I was taken aback by an NC Policy Watch headline that read “Freedom of speech is under attack in public schools, U.S. House panel told.” When I first read the headline, I thought to myself progressives are starting to understand what is going on in our academic institutions. After years of shout-downs, intimidating speakers, and removing professors that committed a thought crime, progressives have finally turned a corner and realized that we have to address the assault on free speech occurring in our universities.
But then I read the article. And upon finishing it, I breathed a sigh of disappointment.
The article was essentially lamenting teachers in pre-K through 12th grade for not being able to talk to students about racial identities and LGBTQ lifestyles. These matters, according to progressives, are the real “attacks on freedom of speech”.
Let’s bracket for a moment the limited moral authority progressives have on issues concerning free speech in modernity and think about the assertion critically.
Firstly, the colloquial sense of free speech is not applicable in this situation. The teacher is an authority figure. Pupils cannot engage with teachers freely. Thus, pre-K through 10th grade is unidirectional in terms of speech. And that speech should only be for the mission of providing foundational knowledge to allow the pupil to advance through life productively and compete for opportunities to have social mobility.
Additionally, the public school system is not for the purpose of allowing teachers to say whatever they want. Given the unidirectional nature of education at this stage in the child’s development, speech should be limited to only that which is necessary for classroom topics and that which prepares the child for the next grade.
This leads me to my second critique: not all socially abstract concepts are relevant in education. Certainly, progressives know that education should not be orientated around obscure social opinions. It is not helpful for the development of children to be exposed to obscure socially constructed ideas early on in their education. Moreover, it would require educators to justify the permissibility of teaching some socially constructed ideas and excluding others.
For example, and go with me here on this for the sake of argument, what is the governing principle that justifies orientating educators to see the world through the lens of gender or race but not through the lens of replacement theory? If we are in a post-truth world, and everything is relative, then everything is a matter of taste. Accordingly, if one teacher wants to pull in concepts from critical race theory (CRT) for developing a lesson plan around history and another teacher wants to pull in concepts from what has been deemed the great replacement theory (GRT), then what is the rationale to accept one and not the other on principle if everything is relative under the guise of postmodernism? Currently, no such principle is being employed. To do so would require progressives to face the reality that abstract social concepts like CRT and GRT are pseudo-intellectual framings of the world that are more fiction than fact, and therefore neither would be appropriate for structuring a lesson plan.
This brings me to my last point on why the claim by progressives about free speech being under attack is ill-conceived. They don’t understand the difference between education and indoctrination.
What is the difference between education and indoctrination? I will suggest education is cultured and indoctrination is cultish. The current movement within progressivism is one that fetishizes racial and LGBTQ identities. It is not predicated on educating people about a particular subculture but rather indoctrinating children into joining their cult. Therefore, education reforms away from their preferred racial and gender worldview invokes emotional hysteria en masse.
Now, perhaps their lamenting of education reforms is sincere. In that case, the response to the current education reforms around the United States by progressives are more about their collective vanity than it is about education. They pushed their social ideology too far and parents responded with an unequivocal rejection of it. For them to turnaround and claim that freedom of speech is being attacked because parents do not want their children learning inappropriate social theories for their grade level is laughable at best and sinister at worst.
Josh Peters resides in Wake County.