Should we teach Critical Race Theory?

There is a lot of talk in some circles today about Critical Race Theory (CRT), mostly that it’s a dangerous idea, which should be banned.

Whenever I hear someone say “we should/should not teach X!” I wonder what they mean by “X” but even more, what they mean by “teach.” Most people have no idea what the CRT controversy is about or even what CRT is. I suspect that many of the opponents and even proponents don’t either.

What do we mean by “teach”?

But beyond the important question of what it is are we actually talking about is the one about teaching. There are many things that should be taught, but none in a doctrinaire fashion. Should we teach the life cycle of butterflies? Definitely, yes. It’s fascinating; it can be investigated in a hands-on way as well as through texts; it has important implications for agriculture; it can open up inquiry into nature more broadly; and much more. But I would hate to see it taught as evidence for a “proof” or “dis-proof” of evolution.

The same is true for CRT. If teaching it meant only forcing students to think one way about race (I don’t know of any proponent who thinks that), then I’d join the critics. But it could be terrific if it means opening up avenues of inquiry for students.

To be more specific, for most people who know something about the theory, it means asking how ideas about race have shaped our history and who we are today. The focus is usually on how specific laws and policies have dealt with race––constructing its meaning, delimiting rights and responsibilities, allocating resources, and so on. It can open up into questions of scientific racism, the intersections with class, gender, religion, nationality, and other dimensions.

How, for example, did Federal programs, banking regulations, and Jim Crow laws affect the ability of Blacks to get federal mortgage assistance after World War II? There are many things to say about that question, contrasting opinions, and things to discover. There is no single idea to learn and scholars are studying it further.

What should we teach?

Should we teach that the US is racist to it core? No, not if that means an unexamined mantra to be memorized. But historical scholarship tells us that there is a lot of evidence of racism in our founding documents, in the ideas and arguments of founders. There’s certainly enough to support asking questions in a sustained, critical fashion.

Should we teach that the US is founded on freedom? Again, not if that means indoctrinating one unexamined claim. It’s true that in the late 1700s free, white, males with property achieved hard-fought success in determining their own political destiny. And it’s true that some of our founding documents have ringing calls for freedom for all. But the exciting story about the US can be uncovered only by examining how freedom and civil rights have been expanded (with some setbacks) throughout our history, even though they remain unfulfilled to this day.

The ongoing story has no single, simple “truth,” either in CRT or in easily falsifiable claims that masquerade as “patriotism.” We should not pretend otherwise.

Unlearning

One problem with teaching unexamined doctrines is that it can lead to later disillusionment and a complex unlearning project. But maybe that’s a good thing. Should I be taught to revere our Constitution as it stands, then learn later that it was shaped in part by racists and the desire to perpetuate slavery? Would that make me feel betrayed and question everything I had been taught?

That’s a harsh approach, akin to throwing the toddler in the deep end. Perhaps that’s what critics of CRT are after: a bracing, subversive repudiation of patriotic pabulum, which would generate unbridled critique?

You’ve got to be taught

South Pacific‘s “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”  tells us

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

Let’s try to move beyond teaching hate. Does CRT mean learning to hate all the people your relatives loved? I don’t think so. If it were a new kind of hate, I’d be strongly opposed to it.

CRT does want us to move beyond the kind of hate that South Pacific exposes But if it means helping students ask questions about their history and to be carefully taught falsehoods.

If we can show students life in its fullness, their own inquiry can lead them to discover all we know and more.

New Drummer Cove video

[Cross posted from Wellfleet Conservation Trust]

A new video for the Drummer Cove conservation area has just been released. Thanks go especially to Mary Doucette, advised by Mike Fisher.

The Drummer Cove area is remarkably varied for its 11+ acres. It is also unusual for offering a 1+ mile trail with easy access.

Length & Extent of Trail: 1.1 miles; 11.3 acres plus easements

Area description: The Drummer Cove Conservation Area includes salt marsh, tidal flats, coastal bank and oak pine forest on its upland. The entire area is within the recharge area to Drummer Cove and as such falls into the Wellfleet Harbor Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The land is in State designated Priority Habitat for rare species. The four benches provide great views of the Cove.

Location: The trail head is at 170 Pond Ave in South Wellfleet. 41.91415, -70.00165

Directions: Exit Route 6 heading west for approximately 0.5 miles on Paine Hollow Road to the first stop sign. Turn left on Pleasant Point Road for approximately 0.25 miles. Turn left on to Pond Ave for 0.3 miles, the last part being a dirt road to a parking area at the trail head.

Coming back to Texas

Days 11-17: Leander, Texas, 2856 miles, 13 states

There’s a land I know where the bluebonnets grow that is paradise to me,

From Amarillo skies down to Mexico, from the Pecos to the sea

Kenneth Threadgill, “Coming back to Texas”

Fifty years ago, I heard Kenneth Threadgill and the Hootenanny Hoots perform “Coming back to Texas” at the Split Rail in South Austin. This was in the “land that gave me birth.”

I went with good friends to share pitchers of beer, enjoy fried onion rings, and listen to great music performed by Threadgill, George McLean, and other notables. I should retract that. The music wasn’t always “great,” especially when folks like me chose to sing along.

“Frauleinwas a favorite and we weren’t awake enough to see that the term might be sexist. We were transported by lines like

Far across deep blue waters, lives an old German’s daughter

By the banks of the old river Rhine.

It was easy to ignore the fact that the actual subject of the song was a German-American living in Houston. If the singer had really meant

By the same stars above you, I swear that I love you

You are my pretty fraulein

he might have put more effort into just making the relationship work, not dreaming about the old river Rhine.

The Lone Star and Pearl longneck beers were cheap, there was no cover charge, no dress code, and no paving in the parking area. Hippies, cowboys, and graduate students mingled with little concern for status or political beliefs.

This was the Old Austin, near its end. Today, the streets around the Capitol and the University are just a tiny eye of calm in the middle of the hurricane of highways, suburban developments, and booming tech industry that characterize the New Austin.

But the real purpose of our stop in Austin was not to reminisce, but to see family, just a few of whom are shown here in a photo from dining out. The family time has been far more precious than even the memories of the Split Rail.

Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)
At Matt’s El Rancho
Checking out the lower vanagain bed for comfort and size
At sister Karen’s; Henry recovering from broken arm playing basketball

Natchez Trace

Days 8-11: Lake Bisteneau, Louisiana, 2233 miles, 12 states

Even more so because it the Choctaw way of thinking, west is the direction of death. That’s the direction that people travel after they have died and left this world, so having to move towards the west in particular made it even more traumatic for Choctaws because it was moving toward the land of the dead. 

Ian Thompson, “The Choctaw Spirit”, speaking of the forced removal of Choctaw people through the Trail of Tears

The Natchez Trace is a National treasure. I hesitate to say much about it for fear that hordes of people will come and overwhelm its natural beauty.

Rather than embarking on a lengthy book project, which the Trace deserves, let me just list some things it does not have and some things it does.

The Natchez Trace does not have:

  • Large trucks
  • Buses
  • Heavy traffic of any kind
  • Billboards
  • Trash

Only a few of the many things the Natchez Trace does have:

  • At least three crossings of branches of the Trail of Tears, including the water trail on the Tennessee River
  • Two thousand year old burial mounds from the Hopewell culture
  • Jackson Falls, a stunning waterfall descending in several cascades over limestone shelves covered with moss and lichen
  • Rock Spring, a short walk along Colbert Creek with beaver dams, secluded pools, wildflowers, birds, amphibians, and carved stone steps across the Creek
  • The award-winning Double Arch Bridge over Birdsong Hollow
  • Trails of all kinds–wheelchair accessible, challenging climbs, horse trails
  • 444 miles of a winding, two-lane highway lined with trees and occasional meadows, marshes, and ponds
  • Stopping points every two or three miles with nature walks, historical sites, and attractive picnic spots
  • Free camping in wooded sites
On the horse, and dog, trail
Vanagain in Natchez Trace campsite
Fire ants, after I disturbed their mound with my finger
Rock Springs
Colbert Creek
Old growth
Lake Bistineau in flood
Jackson Falls

STEM for All

I’ve been participating this week as a facilitator in the STEM for All video showcase.

It brings together 287 projects through short videos related to improving STEM education. You can focus in on specific topics. For example, you could see the set of videos using the keywords “informal learning” and “citizen science.”

The videos emphasize impact and broadening participation, especially in the midst of COVID. Visitors can view the videos and participate in the online discussions. They can also vote for favorites (voting and discussion ends on May 18 at 8pm EDT).

Covid-19 in Nepal

My heart aches when I think of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal. The situation is dire, worse than in neighboring India.

The latest data I’ve seen (e.g., from Our World in Data) shows a positivity rate in Nepal standing at 47%, meaning that many cases are missed and every other person is infected. The full vaccination rate is 1%. There is little chance to get shots unless the US steps up.

Several of my colleagues have had or currently have COVID-19, including one former student, various colleagues, and several attendees at workshops I led there.

On a recent video call, two people failed to show up because they were sick, one didn’t come because his mother was ill, one just didn’t show up. One showed up but was sick and didn’t say much. Only one was healthy.

The airport is now shut down, so it’s difficult to get oxygen. The health system is overrun. A colleague I trust, Shisir Khanal, has started a GoFundMe: Help People Breathe: Oxygen For Tulsipur to buy oxygen or concentrators. Efforts like that are important, but much more is needed.

The country’s only zoo in Jawalakhel was shut for 10 months due to the pandemic. After reopening, a cap of about a quarter of the usual number of visitors has been imposed. Not surprisingly, the zoo has struggled to stay afloat since it depends heavily on visitor fees. Now, it appears that they may not be able to pay staff or feed the animals.

The only hope may be a new Adopt-an-animal program. Would you like to save an Asian elephant, a one-horned rhino, or a royal Bengal tiger?

The US should treat COVID-19 as a global problem, not simply one of public health in within the US. It is a moral imperative to help Nepal (and other countries), but it also makes sense from the most selfish perspective.

People in the US are celebrating that COVID-19 seems to be at bay. But as the tale in India and other countries shows, early confidence is often undercut by the realities of the virus. The pandemic continues to rage in Nepal, India, other parts of Asia, South America, and Africa.

Widespread infection ignores national boundaries. New variants are not just possible, but inevitable, putting every person on the planet at risk. If we don’t stop the spread, the pandemic can easily return worse than ever in the US. At best it will haunt us for a very long time.

Honey of a campsite

Day 7: Cave Mountain Lake, VIrginia, 1057 miles, 8 states

It all comes of liking honey so much.

A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

After several wrong turns (blame this navigator), one night that was strikingly cold, persistent rain, and some other minor irritations, we arrived at the almost perfect campsite.

The weather was ideal, cool enough to justify a campfire, but not enough to shiver us. Our site was at the end of a loop, with no one else nearby. We mercifully had no wifi or cell service. The comfort facilities were clean and not too far away. We had several pleasant walks and could have spent months doing more in the area.

There was only one problem.

A forbidding sign told us not to leave any food outside or in a tent (no surprise at that), but also no bug spray, no hand sanitizer, charcoal and lighter fluid, toothpaste, or virtually any other item I’d ever imagined on a camping trip.

The problem of course was bears. They can easily become a nuisance or a major danger, and they’re apparently attracted to everything, at least anything that a human has touched.

During dinner, there were three times that we heard major rustling in the woods just above our site. There was no human trail there, and the rustling was much too loud to be from a raccoon or turkey. That night, too, we heard four-footed steps outside our van, enough to make us stretch out the time between needed nighttime comfort breaks.

We might have beeome bear food, but through intelligence, perseverance, and bravery we managed to make it though the night.

Primeval soggy

Days 5-6: Prince William Forest, VIrginia, 824 miles, 8 states

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie”
With the Williams. Guess which baseball team they support!

We stayed last night in Prince William Forest Park, Virginia. There had been a continuous rain for several hours leading up to our arrival in the area, so the grounds were soggy, the air was misty,  and the trees were dripping.

Our stay almost didn’t happen, because we’d made a mistake on our reservation. A ranger happened to pass by as we were considering speaking to the usurpers of our campsite. We learned that they were totally in the right and that our reservation was for a previous day. Fortunately, there was an unoccupied site we were able to use.

The Park sits next to the Quantico Marine Base, and as a reminder of the toll of war, the Quantico National Cemetery. The area of the Forest was once home to several villages, including one for former slaves.

It’s now a lush green landscape, much further along than our cape Cod vegetation and denser in any case. There’s a beautiful Scenic Drive, trails, well-spaced campsites, and limited, but well-functioning facilities.

We visited nephew Mark, his wife Laura, and their two boys in Springfield. It’s a sign of the enforced isolation of covid on top of our laziness that they’ve been in a new home for five years and we hadn’t seen it before.

Mark and Laura may have started a trend. We’ll be seeing at least seven family individuals or groups in domiciles new to us on this trip, and as a bonus, one family in Texas and another in California who’ve sold their homes and moved out, but don’t have a new one yet. In addition to covid, there are growing families and new jobs, maybe a little restlessness appropriate to our times.

Chess masters. Why is there no large screen TV?

Blue heron at Burke Lake

Intrepid explorers

Paulownia bush taking advantage of a disturbed area under a bridge

Cicadas preparing to emerge

New video for conservation areas

[Cross-posted from Wellfleet Conservation Trust]

An analysis of the use of our WCT website shows that many visitors to the site are interested in exploring the conservation areas and trails. That’s especially the case in July and August.

Responding to that need, Mary Doucette, our Americorps worker, has produced a terrific video for the Fox Island and Pilgrim Spring area.

It’s now posted in our video showcase, which will eventually contain additional WCT videos (currently just this one).

Education’s Ecosystems intro video

The ecosystems perspective on learning offers a new way of thinking about how learning through life — work, play, home, family, and community — relates to formal education and its many informal counterparts in libraries, clubs, churches, online, etc. It conceives education broadly as the central process of democratic life. For the educator in formal or informal settings, it provides a theoretical framework for what the best educators are already doing. For the researcher or evaluator, it offers tools for analysis. For anyone it suggests ways to reflect on our own learning through life.

[The book includes a foreword by John Pecore]

Rowman & Littlefield, 2020