I spent part of the morning just now trying to put together a roundtable for the upcoming Modern Language Association convention on the subject of nationwide attempts to control what instructors in higher ed (though of course not just in higher ed) are allowed to teach. Then I got an email from my textbook publisher granting me access to a digital sample of the new edition of the composition textbook I author. So of course I immediately shared a blurry shot of the new cover on social media (with a link to the publisher website because once a salesman, &c.). Then as I was scrolling through the sample, I ran across a new section we’d added to the introduction and, reading it, saw some connections.
The new section was added at the request of my editor, who felt that it was an important subject to broach, and I think she was right. I’m going to share it here.
The roundtable, should it make it into the program, will be framed as a response to a speech by the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo delivered at Hillsdale College on April 5, 2022 entitled “Laying Siege to the Institutions.” In the speech, Rufo, the architect of the campaign against public education using the attack on the largely imaginary presence of Critical Race Theory in our schools, broadens his attack on education to explicitly call for universal school choice in K-12 education and for state legislator control over public higher ed institutions. That control, in Rufo’s vision, can be exerted in a number of ways, from the more direct tightening of purse strings, to the more indirect surveys of faculty’s beliefs, establishing of conservative centers within state university flagships, and removing requirements for K-12 teachers to hold advanced degrees in education.
The goal of Rufo–and DeSantis and Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and the many other Republicans he’s influenced–is to dismantle public education in order to defuse the dangerous powder keg that is an informed citizenry. That isn’t quite the way they’d put it, of course. A state senator from Missouri, speaking on the floor of the state house yesterday, said just as important to him as saving the unborn is fighting back against the dangerous radical left-wing ideology that’s infecting our schools (and he did use most of those words, and also he’s a doctor).
As I say in the introduction to the new edition of my textbook: counter to what the anti-“CRT” operatives and politicians believe, as long as do it with respect, empathy, and honesty, we should be able to talk about any subject in the classroom. As Bill Germano and Kit Nicholls say in Syllabus, empathetic engagement is at the center of what we do: we learn together. It’s what knowledge is. Storming school board meetings and state houses, passing laws that impose penalties on instructors and institutions for teaching what those in power don’t want taught: that’s not learning. It doesn’t produce knowledge. And it certainly isn’t about community. It’s about control.