being more what are reasonable dress codes for professional vs personal situations, recognizing that these evolve over time. But would Lederman be comfortable if Ginella Massa, for example, would want to wear a niqab rather than a hijab on CBC? And what about the recent transgender case of a teacher wearing large prosthetic breasts?

Agree with the principle but its application is

The hijab protests in Iran are among the most courageous movements we have seen in contemporary times.

On Sept. 16, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested in Tehran for not wearing her head scarf properly, as determined by so-called morality police – men, of course. She died in custody. Now, women and men are – without hyperbole – risking their lives by standing up against a tyrannical regime that forces women to cover up.

But the uprisings have illuminated something else: the comfort level of the public (high, revolting) with telling women how to dress – and not just in Iran, or other countries with similar laws regarding female dress.

Last week, on the CBS show 60 Minutes, veteran journalist Lesley Stahl wore a head scarf, loosely, for an in-person interview with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. Ms. Stahl does not normally wear a head scarf, but did so in order to secure the interview. “I was told how to dress,” Ms. Stahl said in her report.

This sparked some outrage on social media. Nina Ansari, an Iranian-American author, historian and human-rights activist, noted on Twitter that not long after Ms. Amini’s death, Ms. Stahl wore “the veil in deference to oppressive laws of a misogynistic regime.”

The regime is misogynistic and oppressive. But Ms. Stahl was doing her job: to expose that – and to underscore the need to keep close watch on Iran, its domestic human-rights abuses and its nuclear aspirations, which potentially know no borders. She managed to do so, in an important interview. If the cost of doing it was wearing the head scarf, well, that was Ms. Stahl’s decision to make.

Later that week, CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour was also set to interview Mr. Raisi, this time in New York. Through an aide the President suggested, 40 minutes after the interview’s scheduled start time, that she should wear a head scarf. She refused, and Mr. Raisi cancelled.

Good on her. Her head, her choice. But good on Ms. Stahl, too. Her head, her choice.

In Canada, too, we’ve been volunteering our own opinions around the hijab, to the point that CBC broadcaster Ginella Massa, who chooses to wear it, felt it necessary to explain herself on Twitter.

“I usually try to let my work speak for itself but apparently this needs to be said explicitly,” Ms. Massa wrote, noting she has interviewed women fighting for their right to remove their hijab in Iran, as well as women fighting to wear theirs in Quebec, where Bill 21 bars some public servants from wearing religious symbols. “What they are both demanding is autonomy and personal choice, and my job is to offer them a platform to speak their truth. I can be in solidarity with a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body, without changing what I have personally chosen to do with mine.”

Ms. Massa owes us no explanation. How she chooses to present herself in no way affects her abilities at work, and it is none of our business. Yet somehow, people feel it is their right to weigh in.

Whether Lisa LaFlamme’s grey hair directly contributed to her ouster at CTV News remains unclear, but what is certain is how comfortable management (and the public) felt in making it an issue. Just ask any woman who has worked in TV news about the hair comments to which they are subjected – Black women, in particular.

This isn’t confined to TV, and it doesn’t start in adulthood. There are schools that still enforce strict dress codes aimed at girls: skirts must be a certain length, bra straps can’t be showing, no bare midriffs et cetera. In one case earlier this year, a North Carolina charter school was found to have violated the rights of female students by forcing them to wear skirts. The parent/student handbook says the dress code is meant to “instill discipline and keep order so that student learning is not impeded.”

Dictating how women should dress is an indicator of a society that feels comfortable dictating how women should live, and what they can do with their bodies. This regressive thinking can only lead to regressive law – the revoking of abortion rights in the U.S., for instance.

If Ms. Massa or a teacher in Quebec wants to wear a hijab at work, if Ms. LaFlamme wants to go grey, if a Grade 11 student wants to wear a crop top – it is not our concern. It does not affect the lessons, the news, the world. But telling students, teachers, broadcasters – women, anyone – how to dress does. It colours the world.

I can understand why the hijab might incense someone such as Dr. Ansari – a strong advocate who is fighting not simply against mandatory veiling but for the liberation of the country.

But let’s remember who the real villain is here.

Godspeed to the courageous women in Iran burning their head scarves. As the protesters have chanted on the streets: women, life, freedom.

Source: Stop telling women what to wear – in Iran, but also here at home

Lederman: Ken Burns has a lesson for Ron DeSantis

Great column and reminder:

I can think of a few things that could benefit anyone involved in orchestrating last week’s shameful stunt of sending planeloads of desperate, unsuspecting migrants from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. For instance: sitting them down for six hours and 38 minutes to watch Ken Burns’ The U.S. and the Holocaust, which aired on PBS this week.

I’m unsure anyone who hatched this cruel plan has ever watched a minute of PBS, seen a Ken Burns documentary – or seen a documentary, period – but this three-part series should be required viewing for them. (For anyone, really.)

The central point of the documentary (co-made with Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein) is that while Americans might see their country as a haven for immigrants, and a saviour during the Second World War, the U.S. in fact closed its doors pretty tightly during that critical period – to Jews, in particular. The State Department, lobby groups such as one called America First (sound familiar?), and average Americans didn’t want Jews entering the country. When asked two weeks after Kristallnacht whether the U.S. should allow more Jews into the country, 70 per cent of respondents said no.

“The exclusion of people and shutting them out has been as American as apple pie” says historian Peter Hayes, in episode one.

(Canada is not the focus of this project, but we do earn a mention in our turning away of the MS St. Louis, filled with hundreds of Jewish refugees, who were then sent back to Europe.)

Episode two opens with a scene from a Nazi rally, before the war, but after Hitler had made his thoughts about the Jews clear.

“You will make a statement as to whether you consider my work to be right, whether you believe that I have been diligent, that I have spent my time decently, in the service of my people, and thus entitle me to say that what I am declaring here and now is what Germany desires, what the German people desire.”

A roar of approval fills the packed house, as the crowds stand, arms outstretched.

It was particularly chilling to watch that scene shortly after photos emerged of an Ohio Trump rally where some attendees stood in a similar pose. Even if their outstretched arms included a pointed finger, associated with Trump’s “America First” rallying cry, it was a stomach-turning image. It happened last Saturday.

The Burns documentary is about history, but it is also a warning about what is happening now. Not just the references to Charlottesvilles Unite the Right rally (“Jews will not replace us!”) and the January 6 insurrection, including the guy in the “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt, but about increasingly alarming attitudes toward immigrants.

The parallels are striking. Sickening.

During the Second World War, Americans were concerned about the influx of Jews; that they were being “replaced” – the narrator emphasizes this word, surely a nod to the Great Replacement Theory that certain far-right, white nationalist elements have adopted.

In 1941, U.S. senator Robert Reynolds stated: “If I had my way, I would today build a wall about the United States so high and so secure that not a single alien or foreign refugee from any country upon the face of this Earth could possibly scale or ascend it.”

It was a humanitarian crisis, yet there was great reluctance to help. There were open calls for the status quo – a “white, gentile-ruled United States.” There was suspicion about German-Jewish refugees entering the U.S.

“Something curious is happening to us in this country and I think it is time we stopped and took stock of ourselves,” wrote first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. “Are we going to be swept away from our traditional attitude toward civil liberty by hysteria?”

Something is happening – again, still – in the U.S. There is probably a better word for it than “curious.”

It should be shocking to every American, to every human being, that officials paid by tax dollars – that anyone, in fact – devised this nasty scheme for these migrants. That others agreed to it, carried it out. That human beings approached these vulnerable people, lied to them, loaded them onto planes and dumped them not where they were told they were going.

And these prankster perpetrators maybe even laughed, amongst friends, about it. And in the case of Donald Trump, claimed that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had stolen the idea from him. Mr. Trump wanted the credit.

This is the country that put children in cages, children who want to live in America. Well, who sends a child out alone to try to cross a border, some people tut-tut.

I’ll tell you who: Desperate parents willing to do the unthinkable for a shot at safety for their children, a good life. It happened during what we now call the Holocaust. And it’s happening now.

Historian Deborah Lipstadt says in the film, “The time to stop a genocide is before it happens.”

The time to stop anti-immigrant madness is before it happens. The next best time is now.

Source: Ken Burns has a lesson for Ron DeSantis