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Letter-Writer Debunks History Teacher’s Attack on CRT Critic

In his Nov. 10 op-ed, “Column on CRT was misleading,”[shown below] critical race theory (CRT) advocate Thomas Ethier took columnist Red Jahncke to task for his Oct. 20 op-ed, “A primer for CRT resistance.” Mr. Jahncke pointed out flaws in this progressive fad.

Mr. Ethier started by telling us that CRT is nothing but a theory adopted by various fields of scholarship, but he insisted it “… is not being taught in any secondary schools, nor is anyone proposing that it should be.” Mr. Ethier immediately contradicted himself by noting that the U.S. Department of Education advocates and provides incentives for incorporating “CRT themes” in public-school curricula. So, an academic theory, which is not being taught, magically spews “themes” that should be taught, but Mr. Ethier tells us not to worry because what would be taught is not CRT. This is critical reasoning at its very best.

Having demonstrated to Mr. Jahncke that what walks and talks like a duck is not a duck, Mr. Ethier next objected to Mr. Jahncke “sneering” at Ibram X. Kendi, an African-American history scholar and author of “How to Be an Antiracist.” I am not sure about the sneering part, but Mr. Jahncke did have the temerity to cite a quote from Mr. Kendi’s book illustrating one of its themes: “The only remedy to past racism is present racism. The only remedy to present racism is future racism.” Though Mr. Ethier is an admirer of Mr. Kendi, and has listened to hours of his lectures, he questions whether Mr. Kendi actually wrote these words.

To that point, I can only suggest that Mr. Ethier read Mr. Kendi’s book. It is only about 300 pages. In it, he will find the above quote, as well as a full exploration of Mr. Kendi’s interesting theory that any outcome that is not equitably distributed is racist; advocating a color-blind, equal-opportunity society is racist; and in fact disagreeing with anything in Mr. Kendi’s book is racist. Mr. Ethier will also be thrilled to learn of Mr. Kendi’s proposal for a constitutional amendment establishing a Department of Antiracism staffed by antiracist experts with plenary powers to stamp out racist thoughts, words and deeds. I can’t wait.

Of all of Mr. Ethier’s critiques of Mr. Jahncke, the weirdest and saddest is his accusation that Mr. Jahncke and others have “cherry picked” the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Deconstruct Mr. Jahncke’s op-ed as much as you like. You will find no words cherry picked, but you will find Mr. Jahncke’s admiration of Dr. King’s commitment to justice and the recognition that though much progress has been made, much work remains.

One can only guess that Mr. Ethier somehow believes Dr. King was only kidding when in 1963 he asked that his children “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”; and that had Dr. King not been “safely assassinated” in 1968, he would have issued a retraction. Truly, very sad.

Michael McKeeman

Litchfield

Column on CRT was misleading by Thomas Ethier

This is in response to Red Jahncke’s Oct. 20 commentary “A primer for CRT resistance.”

According to Janel George, writing for the American Bar Association, critical race theory is the practice of examining the role of race and racism in society. It emerged in the legal field and spread to other fields of scholarship. It is not being taught in any secondary schools, nor is anyone proposing that it should be.

What’s at issue is how the American story is framed in schools. The latest critics of education want to limit the sources and interpretations that can be used in schools, when what we need “is a deeper and fuller sense of the historical process, a sense of where we have come from and how we have become what we are,” as Gordon S. Wood, America’s pre-eminent historian of the early republic, has written. That’s not CRT, that’s democratic education.

The main object of Jahncke’s sneering is Ibram X. Kendi, 39, a Black scholar of African-American history. According to Jahncke, Kendi is so dangerous, we need to ban his books even if they’re provided free. We also should be suspicious of the fact Kendi is an “activist.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an activist, but in Jahncke’s world, that activist, now safely assassinated, can have his words cherry-picked, while activists who want to improve the lives of people today need to be canceled.

Jahncke claimed Kendi believes only present and future racism remedies past racism. I didn’t find the quotes Jahncke referenced outside of a letter published in The Wall Street Journal. I listened to Kendi speak for nearly three hours, and he never advocated more racism. Kendi’s thesis of “we need to be anti-racist,” and the thousands of words I heard him speak, don’t square with Jahncke’s characterization. Kendi is an engaging speaker with coherent and accessible thoughts about systemic racism, public policy and the human condition. If he actually wrote the words attributed to him, we need to understand the context.

Jahncke recommends school boards not apply for educational grants in U.S. history and civics from the U.S. Department of Education because it has “proposed” preferring applications that incorporate CRT themes. If the goal is to educate students while leveraging local tax dollars, this hardly seems like a winning strategy. CRT themes include objectives like “diversity, inclusion, equity” – ideas that are scoffed by Jahncke and right-wing media. We want diversity in the staff to reflect the makeup of the community. We want inclusion and equity so students “develop a humanistic sense of self and of others,” as Kendi stated on C-SPAN’s “Book Talk” in 2019.

Another target of right-wing outrage is The New York Times’ 1619 Project. Despite all the negative press it has received, aspects of the curriculum are extremely useful, especially in the area of primary source material – key to any teaching of history.

Jahncke claimed none of his proposed resolutions “seeks to ban teaching about slavery and racism,” but he and today’s critics aim to narrow the field on which of these topics can be analyzed. A law recently passed in Texas mandates that slavery and racism be taught only as “deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States.” In other words, slavery and racism can only be taught as a lapse in cultural judgment, a historical mulligan, and not as a system that helped propel the United States to rapid development and wealth accumulation. That’s not teaching, that’s academic euthanasia.

Thomas Ethier, of Torrington, is a retired Torrington Middle School history teacher.

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