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E-Pluribus | January 31, 2023
Trust must be earned; black lives mattering shouldn't depend on context; and Ken Burns on the Holocaust and the press.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Samantha Hedges: Institutions Deserve to Lose the Public's Trust
While it’s convenient to blame the media or public cynicism for the decline in trust for our institutions, Samantha Hedges, writing at her Substack EduThirdSpace, says the institutions themselves cannot escape responsibility.
Our democracy is in peril. This statement has become a common refrain. The loss of trust in established institutions is pointed to as a symptom of the trouble American democracy faces. . .
[I]nstitutions are doing themselves no favors. They deserve some (much? all?) of the blame for declining trust.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—America's largest teachers union—discouraged the opening of schools during COVID lockdowns and maintained this stance while other indoor establishments were opening. That is, until Trump was no longer president. Once he was out of office, and Democrat Biden took over as our leader, the AFT started advising schools to reopen. . .
Stanford University launched the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative in an effort to "eliminate many forms of harmful language, including racist, violent, and biased (e.g., disability bias, ethnic bias, ethnic slurs, gender bias, implicit bias, sexual bias) language in Stanford websites and code." (Following unsurprising backlash, they have since removed the document from their website. . .)
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that overweight and obese children be given the option of drugs and surgery to help with weight loss. The fact that a medical institution would make such a recommendation says a lot about the state of health in the US. But ignoring environment and lifestyle, and instead jumping to pills and invasive medical interventions to solve obesity (and many other problems), calls into question other recommendations they make. . .
Read the whole thing.
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Andrew Sullivan: The Other Black Lives That Matter
While Black Lives Matter activists often bristle at the suggestion that “All Lives Matter” would be a more appropriate and inclusive slogan, Andrew Sullivan suggests that the truth is that many of those activists don’t even seem to believe that all black lives matter. While the BLM movement focuses on police-related violence statistics, other metrics involving blacks and education and blacks as crime victims often get short shrift.
[C]heck out the data on how the DC Public School system is faring. A key metric is what they call “proficiency rates” — a test of whether the kids are passing the essentials of reading and math at every stage of their education. Overall, only 31 percent of DC students have proficiency in reading and just 19 percent have proficiency in math. Drill down further in the racial demographics and the picture is even worse: among African-American kids, the numbers are 20 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Among black boys, it’s 15 percent and 9 percent. Which means to say that DC Public Schools graduate kids who are overwhelmingly unable to do the most basic reading and math that any employer would need.
This is not a function of money. In the most recent federal analysis: DC spends far more per student — $30,000 a year — than any other state, double the amount in many states across the country.
Let’s put it this way: if this were a corporation, it would be in liquidation. If it were a house, it would be condemned. But since it’s a public school system, it can avoid this catastrophic failure by emphasizing “equity”!
Call this the woke dodge. As they fail to educate kids in the very basics, they brandish a shiny object over there — “Diversity! Equity! Inclusion! ” — to distract us. Or they claim that these scores are caused by “white supremacy” or “systemic racism.” Or they argue that now, they are educating “the whole child.” From the DCPS video: “The racial equity lens is a critical component of ‘whole child’ for us because being a ‘whole child’ means thinking about all of your identities, but certainly the racial identity is a gap in what we’re discussing as a country.” Anything but do the basic job of teaching math and reading as they are supposed to do.
Read it all here.
Bari Weiss: Ken Burns on His Most Important Film
Ken Burns, perhaps best known for his Civil War documentary, is out with a documentary on the Holocaust. At The Free Press, Bari Weiss interviewed Burns, and part of the interview focused on the role of the press during the Holocaust, the degree to which the public and not just the press were culpable, and what this all means for us today.
[Ken Burns] said of his most recent film, The U.S. and the Holocaust: “I will never work on a film more important than this one.”
No matter how many movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read about the Holocaust, Burns’ new film, which focuses on the U.S.’s response to the worst genocide in human history—what we did, and didn’t do—is bound to both surprise and horrify you.
[. . .]
[Bari Weiss]: The convenient narrative that a lot of Americans, including some American Jews, tell themselves about why the U.S. did so little to save European Jewry is that they just didn’t know. What your film does is make the case that, in fact, they did know. For example, you show Kristallnacht—the night of broken glass—on the front pages of scores of American newspapers in 1938. . .
[Ken Burns]: The latter question is the easiest to answer, and it’s everything. And that’s true of every film. We don’t make films about subjects that we know about and then tell you what to know. Last time I checked, that’s called homework. We’d rather share with you a process of discovery. So there’s not a moment in this where it wasn’t overwhelming. I grew up, ostensibly, Episcopalian. My father was a cultural anthropologist, and he made me watch Judgment at Nuremberg at a young age. I knew America had a complicated past. We seem to think we know, each generation, who the real Americans are and who aren’t, which has gotten us into an awful lot of trouble and continues to get us into trouble.
[. . .]
BW: I grew up understanding that the American press bore tremendous responsibility for burying the story of the Holocaust. Only 26 of the 24,000 front-page New York Times stories during the entirety of the war were about the Holocaust. The Times’ first story on the Nazi extermination campaign, which described it as the greatest mass slaughter in history, appeared on page five, tacked onto the bottom of a column. . .
KB: We can look at American media and say everybody knew. But we can also see that if it’s a tiny little thing on page six, as Deborah Lipstadt points out, maybe the editors don’t really believe it. What you have is all the vestiges, all the traces, all of the smells that are retained from a country that is suffused in antisemitism. And that’s going to infect the ranks of your newspaper. It’s going to infect the college that you may want to go to. It’s going to affect the conversations in the schoolyard between your kids and the neighbors’ kids. . .
Read it all.
Excerpts from a long thread by Nate Hochman on the political, religious and cultural persecution of Jack Phillips:
Colin Wright on the evolution of woke:
And finally, Florida governor DeSantis throws down the DEI gauntlet. More details to come: