Paul Krugman weighs in on 'right-wing thought police'

Mel Evans

Paul Krugman has thoughts on Critical Race Theory and, more specifically, whether Florida’s legislature should have thoughts about it. According to Krugman, education is under attack because of Florida’s SB 148:

Republicans have made considerable political hay by denouncing the teaching of critical race theory; this strategy has succeeded even though most voters have no idea what that theory is and it isn’t actually being taught in public schools. But the facts in this case don’t matter, because 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.

I use that last word advisedly: There’s a bill advancing in the Florida Senate declaring that an individual “should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.” That is, the criterion for what can be taught isn’t “Is it true? Is it supported by the scholarly consensus?” but rather “Does it make certain constituencies uncomfortable?”

Anyone tempted to place an innocuous interpretation on this provision — maybe it’s just about not assigning collective guilt? — should read the text of the bill. Among other things, it cites as its two prime examples of things that must not happen in schools “denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of critical race theory” — because suggesting that “racism is embedded in American society” (the bill’s definition of the theory) is just the same as denying that Hitler killed six million Jews.

Krugman’s link to the text of the bill doesn’t go to the text of the bill but to an analysis based upon the provisions of the bill. That’s where he’s pulling the statements about the Holocaust and critical race theory. This appears to be the actual text of the bill and it doesn’t mention CRT at all. In any case, here’s what the analysis of the bill does say.

SBE rule regarding required instruction and reporting requires that instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and the contributions of women, African American and Hispanic people to our country. Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with SBE-approved standards include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons. Instruction may not utilize material from the 1619 Project and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.

So the analysis says schools should not teach CRT which should result in no change whatsoever since, according to Krugman, CRT is not being taught in schools. As for feeling discomfort, the analysis does mention that word but the context is subtly different.

The bill specifies that subjecting any individual, as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination, to training, instruction, or any other required activity that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe any of the following concepts constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin:…

An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.

An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.

An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.

Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another race, color, sex, or national origin.

There’s more to this but the point here is that you can’t espouse, promote, advance, inculcate or compel an individuals (in school or elsewhere) to believe they should feel discomfort, guilt or anguish on account of race, color, sex, or national origin. The key word here is “should.” Elsewhere, the same document makes clear the state expects teaching of American history including slavery, the Civil War, etc.

The bill provides that instructional personnel may facilitate discussions and use curricula to address, in an age-appropriate manner, the topics of:

  • Sexism;
  • Slavery;
  • Racial oppression;
  • Racial segregation;
  • Racial discrimination; and
  • The enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in sexism, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination.

The bill says you can’t teach slavery, racial oppression, segregation, discrimination, or even laws that result in racial discrimination, etc in age appropriate ways. It’s not saying you can’t teach these things if it makes students uncomfortable. What it’s saying is that you can’t teach students they should feel uncomfortable because of their race. Put another way, teach history and let the chips fall as they may as far as how students feel about history’s horrors, but don’t browbeat Middle School students based on their skin-color.

I checked the comments and while they weren’t as sensible as they often are I did find some good ones selected by the NY Times:

–An individual “should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.”–

I fully support this law. I don’t understand what Mr. Krugman’s problem with this is.

Liberal race education in our schools is dragging the country backwards by having everyone be hyper aware of race rather than moving forward to a point where nobody cares about race. And that should be the end goal.

And one more:

I read the Florida bill and found nothing objectionable in it at all.

The vast majority of the clauses in the bill are perfectly reasonable and would be supported by people of all political beliefs.

I believe Prof. Krugman scoured the text to find something, anything, objectionable and emerged triumphant with two clauses that when quoted sans their context, appear marginally iffy – holocaust and CRT in the same sentence, and discomfort on account of race.

Read the bill.

Krugman is caricaturing the bill in a way that will please his left-wing audience. But what it’s actually saying isn’t objectionable. Students may wind up feeling bad when confronted with the uglier aspects of American history but teachers shouldn’t tell them they should feel bad because of their race.