Beyond “knee-jerk” responses | WORLD – WORLD News Group

A crowd gathers in in the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., on Jan. 25 to oppose the state’s ban of an AP course on African American Studies. Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via Associated Press
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At one time, it was popular to poke fun at some of the participants in politics as suffering from a “knee-jerk” reflex. There were knee-jerk liberals and conservatives. A reflex, of course, occurs without thought. While it is rare to see the language of the knee-jerk in political rhetoric today, the phenomenon is still much in evidence. Those who traffic in certain types of rhetoric count upon it. They hope to levy a charge that will engender a conditioned response of outrage.
Enter Ron DeSantis wearing the metaphorical black hat. The state of Florida, attached to the reputation of its governor and legislature as the enemy of “woke” education and policy-making, has declined to participate in a pilot program offering an advanced placement (AP) course in African-American studies.
The script writes itself from here. Teachers are said to feel they have government looking over their shoulders. The action has been described as an “attack on Black Floridians” and upon “learning.” Add it up and we have a repressive police state in action. Those of us who have observed American politics long enough understand how it all works. When one’s political opponents move the ball down the field in line with their agenda, they must be made to pay a price. The left is imposing a tax of sorts on DeSantis. It is the reason political leaders are often timid when it comes to actual action.
But Americans are citizens, not mere subjects. We act rather than merely being acted upon. The freedom to vote, to speak, to organize, and so forth implies a strong responsibility to be informed and to be thoughtful. This responsibility mitigates strongly against the idea of knee-jerk responses that follow just as surely as manipulators intend. In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis warned against the ascendance of the “conditioners,” who would shape our responses to fit their agenda. When we encounter any issue, then, we should be on the lookout for shallow charges and taken-for-granted responses.

With regard to the question of the state of Florida pressing pause on an AP course in African-American studies, where should a responsible, reasonably curious mind seeking wisdom go? One of the first things we might want to know is the content of the proposed curriculum. In essence, virtually none of the readers of various news stories have examined the curriculum. This fact alone forecloses an immediate judgment. We do know the state’s department of education has seen the material and declined to adopt it at this time. Whether it was right to do so or not would be difficult to ascertain. However, an earlier report stated that the College Board seeking adoption of the course has declined to make a syllabus available to the public.
We could simply assume that because this is a refusal to offer a course called “African-American studies” to high school students the decision is somehow racist or ignorant. Or we could inquire further. Are there any reasons not to offer the course? Are the elements of the course balanced so as to avoid making a public school offering a mere channel for ideology or propagandizing? Is the course material of a type better offered to older students in the collegiate environment rather than in high school?
Let us imagine that, as Stanley Kurtz of National Review contends (having viewed some leaked documents), the course materials have strong elements of ideologically left-wing thought designed to shape students’ thinking. Statements from the Florida education agency suggest that the course currently includes critical race theory, queer studies, and intersectionality. Education shapes future citizens. The classes we offer students affect the way they think about politics. Given that material of this type is highly contested, it is reasonable to hold the curricula to a high standard of accuracy and even-handedness. That doesn’t mean education has to be bland, but it should be geared more toward analysis than advocacy.
Gov. DeSantis has asked questions about why subjects such as queer theory are in a course about African-American studies. The question is appropriate because it seeks to tease out the distinction between education and propaganda. It is important to understand the difference lest the public schools become places geared more toward political advocacy than critical thinking.
As a response to Florida’s decision to block the course, the College Board has announced it will make revisions and release them in the near future. Whether the extra time will be used for addressing concerns or to develop a public relations campaign will say a lot about the project.
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Hunter Baker serves as dean of arts and sciences and professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He is a research fellow of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the author of three books (The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student’s Guide, and The System Has a Soul).

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