Montana considers a bill that allows teaching of “scientific facts” but not “scientific theories”

February 9, 2023 • 12:10 pm

Reader Barry sent me a link to an article in BoingBoing reporting briefly that a freshman state Senator in Montana, Dan Emrich, has introduced a bill that would ban the teaching of “scientific theories” in secondary schools and allow only the teaching of “scientific fact”.  According to the article, the object of this bill is the “theory” of evolution, and since he doesn’t see evolution as a fact, then bye-bye Darwin. You can click below to see the short bill, and I’ve put the relevant bits of the bill below the screenshot (bolding is mine):

WHEREAS, the purpose of K-12 education is to educate children in the facts of our world to better prepare them for their future and further education in their chosen field of study, and to that end children must know the difference between scientific fact and scientific theory; and

WHEREAS, a scientific fact is observable and repeatable, and if it does not meet these criteria, it is a  theory that is defined as speculation and is for higher education to explore, debate, and test to ultimately reach  a scientific conclusion of fact or fiction.

They later clarify: “As used in this section, ‘scientific fact’ means an indisputable and repeatable observation of a natural phenomenon.”


NEW SECTION. Section 1. Requirements for science instruction in schools.

(1) Science 18 instruction may not include subject matter that is not scientific fact.

(2) The board of public education may not include in content area standards any standard 20 requiring curriculum or instruction in a scientific topic that is not scientific fact.

(3) The superintendent of public instruction shall ensure that any science curriculum guides 22 developed by the office of public instruction include only scientific fact.

(4) (a) The trustees of a school district shall ensure that science curriculum and instructional 24 materials, including textbooks, used in the district include only scientific fact.

Why are they doing this? Apparently  because Emrich is after the “theory” of evolution and this is his way of banning it from being taught. (This won’t fly, of course; it’s hopelessly confused.) And I can tell without looking that Emrich is a Republican. From BoingBoing:

Montana Public Radio reports that more than 20 people testified against the bill to voice their concern “that it could keep teachers from including gravitational theory, evolution and cell theory in curriculum.”

In his testimony, Emrich “If we operate on the assumption that a theory is fact, unfortunately, it leads us to asking questions that may be potentially based on false assumptions,” Emrich said.

We know what Emrich is up to. He wants to ban the teaching of the theory of evolution, which is a well-substantiated explanation based on a large body of factual evidence, not assumptions. His dangerous and misguided bill creates a false dichotomy between science and scientific theories, and undermines the principles of academic freedom and the separation of church and state.

This plays on the public confusion, promulgated decades ago by Ronald Reagan, who said this in 1980 (my emphasis):

I have a great many questions about it. It is a theory, it is a scientific theory only. And in recent years it has been challenged in the world of science and is not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was. I think that recent discoveries down through the years have pointed up great flaws in it.”

That’s all bullpucky, of course, especially the claim that evolution is becoming less accepted in the scientific community. My book Why Evolution is True dispels that claim, but it also shows that yes, evolution is a scientific theory, but it is also a scientific fact. Organisms evolved, they did so slowly rather than instantaneously (except for polyploid or hybrid species), lineages split over time, producing new species who evolved further, creating a branching evolutionary tree showing that any two living species have a common ancestor, and that the remarkable “adaptations” or organisms evolved via natural selection. (There are also other ways of evolving, like genetic drift, but they don’t produce adaptations). All five of these bits of evolutionary theory are also facts, supported by mountains of evidence.

I would reproduce my discussion of why evolution is both a fact and a theory from the book, but you can read it from pp. 14-19 and it’s too long to put here. (You do have the book, don’t you?)

Alternatively, you can read Steve Gould’s well known essay on this issue, Evolution as fact and theory“, online for free.  Here’s the bit that most of us know, written with Gould’s characteristic flair:

The basic attack of modern creationists falls apart on two general counts before we even reach the supposed factual details of their assault against evolution. First, they play upon a vernacular misunderstanding of the word “theory” to convey the false impression that we evolutionists are covering up the rotten core of our edifice. Second, they misuse a popular philosophy of science to argue that they are behaving scientifically in attacking evolution. Yet the same philosophy demonstrates that their own belief is not science, and that “scientific creationism” is a meaningless and self-contradictory phrase, an example of what Orwell called “newspeak.”

In the American vernacular, “theory” often means “imperfect fact”—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is “only” a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can’t even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): “Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science—that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was.”

Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.

Moreover, “fact” does not mean “absolute certainty.” The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

This bill will not pass, not only because it would prohibit the teaching of atomic theory, germ theory, and the theory of gravity (what Emrich is saying, falsely, is that “theory” = “speculation”), but also because many “facts” of history itself are not established with 100% certainty. It’s best to regard all truths as provisional, but some, like evolution, are sufficiently established that you’d be safe betting your life savings on them.

I’ll finish here by letting you read once again part of Clarence Darrow’s stirring defense of evolution against ignoramuses like Emrich. This, which still applies to people like Emrich, is nearly a century old, and was thundered out by Darrow in 1925 during second day of the Scopes trial:

 If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lectures, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.

Ignorance and fanaticism are still at play, as you can see in this bill.

On Herschel Walker’s candidacy: is Andrew Sullivan becoming a Democrat?

October 8, 2022 • 1:30 pm

As James Carville said the other day in a video I posted, “[the Republicans have really stupid people who vote in their primaries”, and thus “they tend to elect really stupid leaders.”

One of those stupid leaders is Herschel Walker, an ex football star now running as a Republican candidate for Senate in Georgia.  Walker is unbelievably stupid and hamhanded—so far away from the semblance of a rational politician that Andrew Sullivan devoted mostof his weekly column to a splenetic dissection of Walker’s idiocy and hypocrisy.  Americans will know one example of that: Walker is running as a hard anti-abortion candidate, who sees abortion as murder, yet all the evidence shows that he paid for one of his girlfriends to get an abortion. And, despite the palpable evidence (including a check and get-well card from Walker), the candidate says he doesn’t even know the woman.

Walker also said this about evolution, as reported by CNN:

“At one time, science said man came from apes, did it not?” Walker, the frontrunner for the Georgia Republican Senate nomination, said in an appearance over the weekend at a church in Sugar Hill, Georgia. “If that is true, why are there still apes? Think about it.”

Yes, I’ve spent my life thinking about this stupid creationist canard, but only a moronic Republican (which is almost a redudancy) would parade that kind of ignorance in public. I expect every reader of this website should be able to refute Walker’s claim. (By the way, why don’t reporters ever ask candidates if they accept the fact of evolution? Anybody answering “no” should automatically be deemed unfit for office.)

As reader Steve noted, when he sent me the link (I do subscribe), “I think [Sullivan] is at the top of his form in this post.” And indeed he is. In fact, Sully rails so hard against the Republican party as a whole that he might as well start calling himself an independent centrist.  Click on the screenshot to read:

The intro, clearly showing a disaffection for Republicans:

There are times, I confess, when I decide to pass on writing another column on how degenerate the Republican Party is. What else is there to say? It’s not as if the entire media class isn’t saying it every hour of every day. And it’s not as if the depravity of the party hasn’t been a longtime hobbyhorse of mine. Unlike most of the Never-Trumper set, I was writing about this derangement on the right in the 1990s. I tore into George W. Bush’s spend, borrow and torture policies. I wrote a book on what I thought conservatism really was in 2006 — and why the GOP was its nemesis. I couldn’t have been clearer about what Palin represented — even as Bill Kristol selected her to be a potential president.

But then you come across the Senate candidacy of one Herschel Walker, and, well, words fail. No magical realist fiction writer could come up with something so sickeningly absurd. Walker is, of course, inextricable from his longtime friend, Donald Trump, who made his campaign possible in March 2021. . .

Sullivan goes hard on Walker’s unbelievable stupidity (and also mentions the man’s evolution denialism):

Walker is, to start with, very dumb. I don’t usually note this quality in a candidate and it doesn’t make him a huge outlier in politics of course. Being brainy, moreover, can be a serious liability for some pols. But seriously: this stupid?

Here is Walker’s grasp of climate change: “Our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move.” Here’s his take on John Lewis: “Senator Lewis was one of the greatest senators that’s ever been, and for African Americans that was absolutely incredible. To throw his name on a bill for voting rights I think is a shame.” On the Inflation Reduction Act: “They continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out. But they’re not. Because a lot of money, it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”

After running through Walker’s sins of lying, abuse, harassment, stupidity, and hypocrisy, and wondering how any Republican can still support Walker’s candidacy, but observing that they do so out of tribalism, Sullivan argues:

I am not saying that the Democrats are not also corrupted by rank tribalism. At their worst, they are, as I often point out. I am saying that they do not compare with the current GOP in its hollowness and depravity and madness.

Walker shows that there is no principle they will not jettison, no evil they will not excuse, no crime they won’t “whatabout,” and no moron they won’t elect, if it means they gain power. There is degeneracy among many Democrats, sure. But the Republican party is defined by this putrescence. Burn it down.

Burn it down, with “it” being the Republican party? That’s not the Sullivan of yore! But you have to hand it to Andrew: he’s persuaded by reason and sometimes changes his mind. In this case, he was also persuaded by stupidity.

But there is a slight nod to faith in the piece. I don’t consider it terribly significant—though I aways thought Sullivan’s own Catholicism was a striking departure from his rationality—but reader Steve wanted to mention it. In one part of his piece, Sullivan attacks Republicans who still support Walker, despite his failure as both candidate and human being, because he can win:

It’s rare to see this kind of nihilist consequentialism expressed so nakedly. It’s rare to hear someone publicly say something so deeply hostile to any shred of Christianity. (Christians never believe the ends justify any means. Christianism is defined by that principle.) But nothing matters to the current GOP more than victory, by fair means or foul, by democratic processes or not.

And here’s where Steve finds some fault:

[Sullivan] does, however, betray his weakness for his religion in this sentence: “Christians never believe the ends justify any means.” On the contrary, the history of Christianity shows the continued reliance on the pious fiction or noble lie to gain adherents.

The column referenced, a good one, is by Neil Godfrey, and recounts the “noble lies” of Scripture: outrageous claims (like Jesus walking on water) seen as metaphorical by some theologians. Their end was to make converts; their means was to use Biblical claims the theologians didn’t accept but that demonstrated the miracles of God and Jesus.

But you don’t even have to go to the Bible to see lots of Christians violating Sullivan’s claim by showing that “the ends justify any means.”

The Inquisition is but one example.

That aside, Sullivan’s column is remarkably good.

Curmudgeon sees John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a harmful song

April 14, 2022 • 11:45 am

John Lennon’s 1971 song “Imagine” has become a sort of anthem for humanists, and is without doubt Lennon’s most famous solo composition and performance. Its plea for harmony, secularism, and, I suppose, income redistribution, constitute the reasons for Gary Abernathy’s objection to the song, detailed in an essay in the Washington Post. Click on the screenshot to read:

The backstory is that Julian Lennon (John’s son and the inspiration for the Beatles’ song “Hey Jude”) said he’d never perform his father’s song. But he changed his mind when Putin attacked Ukraine. As NPR reported:

Julian Lennon, the son of the late Beatles star turned solo artist John Lennon, publicly performed his father’s hit song “Imagine” last week for the first time. He said he did so in support of Ukraine.

“As a human, and as an artist, I felt compelled to respond in the most significant way I could,” Lennon tweeted. “So today, for the first time ever, I publicly performed my Dad’s song, IMAGINE.”

In a video of the performance, Lennon and a guitarist sit in a room illuminated by candles. The camera slowly swings around them as Lennon sings the antiwar anthem.

“Why now, after all these years? — I had always said, that the only time I would ever consider singing ‘IMAGINE’ would be if it was the ‘End of the World’ …” Lennon said.

He suggested that the song represents “our collective desire for peace worldwide” and that it transports listeners to a place “where love and togetherness become our reality.”

Noting the millions of people who’ve fled the violence in Ukraine, Lennon called on world leaders to support refugees around the world and urged people to “advocate and donate from the heart.”

Here’s Lennon’s performance, which I like.

But as you can tell from the title of the op-ed, Abernathy doesn’t like it. I couldn’t figure out why from his title, but when you know that Abernathy is a pro-Trump Republican, it makes sense.

Here’s his bio from the Post:

Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Post, is a freelance writer based in the Cincinnati, Ohio, region. After spending 13 years as an editor at three Ohio newspapers from 1983 to 1996, Abernathy worked in Republican Party politics in Ohio and West Virginia, as well as for an Ohio congressman and two U.S. senators. He returned to journalism in 2011, serving until July 2018 as publisher and editor of the (Hillsboro, Ohio) Times-Gazette, one of the few newspapers to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2016. Abernathy has served as an on-air election analyst for the PBS NewsHour, along with other frequent television and radio appearances. He has won numerous industry awards for column writing, editing and reporting.

I’ve put the lyrics to “Imagine” below the fold so you can see the lyrics Abernathy objects to. Quotes from his op-ed are indented, italics are mine.

Here are the three things Abernathy doesn’t like about the song.

1.) “No religion.”

“Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try,” the song opens — not a happy thought for Christians and members of other religions who put their hopes in the belief in an eternal afterlife. We don’t want to imagine no heaven. Why would we try?

“No hell below,” suggests the next line. Well, yes, I have to admit that would be nice, but if there’s a heaven …

If there’s a Heaven, then, says the Bible, there’s a hell. He continues

Yes, I know — religion has caused countless wars through the centuries, and so much of our social and political divide is centered on religious differences. There are those who think we’d all just be better off without any belief in God.

And maybe they’d be right. Those who say that in a world without God, people would find other reasons to kill each other, but we already have plenty of reasons. The way I see it, the fewer excuses we have to divide people into groups, the less xenophobia and hatred we’d have. And so I feel (though I can’t prove it), that Lennon is right here: without religion we’d have less reasons to hate and slaughter our fellow humans.

2.) “Nothing to kill or die for”.  To Abernathy this is manifestly unpatriotic, because we should be willing to kill or die for our country or for freedom.

“And no religion too,” it dreams. Again, many of us think religion is a good thing, just like “countries” are for those of us who are proud of ours. . . .

Later, the song suggests we imagine “nothing to kill or die for.” Aren’t some things worth dying for? Many have died for our freedoms. I’d hate to imagine where we’d be if they hadn’t.

“Countries” are for those of us who are proud of ours”? What the deuce is he talking about? Wouldn’t it be better if there hadn’t been “countries” in the the first place? They’re just another source of division and hatred. One feels that Abernathy is almost glad that countries exist so he could say he’d die for America and its freedoms. But what if he lived in Russia, or North Korea, or the Afghanistan of the Taliban? Nevertheless, he persists:

. . . And maybe in a world without countries, what would otherwise be Ukraine and Russia could coexist harmoniously. For anyone who feels that way, “Imagine” is for you. (Had John Lennon lived, I think, he would have been right at home in the modern social justice movement.)

Indeed! He’s undercutting his own point. And I don’t think Lennon is saying he’s not willing to kill or die to protect his family. He’s talking about the harmful effect of divisions in humanity—divisions that cause enmity.

3.) “Imagine no possessions/I wonder if you can/No need for greed or hunger/A brotherhood of man.”  This means only one thing to Abernathy: rampant socialism:

Again, many of us think religion is a good thing, just like “countries” are for those of us who are proud of ours, and “possessions” for those of us who believe in the bedrock concept of private property.

. . . “Imagine,” as beautiful as it is, contains troubling imagery for anyone who cares about faith, patriotism and capitalism. And really, we don’t have to imagine this world. We’ve seen it. It’s called socialism.

Well, you could also call it “democratic socialism”; the system seen in Scandinavia. And that doesn’t sound too bad!

There’s no doubt that Lennon didn’t personally accept the concept of “no possessions”, as he kept a lot of his wealth. I think he’s calling for income distribution, for with “no possessions” it would be hard to live at all. He wants equality, or so I think, because inequality of income or “stuff” is another source of hatred and division. The mere existence of “possessions” doesn’t cause division; it’s the unequal distribution of possessions that does.

In the end, Abernathy wonders if he’s just being an old man yelling at the clouds:

Am I reading too much into a song that just makes a simple plea for peace and unity? Maybe. Maybe not. For many of us, “Imagine” is a siren song to the rocky cliffs of destruction. I love the song for its lilting melody and seductive imagery. I find myself humming along. Imagine if everything were perfect. Wouldn’t that be nice? But then I think about the words: No heaven. No countries. No religion. No possessions. And I make myself snap out of it. Can’t we find a better anthem?

I appreciate Julian Lennon’s intentions in wanting to offer hope to Ukraine. He said the song “reflects the light at the end of the tunnel that we are all hoping for.” Good for him. And his father’s song isn’t going anywhere. It’s become the classic invocation of peace and harmony, while any opposition is just curmudgeonly and old-fashioned.

But if the light at the end of the tunnel is the one of these lyrics, I’m not sure I want to step into it. Imagine that.

Yes, he is an old man yelling at the clouds. He wants his religion, his wonderful America, and he seems to have no problem with inequality. No wonder his paper was pro-Trump!

Maybe readers could suggest a song that better embodies Abernathy’s principles. I suspect it would be a country song.

Click on “Continue reading” to see the lyrics to “Imagine”

Continue reading “Curmudgeon sees John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a harmful song”

Why both Left and Right distort CRT for political ends

January 28, 2022 • 11:00 am

I’ve written several posts trying to explain Critical Race Theory (CRT) as it is understood by scholars (see here and here, and here, for instance), and I won’t reiterate the definitions, which, of course differs from scholar to scholar. There is no “approved” definition.  But the variants all have certain things in common, including the concept of “white privilege,” intersectionality, systemic racism, and, usually, reparations and the complicity of oppressors (in this case, white people) in oppressing minorities. CRT is identity-centered rather than individual-centered.

I was going to write a corrective to the misconceptions of the Left about CRT, which are actually distortions because anybody who cares to can find out what CRT really is.  Likewise, the Right distorts CRT in an attempt to minimize the extent of racism. Both ends of the political spectrum, in fact, tailor their own definitions of CRT to meet their goals

Mona Charen at the Bulwark (see first article below) has written a sensible article on CRT (click on screenshot) which makes these points. It turns out that the Right-wing concept is closer to the real CRT than is the Left-wing version, but both sides distort what happens when an dumbed-down version of CRT is taught in schools.

Like me, Charen, doesn’t think there should be any laws against CRT on the books (most of them have been confected  by Republicans). In my case, given the various conceptions of CRT, telling schools what’s legal and not legal to teach infringes the freedom of teachers to teach what they think is best. (Note to creationists and IDers who will use my last sentence to justify the teaching of their nonsense: CRT is not evolution, which is a “theory” that happens to be a true theory as well, and, unlike CRT, one can’t with any rationality debate the truth of evolution.)

So, as Charen notes, the Left (including, recently, Paul Krugman) characterizes CRT simply as the idea, which is true, that there was slavery and oppression of black people for centuries, and that there is still racism, and both the history and current racism injures minorities and violates the tenets of our democracy. As we see below, most Americans agree with these claims. But they are not CRT!

.Charen (my emphasis below):

The laws some Republican-dominated states are passing to curtail CRT and its progeny are bad ideas for many reasons. But the depictions of those laws in big outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post are frequently wrong or incomplete. A recent CNN report about Florida’s new law that would prohibit teaching methods that make people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin” mangles the facts. The law, CNN claims, is a response to critical race theory, which the network defines as “a concept that seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US. The term also has become politicized and been attacked by its critics as a Marxist ideology that’s a threat to the American way of life.”

Not quite, though CNN is hardly alone in describing CRT in such an anodyne fashion. Paul Krugman argues that most people don’t know what CRT is (which is true), but goes off the deep end claiming that Republican “denunciations of C.R.T. are basically a cover for a much bigger agenda: an attempt to stop schools from teaching anything that makes right-wingers uncomfortable.” [JAC: I think there’s some truth in what Krugman says!] One news outlet suggested that anti-CRT bills “may make it even harder to discuss African American history,” and it is common to see anti-CRT bills described as “efforts to restrict what teachers can say about race, racism and American history in the classroom.”

If you were judging by much of the mainstream press coverage, you would think that CRT is just a movement to ensure that the history of slavery, racism, and Jim Crow is not neglected in America’s classrooms. But 1) large percentages of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching those things, and 2) that’s not what CRT is.

So what does Charen see as the “real” CRT? Here:

In their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic state forthrightly that “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, rejects the notion that racism is a character flaw in some individuals, declaring instead that “White identity is inherently racist.” That marks a dramatic departure from the traditional understanding of racism.

Critical race theory adherents favor teaching techniques that most Americans believe violate our commitment to colorblindness, such as “affinity groups” wherein people are segregated by race to discuss certain issues. In Massachusetts, the Wellesley public schools hosted a “Healing Space for Asian and Asian American students and others in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.” An official email explained that, “This is a safe space for our Asian/Asian American and Students of Color, *not* for students who identify only as White.”

And, contra Krugman and Scientific American, this kind of stuff, and not just the history of racism and slavery is actually taught in some schools.

In Virginia’s Loudoun County, teacher training materials encouraged educators to reject “color blindness” and to “address their whiteness (white privilege).” Each teacher was exhorted to become a “culturally competent professional who acknowledges and is aware of his or her own racist, sexist, heterosexist or other detrimental attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and feelings.” The training strayed into racial essentialism like this: “To the African, the entire universe is vitalistic as opposed to mechanistic. . . . This precept suggests that African Americans have a psychological affinity for stimulus change, often exhibit an increased behavioral vibrancy and have a rich and sometimes spontaneous movement repertoire.”

Democrats often object that CRT is “not taught in K-12 schools,” which is evasive. It’s true that third graders are not being assigned the works of Kimberly Crenshaw or Ibram X. Kendi, but affinity groups, “anti-racism” (in the sense of rejecting the ideal of color blindness), and other CRT-adjacent ideas are making their way into classrooms. New York City has spent millions on training materials that disdain “worship of the written word,” “individualism,” and “objectivity” as aspects of “white-supremacy culture.”

I’ve given other examples, such as the Smithsonian’s ill-advised (and now removed) characterization of white and black “culture”, and explicit demonizing of whiteness in classrooms, which is divisive and sometimes traumatic, and the recounting by students and parents in New York’s fancy prep schools about the divisive propaganda those schools purvey. There is no shortage of examples.

Republicans and righties aren’t immune, either, attacking perfectly warranted and sensible school units on racism. Charen gives the example of Republicans attacking a school district in Tennesee because on grade had a “Civil Rights Heroes” module that the plaintiffs said was “Anti-American, Anti-White, and Anti-Mexican [sic]”. There’s little doubt that their attempts to ban teaching CRT in schools is motivated at least in part by racism and a continuing attempt to efface American history.

So a pox on both ideological houses, especially because both Republicans and Democrats agree (as do I) that the nature, history, and damage of racism need to be taught.

It’s so easy—and remunerative—for progressives to characterize opposition to CRT as straight-up racism, and for conservatives to reach for heavy-handed, overbroad laws to restrict teaching they resent. But it is possible to oppose CRT for non-racist reasons, in fact for pro-national unity reasons, and even if Republicans are not making the case well or at all, it still needs to be made.

Large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching about slavery, racism, and other sins of American history. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favor teaching that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Ninety percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Republicans believe textbooks should say that many Founding Fathers owned slaves. Nearly identical percentages of Democrats (87) and Republicans (85) say textbooks should include the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and slightly higher percentages want children to learn about the theft of Native American land.

That is not the picture of a nation (or even one party) that is refusing to grapple with the history of racism. Where you do get partisan divergence is on whether schools should teach the concept of “white privilege.” Seventy-one percent of Democrats say yes, but only 22 percent of Republicans agree.

This is getting long, so I’ll refer you to Eric Kaufman’s long survey of the divisions in America about CRT (click on screenshot below). A lot of it is age-related, with young people approving the teaching of “dictionary CRT” while older people oppose it.  Kaufman draws a distinction between “cultural liberalis” (those “classical liberals” who oppose the strict construal of CRT, and “cultural socialists” (those who stress the importance of identity groups over individual rights and favor the teaching of CRT). The ratio of the former to the latter in the U.S. is now 2:1, but Kaufman thinks as the young people of today age, they’re going to remain cultural socialists.

(You can see Kaufman’s full data and analysis here—in a much longer article.)

The cultural socialists on the Left apparently include the editors of Scientific American. A comment the other day on my post “The inanities of Scientific American—almost all within just one year,” went as follows.

The commenter:

This aways confuses me. I have been reading Scientific American in magazine form for years, and I haven’t seen ANY of this offensive stuff. Indeed, the February 2022 issue has an editorial by the Board of Editors basically blasting “wokeness” in American History curricula, and recommending more material covering the treatment of minority groups both historically and currently.
It would really help me if all these critiques of the “failing Scientific American” could cite issues and pages, so I could see for myself.

I have the article below, which I’ll send to anyone who wants it (it’s in the paper edition). Scientific American makes the mistake of conflating CRT with “reality”, using the construal that CRT is simply teaching about racism and its history in the classroom. The article (no link):

Here’s the abstract:


The authors emphasize the importance of critical race theory (CRT) to a fact-based education in the U.S. They cite the implication of the election of officials who opposed CRT and enactment of legislation banning CRT from school curricula in some states for children’s education. They mention the significance of lessons about equity and social justice to young people. They point out that truth and reality will be removed from education if conversations around race and society are eliminated.

I won’t go on except to say that the editorial flirts with the classical definition of CRT, but then says that that all it does is teach us our “true history” and that it “teaches children about reality.”  This is a good example of how the Left deliberately misconstrues CRT so that they can call people who oppose the theory “racists.” But that’s not true.

The title tells all.

Ohio introduces an antiabortion bill similar to that of Texas, but worse: it bans all abortions

November 4, 2021 • 9:15 am

Yes, the states are falling like dominoes: just yesterday Ohio passed an abortion law whose enforcement mechanism is similar to that of Texas, but the restrictions on abortion are even more stringent.  Read the article from The Hill by clicking on the screenshot:

An excerpt:

The bill, called the 2363 Act, which the lawmakers said is the number of children lost to abortion everyday in the U.S., seeks to ban all abortions in Ohio and, like the Texas law, empower “any person” to bring civil action against an individual who performs and abortion or “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.”

Individuals who filed such lawsuits will be permitted to ask for $10,000 or more, according to


The legislation does not include exceptions for rape or incest, but it would shield abortion patients from being sued by individuals who may have gotten them pregnant through rape or another form of sexual violence.

Well goody goody for that last stipulation!  The difference between Ohio and Texas is not only that generous stipulation, but the declaration of illegality of all abortions (for Texas it’s when there’s a fetal heartbeat—about six weeks after conception).

Can you guess which party introduced the bill? You won’t be wrong? One more excerpt:

“The sanctity of human life, born and preborn, must be preserved in Ohio,” Powell said, according to “The 2363 Act is about protecting our fundamental, constitutional right to be born and live. Abortion kills children, scars families, and harms women. We can and must do better.”

Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D) slammed the bill, calling it “an egregious assault on women, a dangerous attack on healthcare rights and an embarrassment for our state,” adding that “Ohio Republicans want to control women, but we won’t be silent.”

“Criminalizing care will disproportionately impact women of color, nonbinary people and those already at a disadvantage in our health and criminal justice system. …Once again, Republicans are showing that the everyday needs of Ohioans are less important than scoring political points, likes and retweets,” Sykes said, according to

I wish they hadn’t racialized the bill in this way. I think pro-choice is the right thing to do for everyone, and is not a palliative for racism. It’s like arguing for gun control because guns disproportionately kill people of color. Anyway, if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, which is at this moment adjudicating the Texas bill, regulation of abortion will be thrown back to the states, and this kind of thing will be passed in many states.  I’m pretty sure that the Supremes won’t allow the “vigilante enforcement” procedure to stand, but without Roe v. Wade Ohio’s bill won’t need it.

You can read the ten-page bill by clicking on its first page below:

Here’s the heartbeat of the bill; note the cribbing from the Declaration of Independence:

And you have four years to bring suit and get your $10,000 reward for incriminating people. Note that the woman who has the abortion herself cannot be sued; it’s an attempt to stop abortion by intimidating abortion providers.

Since the Ohio legislature is majority Republican, and the governor is also Republican, things don’t look good.

Should teaching CRT be banned?

July 6, 2021 • 9:15 am

There are as many interpretations of Critical Race Theory (CRT) as there are interpreters, and while I agree with its motivation (equality of opportunity), and with some of the tenets I see in it (e.g., the pressing need to fix inequalities that began with slavery and bigotry centuries ago, or the need to call out clear instances of racism), I disagree with others (e.g., the ideas that all whites are infused with subconscious bias and the Kendi-an notion that inequality of proportions automatically implies bigotry). But it’s one thing to disagree with some aspects of a theory, and another to ban its teaching altogether.

And that’s what many states are doing now: banning the teaching of CRT or of their interpretations of what it says. These initiatives are nearly all, as far as I can see, from Republicans, though some liberal parents are opposed to teaching the more divisive aspects of CRT in secondary schools. The New York Times op-ed below asserts (correctly, I think) that banning the teaching of CRT or its perceived principles in secondary schools is “un-American”. The authors identify themselves as a libertarian (Kmele Foster), a progressive (Thomas Chatterton Williams, I think), a moderate (Jason Stanley, I think), and a conservative (David French).

And they agree, as do I, that these laws are, in effect, censorship, for they ban the promulgation of ideas because those ideas could make students uncomfortable. Read on, and click on the screenshot:

They changed the title in the last hour but the article is the same. Why do you think they changed the title? I have no idea.

Here’s how the authors describe some of the new laws:

In recent weeks, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and Texas have all passed legislation that places significant restrictions on what can be taught in public school classrooms, and in some cases, public universities, too.

Tennessee House Bill SB 0623, for example, bans any teaching that could lead an individual to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” In addition to this vague proscription, it restricts teaching that leads to “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people.”

Texas House Bill 3979 goes further, forbidding teaching that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States.” It also bars any classroom from requiring “an understanding of the 1619 Project” — The New York Times Magazine’s special issue devoted to a reframing of the nation’s founding — and hence prohibits assigning any part of it as required reading.

Right off the bat you can see problems with the laws. Teaching evolution, geology, Western medicine, or any fact that contradicts the Bible or Qur’an, for instance, could cause resentment by religious people (but see below). Emphasizing the degree of economic inequality among Americans could make those in the upper classes uncomfortable.

As for Texas’s law, what the “authentic founding principles” of the United States are could be seen as racist in part. Even at the Constitutional Convention the “founders” determined that each slave would count as only 3/5 of a person for purposes of taxation and representatives.  The Constitution and Declaration of Independence do not condemn slavery, and tacitly accept it (Constitutional amendments and later legal clarifications fixed that.) The ringing words of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” could be said to have been violated right off the bat.

No, not all men were seen as “created equal” nor endowed with even the same basic rights. These things should be taught in American history classes. I would not, of course, go so far as the 1619’s projects assertion that slavery was intentionally baked into the founding documents from the outset, nor would I want an ideologically slanted newspaper like the NYT determining how our children are taught history.

As the authors note, any teaching of American history in an honest way will make people uncomfortable. How can you teach about slavery, about the ripping apart of African families and forced servitude under horrible conditions, without making people uncomfortable? How can you teach about the extirpation of Native Americans without making people uncomfortable? As our former University President Hannah Gray said, “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think.” That was intended for college students, but should also apply, in a more diluted form, in secondary schools.

Of course there are things that I wouldn’t want taught in classrooms: divisive practices like demonizing white children or telling them that they’re all racists, or accepting the 1619 Project’s claim that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve slavery. But I prefer to leave these matters to the judgments of school districts and teachers than to legislatures.

The authors point out the necessarily fraught nature of teaching history in America, but object to the new laws on two further grounds, and with these I also agree:

a.) The laws are imprecise. I quote:

Because these laws often aim to protecting the feelings of hypothetical children, they are dangerously imprecise. State governments exercise a high degree of lawful control over K-12 curriculum. But broad, vague laws violate due process and fundamental fairness because they don’t give the teachers fair warning of what’s prohibited. For example, the Tennessee statute prohibits a public school from including in a course of instruction any “concept” that promotes “division between, or resentment of” a “creed.” Would a teacher be violating the law if they express the opinion that the creeds of Stalinism or Nazism were evil?

Other laws appear to potentially ban even expression as benign as support for affirmative action, but it’s far from clear. In fact, shortly after Texas passed its purported ban on critical race theory, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a list of words and concepts that help “identify critical race theory in the classroom.” The list included terms such as “social justice,” “colonialism” and “identity.” Applying these same standards to colleges or private institutions would be flatly unconstitutional.

b.) The laws amount to censorship. By banning the teaching of ideas or even the use of specific words (see the Texas think tank’s recommendations above), these laws violate the First Amendment, which applies to all public schools. To quote again:

These laws threaten the basic purpose of a historical education in a liberal democracy. But censorship is the wrong approach even to the concepts that are the intended targets of these laws.

. . . . Let’s not mince words about these laws. They are speech codes. They seek to change public education by banning the expression of ideas. Even if this censorship is legal in the narrow context of public primary and secondary education, it is antithetical to educating students in the culture of American free expression.

With such politically motivated control of school curricula, American education is at the mercy of the ideologies and political view of those in power. And those powers will change over time. We cannot allow this to happen.

So why can’t legislatures ban the teaching of evolution because it makes religious children uncomfortable as well?  Well, the government does retain certain rights to ensure that subjects are taught “properly”. That’s why both federal appellate courts and the Supreme Courts have declared the teaching of creationism and intelligent design illegal, for they are considered religious doctrine: teaching them violates the First Amendment.

CRT does not do that. Certain aspects of CRT violate principles of fair and objective teaching, but not the Constitution itself.

So what do the authors propose to do, then, given that CRT is already being taught, and, as we know, often in invidious and divisive ways that even liberal parents find objectionable?  And this is where the authors offer weak tea as a solution:

A wiser response to problematic elements of what is being labeled critical race theory would be twofold: propose better curriculums and enforce existing civil rights laws. Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act both prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, and they are rooted in a considerable body of case law that provides administrators with far more concrete guidance on how to proceed. In fact, there is already an Education Department Office of Civil Rights complaint and federal lawsuit aimed at programs that allegedly attempt to place students or teachers into racial “affinity groups.”

But “proposing better curriculums” won’t solve the problem unless you specify what you mean by “better”. Even liberal high schools have constructed curriculums (curricula?) that I consider propagandistic and divisive. People are not going to unite behind any one curriculum, as each group has its own agenda.

As for enforcing civil rights laws, that’s already being done, and perhaps will solve some of the problems associated with teaching about ethnic groups, like creating “affinity groups” that, as the authors imply, could be construed as illegal. But in the end, it will be hard for people to agree, given the Zeitgeist, how our kids should be taught history.

I have no solutions, but I know that no solution should involve government mandates about what can and cannot be taught if such matters don’t violate the Constitution. I’d rather trust teachers, school boards, and parents than to trust the government. In that way the process at least becomes a bit more democratic.

But perhaps you feel differently, and this is the place to discuss the new anti-CRT laws.


Arkansas going bonkers: passes illegal abortion ban, proposes illegal bill to teach creationism

March 12, 2021 • 9:30 am

I don’t know what’s going on in Arkansas, but they’ve signed one illegal abortion bill into law this week, and the legislature will consider a bill to teach straight creationism (no, not Intelligent Design [ID] and not “scientific creationism) in public schools. These bills are clearly meant to test Roe v. Wade —and the validity of teaching the Bible as science—in the new, extra-conservative Supreme Court.

As you may recall, Roe v. Wade started in Texas, where Norma McCorvey (“Roe”) brought suit against the state for its law prohibiting all abortions except those to save the mother’s life. The case was appealed up to the Supreme Court, where a 7-judge majority ruled that abortion could not be completely prohibited, striking down the Texas law. (McCorvey gave birth before the Supreme Court ruled, and put the baby up for adoption.)

You may also remember that the legality of abortion depended on the trimester. As Wikipedia notes:

The Court settled on the three trimesters of pregnancy as the framework to resolve the problem. During the first trimester, when it was believed that the procedure was safer than childbirth, the Court ruled that the government could place no restriction on a woman’s ability to choose to abort a pregnancy other than minimal medical safeguards such as requiring a licensed physician to perform the procedure. From the second trimester on, the Court ruled that evidence of increasing risks to the mother’s health gave the state a compelling interest, and that it could enact medical regulations on the procedure so long as they were reasonable and “narrowly tailored” to protecting mothers’ health. Since the beginning of the third trimester was normally considered to be the point at which a fetus became viable under the level of medical science available in the early 1970s, the Court ruled that during the third trimester the state had a compelling interest in protecting prenatal life, and could legally prohibit all abortions except where necessary to protect the mother’s life or health.

Well, Arkansas has passed a law identical to the Texas law that was declared unconstitutional. The governor signed it on Tuesday. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Click on the screenshot to read the CNN report.

An excerpt:

Arkansas on Tuesday became the first state in 2021 to enact a near-total abortion ban — a bold step by abortion opponents seeking to renew challenges to the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure nationally.

The court, which now leans conservative, has shown it is open to considering abortion restrictions, a perceived opportunity that many anti-abortion advocates have pushed lawmakers to pursue.

The Arkansas bill, SB6, bans providers from performing abortions “except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency,” and makes no exceptions for instances of rape, incest or fetal anomalies. Those found to violate the law could face a fine of up to $100,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

“I will sign SB6 because of overwhelming legislative support and my sincere and long-held pro-life convictions,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said in a statement. “SB6 is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law.”

The abortion law is slated to go into effect 91 days after the end of the Arkansas legislative session, which is currently set for May 3, according to Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored the Senate bill.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood plan to challenge the law. Further, Supreme Court already has ample material if it wanted to overrule Roe v. Wade. Perhaps it has no appetite to do so. Can a lawyer weigh in here?

Of the 11 so-called gestational bans — which bar abortions past a certain point in pregnancy — passed since the start of 2019, none have gone into effect after most of them have been blocked by judges. Those include a similar near-total abortion ban passed in Alabama in 2019 and an 18-week bill passed by Arkansas in 2019.

“The Supreme Court has about 20 bills in front of them that they could take up if they wanted to,” said Gloria Pedro, regional manager of public policy and organizing for Arkansas and Oklahoma at Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, the group’s advocacy arm. “So writing a bill that’s the equivalent of a demand letter to SCOTUS, it’s just impractical and a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.”

About the rape and incest inclusion, Senator Jason Rapert, sponsor of the bill, said this: “”How could we look at any human baby and say that they are not worthy of life simply because their birth was a result of a violent act.”

They are not clearly thinking about the mother, who, besides being traumatized by a rape or incestuous act, has to carry its fetal result for nine months.


Now about their regressive creationism. . .

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas has a good article on the history of teaching evolution (or not teaching it) in that state. It turns out that the U.S. government’s legal stand on teaching creationism was largely forged by cases in that state.

The Supreme Court case of Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) began when a high-school biology teacher, Susan Epperson, sued for the right to teach evolution in her biology class. That was illegal since Arkansas had a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution (this was in 1968!). The state Supreme Court upheld the law, but the Big Supreme Court overturned it on First Amendment grounds. As the encyclopedia notes, “In issuing the majority opinion, Justice Abe Fortas noted ‘that the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma’.”

That brought an end to rules outlawing the teaching of evolution. In another famous it violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment because “creation science” was not science but religion. I love to quote judge Overton’s final paragraph of that decision:

The application and content of First Amendment principles are not determined by public opinion polls or by a majority vote. Whether the proponents of Act 590 constitute the majority or the minority is quite irrelevant under a constitutional system of government. No group, no matter how large or small, may use the organs of government, of which the public schools are the most conspicuous and influential, to foist its religious beliefs on others.

At that time, “scientific creationism” was the confected way to try sneaking religion into the classroom. Later Intelligent Design became an even sneakier way, for it didn’t mention God, only a “designer.” However, Judge John E. Jones III, presiding in a federal district court in Pennsylvania, saw through this ruse, striking down the Dover Area School District’s requirement that ID be taught alongside true evolution. Again, the decision was based on First Amendment grounds, since Jones deemed ID “not science”, but a religious view.

With that long introduction, here’s the very short bill filed yesterday in the Arkansas legislature. It drops the charade of ID and “scientific creationism” and says that a teach may teach creationism if they want:

Under present federal law, this bill is unconstitutional, as it allows teachers to teach a religious view in public school classrooms. It will be struck down, for I can’t imagine that the Supreme Court, conservative though it is, allowing the teaching of Biblical creationism, much less any religious doctrine, in a public school. If the judges somehow see creationism, ID, or “scientific creationism” as “science” worthy to be taught alongside evolution, they are truly ignorant, nay, stupid. 

h/t: Guy

Steve Bannon among four people indicted in New York for fraud

August 20, 2020 • 9:45 am

Athough Steve Bannon was scheduled to speak here a while back, that never took place, though the University refused to ban him. Now it looks as if he won’t be here for a long while.

Hot off the press (click on screenshot for details):

Bannon, of course, was Trump’s former campaign manager. He and three others face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each count carries a maximum of 20 years in prison!

A few details from the report:

Bannon is among four people indicted for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors to the online “We Build the Wall” campaign.

Manhattan federal prosecutors allege that Bannon, campaign leader Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.”

“We Build the Wall” began as a GoFundMe campaign in late 2018, designed to raise money directly from the public to build a border wall in the face of Congressional opposition.

While Kolfage publicly guaranteed that he would not take salary or compensation, and that 100 percent of funds raised would go toward the wall, the indictment alleges he actually took more than $350,000 for personal use and took steps to conceal it.

It’s both ironic and horrific that a campaign designed to keep poor immigrants out was actually used to enrich the promoters.

h/t: Ken