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NBC’s Disinformation on Academic Transparency in Public Schools

Lawmakers in about a dozen states have introduced bills to promote academic transparency. The rationale is simple and compelling: parents deserve to know what their children are being taught in school. In an era when public schools are increasingly incorporating the discriminatory tenets of Critical Race Theory into all aspects of pedagogy, this is true now more than ever.

In discussions leading to the publication of a Heritage Foundation coalition letter advocating for academic transparency, some of the signatories wondered: How could the left-liberal establishment manage to oppose this? In recent weeks, we’ve got the answers. Most notably, the ACLU – an organization historically dedicated to ensuring government transparency – has come out in force against this (as well as most everything else it once stood for).

But the reactionary response from the mainstream – or rather corporate – media has been the most telling. By tradition and spirit, they should be in favor of government transparency. In theory, such transparency would provide them with a massive informational subsidy – providing an almost endless stream of facts that the public is keenly interested in.

Unfortunately, even as corporate media inveighs against “disinformation,” it appears to be mounting a disinformation campaign against academic transparency.

A recent NBC News article on academic transparency provides an instructive case study. Its title: “They fought critical race theory. Now they’re focusing on curriculum transparency.” The “they” frames the view that conservatives and Republicans constitute the “other.”

The article opens:

As state legislatures kick into gear this month, Republican governors and lawmakers who have fought to limit discussions of race in public schools are lining up to support a new aim: curriculum transparency.

The phrase “fought to limit discussions of race” is a telling one. It sure does make Republicans sound racist, doesn’t it? A characterization accurately summarizing Republicans’ argument would have read: “Republican governors and lawmakers have sought to limit the spread of an ideology they believe demeans and sometimes demonizes children based on the color of their skin.”

The article continues:

The governors of Arizona, Florida and Iowa, who have previously raised concerns about how teachers discuss racism’s impact on politics and society, called for curriculum transparency laws in speeches to their legislatures this month.

Again, raising concerns about “how teachers discuss racism’s impact” makes Republicans sound racist. But once again, this description is a caricature of the stated concerns of these elected officials. They have, rather, rejected the redefinition of “racism,” which declares that every aspect of American civilization is – and will always inherently be – “systemically racist.” When journalists buy into this culturally Marxist redefinition, then all Republican resistance to Critical Race Theory becomes, for them, a defense of “racism.”

Some conservative activists say the effort – which has come under fire from Democrats, teachers and civil liberties advocates – is a potent strategic move to expose and root out progressive ideas from schools.

Note the passive voice: “which has come under fire.” Back when journalists read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, they were categorically cautioned against using passive voice. But passive voice can serve a useful function for partisan journalism: expressing editorial opinion in someone else’s voice. Very much like President Trump’s go-to line: “Many people are saying!”

Consider the phrase: “potent strategic move to expose and root out progressive ideas.” Although the NBC News piece is peppered with citational hyperlinks, none is provided to support this characterization. As someone who watches this debate closely, I can’t even recall any anonymous right-wing Twitter account articulating anything to this effect, much less any public intellectual or politician. It seems to suggest that there is a campaign to scrub mention of Woodrow Wilson or John Maynard Keynes from history textbooks. It could make some sense if journalists are so politically illiterate as not to recognize the important philosophical distinctions between, say, Theodore Roosevelt and Robin DiAngelo. But the lack of citation suggests a self-conscious ideological willfulness to this characterization. This is the sort of thing that competent editors are paid to prune out.

But teachers, their unions and free speech advocates say the proposals would excessively scrutinize daily classwork and would lead teachers to pre-emptively pull potentially contentious materials to avoid drawing criticism. Parents and legislators have already started campaigns to remove books dealing with race and gender, citing passages they find obscene, after they found out that the books were available in school libraries and classrooms.

The words “citing passages they find obscene” begs the important question of whether the passages actually are obscene. Any journalist following this storyline attentively should be aware of instances where videos of parents reading passages from these books were either interrupted by school board members or taken down from social media on the grounds that what they were reading was obscene. My research assistant advised me against even characterizing the content, on the grounds that a child might read this article. If you’re above 18 and reading this, you could search through the website of Parents Defending Education for examples of the obscenity that parents are objecting to and draw your own conclusions.

While most schools have insisted that they don’t teach critical race theory, a new report by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access found that local efforts to restrict schools from teaching or using critical race theory emerged in at least 894 school districts, which enroll more than a third of all K-12 students in the country.

This presents a paradox, doesn’t it? If most schools don’t teach Critical Race Theory, then why would local efforts to restrict it even exist? It could, of course, be theoretically possible that parental concern is exclusively animated by conservative media. If one takes it as axiomatic that the corporate media purveys the truth, and that conservative media traffics exclusively in “misinformation,” then this conclusion follows. But any parent who spends even twenty minutes comparing the dueling narratives will probably be disabused of this view. They’ll recognize that the corporate media is broadcasting a variation on what Michael Anton called the Celebration Parallax: “Schools aren’t teaching critical racist theory, and it’s a great thing that they are!”

The outrage over critical race theory has resulted in educators’ being ousted from their jobs, parents’ becoming suspicious of mental health initiatives and schools’ banning books by Black authors.

Now, why would parents be “suspicious of mental health initiatives”? Shouldn’t they want their children to be mentally healthy? As it turns out, the cause for that suspicion will become apparent to any parent who visits the websites of the associations of school counselors and school psychologists. These associations have formally committed themselves to “anti-racism,” an ideological doctrine closely aligned with critical race theory. If a mom spends even an hour reading up on it, she’s likely to conclude that these alleged efforts to help students regulate their moods might, in reality, be efforts to instill an “anti-racist” activist mindset in them.

Another troubling perplexity: “schools’ banning books by Black authors.” This sure does make moms sound racist, doesn’t it? But has a single American mother ever expressed a racial motivation? What might their motivation be? Might it have less to do with the color of the author’s skin than with the character of the books’ content?

By contrast, Fox News covers parental concern differently – by allowing mothers to speak for themselves about what troubles them:

Sure enough, [Virginia mother Stacy] Langton was able to check out the two books she had seen other parents protest – “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe – at the Fairfax High School library. “Both of these books include pedophilia,” Langton told the board. “Sex between men and boys … One book describes a fourth-grade boy performing oral sex on an adult male. The other book has detailed illustrations of a man having sex with a boy.”

Langton is concerned about an apparent attempt by some educators to normalize pedophilia. She is far from alone in this concern. For any parent who doesn’t categorically trust NBC or mainstream outlets like CNN (which employed at least two alleged pedophiles as producers), I’d strongly recommend listening to James Lindsay’s podcast series on “Groomer Schools.”

One final telling quote from the NBC piece is worth sharing:

“Good schools and good school districts have always had curriculum transparency – including extensive two-way communication between parents and educators on what we are teaching and how to support our kids,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.

It’s telling that Weingarten speaks this sentence in the past-perfect tense (“have always had curriculum transparency”). Academic transparency laws are growing in popularity because parents agree entirely with Weingarten’s statement here. Parents want to bring that more perfect past back into the present – and future.

Max Eden
Max Eden
Max Eden is a Research Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. 



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