Sunday, August 28, 2022

On Divisiveness

This post is so short! 

As I wrote about anti-anti-racism education (and that two 'anti's don't necessarily make a 'pro') yesterday, a connection became crystal clear to me. It's often the same people who are, to various extents....

It's curious to me how often those views seem to coincide. I noticed the anti-sex education stance fitting in there from a request for my opinion on a dubious list of items including "Should education get back to reading and math and stop talking about personal issues?" and "Should parents have the right to decide what's taught in classes?" 

This is a position that hopes to care for kids by not educating them. It hopes teachers won't tell kids about anything perceived as bad or dangerous. Ignorance is bliss, and we all want our children to be happy, right?  

Perhaps it's all in a quest to hang on to childhood innocence, and proponents are either unwittingly naive or aggressively in denial enough to be blissfully unaware that their children will find out about racism and sexual orientations and abortion and that Covid is still with us. If we don't tell them anything, it won't give them any ideas

But isn't school about giving kids all sorts of ideas to engage with, consider critically, and synthesize into their own unique views? 

Twenty years ago we had to convince parents that telling kids about homosexuality wouldn't make them all gay. Now we're doing the exact same thing with transgender books and discussions, as if not saying anything will make all those "alphabet people" just disappear and not inflict more children! Except homosexuality and transgender have been around throughout recorded history, long before the first public school opened its doors. Kids don't become gay or trans because of teachers; what happens is that they become more accepting of themselves and others! Some people seem to think that's a bad thing.

It reminds me of old lessons on the evils of marijuana: Just say 'no' or you could end up jumping off a roof. That was the whole lesson. For people brave enough to try it, they soon found out that smoking a joint doesn't lead to hallucinations. Their teachers were wrong, and this may have led to indulging more than is good for them instead of learning the harm it can cause and setting limits. All or nothing leaves out those nuances, the details that are necessary for a thorough understanding. Now we know to teach all about what drugs actually do to kids, even the illegal ones, so they can know true risks instead of the previous all or nothing approach. Sex education was approached in the same way in the old days with gruesome pictures of infections to try to keep kids from ever touching each other. We know that abstinence-only education increases teen pregnancy rates. Ignorance of 'evil' doesn't get rid of evil. Only knowledge does that.
We're regressing so much that people are going to start dragging their knuckles when they walk soon.

It's also a stance that puts parents first, even parents who don't want their children to understand the basics of reproduction and parents who will disown their children if they don't fit with their beliefs. If we can gauge this movement by looking at some southern states, soon they'll be objecting to lessons on evolution too. The reason we started teaching reproduction in schools is because it wasn't being taught, or taught correctly, in homes. Now that the internet tells all, it's more important than ever to teach sex ed, anti-racism -- and all the rest on the list -- to clear up all the misconceptions that run wild in online forums. 

When I've come face to face with people arguing for this pernicious rhetoric, and tried to show them errors in their arguments, their only rebuttal, in my personal experience, has been to insult me and threaten me. I've had a disgruntled parent of one of my students ask me in detail about how well my vagina works! Another threatened to destroy me and my entire family because I support masks and fresh air in the classroom. These incidents are new to the past two years as the ideologies of the extreme far-right in the states have made their way north. They don't want to scrutinize my research or arguments to show me where I might have erred or even explain their own position so that I can better understand it. They just want to yell enough to force me to teach what they want and how they want. They want to end all this "divisiveness" by making teachers do what they say, and they've won on the mask mandates front, to the detriment of all the kids who will get infected this fall, risking permanent disability or even death. 

The other side of this mess promotes anti-racism education, promotes understanding a variety of family types, orientations, and gender expressions, promotes learning the laws and biological facts around abortion, promotes understanding everything from how their bodies work to how the world works, and promotes a thorough understanding of what's necessary in order to stay safe from this ongoing pandemic. It's all about educating people to let them know the facts of the matter. Instead of bending to the whims of 30 sets of parents and guardians per class, it acknowledges the expertise of teachers or, at the very least, questions that expertise with relevant peer-reviewed research. In high schools, most teachers have at least four years of university education in the subject matter being taught. They might actually know something!

In short, keeping kids ignorant is about maintaining control over them. But that always backfires. We need to give students knowledge about how the world works to help them better navigate their way through their future. 

ETA: just posted an article about the specific tactics of the CLC (Campaign Life Coalition, which focuses primarily on abortion). They describe them as a "reactionary far-right lobbying group" that's been around since 1987, and has recently been joined by Blueprint for Canada and Take Back Catholic Education, and Parents as First Educators (PAFE). They're learning tactics from the extreme far-right "moral panic raging in the United States."


Larry Hamelin said...

It's not about education, Marie, or about what "works" or doesn't work; it's about loyalty. In the words of the immortal Sgt. Hulka, it's about honor and duty and courage and discipline.

You and I, we're loyal to Pirsig's "Church of Reason", but it's loyalty just the same. Those loyal to their "conservative" leaders just see our "arguments" and "reasoning" as sophistry in the service of a pernicious, evil, and Satanic ideology.

The "conservative" leaders are trying to whip up fighting spirit in those loyal to it. They want to start a civil war. They're close, very close. The U.S. is ahead, but Canada is not too far behind.

The time for reasoned arguments in good will has long since passed. Our only hope is that the "conservative" leaders are so venal and corrupt that they self-destruct before they can really start something catastrophic.

Marie Snyder said...

I think you're right, but it's terrifying to think that we have to sway people without facts and well-reasoned arguments. I'm hoping to persuade a few, or at least provide some rebuttals to help others move people who might be toying with this new conservatism. It would help if we had more media on board, but the antics of this crew sell more papers.

Larry Hamelin said...

It's worse than that.

It's not that those loyal to the right are indifferent to facts and reasons; instead, they have their own "facts" and "reasons" from sources they trust.

Just like us. You and I don't do the primary research; we get facts and reasons from those we trust. Of course, you and I both trust most of the same people for most of the same reasons, and I agree that our side is far better. Still we have our own problems. For example, we have to trust the pharmaceutical companies, at least to some extent, and the foundation of that trust verges on the absurd.

But this division of trust and loyalty needs a deeper analysis. People on the right didn't just develop their loyalties in a vacuum. There has been a concerted effort, for at least the last 40 years, if not longer, to erode the trust in science and scientific reasoning, and this effort has received massive funding.

Why, for example, did the Q cult grow so quickly? I mean, yes, a lot of people are stupid, but how did they get so stupid all in the same direction?

To be honest, I've lost all hope. By the time the stupidity, denial, insanity, and the indifference to human suffering collapses on itself, the world will be uninhabitable. Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future (terrific book!) is nothing more than a pleasant fantasy.

Things are different from the nuclear war worries of our youth. Back then, not destroying the world just required that no one actually did the monstrously idiotic and set loose the missiles. Now, it's not enough to only avoid idiocy; we must commit to doing something smart that will destroy the power and privilege of our rulers. Not going to happen: better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.

Marie Snyder said...

I hold the smallest glimmer of hope that we can shift the understanding of what makes for good research with more and better education of the scientific method - so people understand what makes "Nature" a more reliable source than "Fox News," so it's no longer a stubborn defence of MY research against yours, but a joint venture to figure out which is the more accurate research finding. At the very least we can't let people continue to yell threats in the street or punch pharmacists for vaccinating kids (as happened in my city). If we retreat from the stupidity, it will get so much worse. When I tell my students about being yelled at in the street for wearing a mask, I've had racialized students say, more or less, welcome to my world. I've been sheltered enough to be able to think it won't ever have an effect me. Now that it's in my face, we can choose to retreat and let it burn to the ground or go out fighting. I feel some sense of responsibility to stand up, even though that, in itself, might put my on the side of the not so bright!!

Larry Hamelin said...

I'm not saying it's useless to stand up for good scientific reasoning: I'm a teacher too.

But we didn't defeat the Nazis by carefully arguing that their prejudice against Jews was absurdly unreasonable.

Sartre said, “Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”

This applies at least to the "thought leaders" of the right. The followers are (mostly) hopeless: their leaders give them logic and reason, and they don't have the tools to see through the vacuity.

We're not in an argument; we're in a fight. And few on what passes for the Anglophone left seem to take the fight seriously.

Marie Snyder said...

Love that Sartre quote - I've used it here before. I'm not hopeful about swaying the leaders as their focus on money overrides any potential inherent concerns about their citizens, or their minions as they're often to blind to the big picture. But I think we might sway more of the followers - the Hitler youth and their parents - to understand what they're doing when they don't wear a mask in school or throw CRT randomly in any conversation about eroding racism. And then we'll have more on board. Because I agree we're in a fight. We're back to where we were in the 1950s-80s, when the marches grew for one group and then another, and we have to be louder and prouder in solidarity.

So it's still about educating the people wavering, those who might be swayed if they better understand. Despite my anti-Covid advocacy, my own kid didn't realize that Ontario had more Covid deaths and hospitalizations this August than the previous two Augusts combined. The media has convinced people it's over - even in my own home. So we still have to keep the facts at the forefront to maintain our integrity AND our numbers.

Something like that.