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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Employ reason

by Brenda Looper | June 30, 2021 at 3:06 a.m.
Brenda Looper

I don't often rant or rave unless it's something that truly matters. You know, like getting vaccinated and/or wearing masks to protect yourself and others against a disease that, if it doesn't kill you, may leave you with lifelong problems. Or maybe the need for better civics and history education to prevent another Jan. 6 attack.

That reason is reason. I read and research (too much, some might say). I listen to the real experts who have done the work to become experts in their fields, rather than just Googling up whatever proves my point. And I employ Occam's Razor, which posits that the simplest explanation is usually correct (it's not always the case, but it is more times than not).

Should I believe that a pedophilic cabal of Satanists is trafficking children and eating babies in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria? Not if I pay attention to the facts that that pizzeria has no basement (as was proved when Edgar Maddison Welch, who believed the pizzagate conspiracy theory, burst in to the restaurant with a rifle and fired three shots into the building so he could "self-investigate" the theory) and that no one has come forth with actual evidence that Hillary Clinton and a whole raft of other dastardly people are doing any of this. But, you know, it's Hillary, so it must be true.

If Hillary had done even a fraction of the things she's been accused of, she'd probably be on death row. Or she's the smartest criminal who ever lived. Or, using Occam's Razor, she's most likely innocent of the bulk of the deeds attributed to her, but she makes a great political boogeyman, especially considering that she's an intelligent woman with opinions. (And since I've ostensibly just defended her, I'm in on the whole thing, I guess, regardless of my opinions about her.)

I'd also posit that theories like pizzagate/QAnon do real harm by muddying the waters for people investigating actual trafficking cases.

"When you lend credence to one element of the QAnon narrative, more people are likely to buy into the more destructive elements of that narrative," Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who teaches media literacy, mis- and disinformation and political communication, told The San Diego Union-Tribune last year. "You aren't able to separate out an actual datapoint from the speculative stuff that gets all squished together," she said.

So much of this comes down to fear. Some people fear change, so they're all of a sudden worried about critical race theory, an academic concept that evolved from a framework for legal analysis more than 40 years ago, which focuses on discriminatory patterns and policies like redlining, which meant Black people were less able to get mortgages.

The theory, writes Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week, "says that racism is part of everyday life, so people--white or nonwhite--who don't intend to be racist can nevertheless make choices that fuel racism." Sawchuk notes that "much of the current debate appears to spring not from the academic texts, but from fear among critics that students--especially white students--will be exposed to supposedly damaging or self-demoralizing ideas."

But teaching history should mean teaching all of it, the good and the bad. Even before college, I learned those things from people like my high school history teacher Mike Elsken and my sixth-grade teacher Carol Ferguson, and I just gained a deeper appreciation for the growth of our country. We've proved that we're resilient, can evolve, and can admit and try to rectify the actions of the past, but that we still have much to do.

Vague legislative bills that intend to scuttle any teaching that might be considered tangentially critical race theory in K-12 are based on fear, and are inspiring fear as well, Sawchuk wrote. "[S]ocial studies educators fear that such laws could have a chilling effect on teachers who might self-censor their own lessons out of concern for parent or administrator complaints.

"As English teacher Mike Stein told Chalkbeat Tennessee about the new law: 'History teachers cannot adequately teach about the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. English teachers will have to avoid teaching almost any text by an African American author because many of them mention racism to various extents.'"

I say teach history, warts and all. Let the kids decide what that history says about us. They are supposed to think for themselves, aren't they?

Fear is nothing new. I remember a big hubbub about Looney Tunes' violence possibly turning children into maniacal murderers bulk-ordering rockets from Acme. Before that, there were the kerfuffles over long hair and bell-bottoms, Elvis' pelvis, and countless other inane issues that seem silly now.

However, fear needs to be put in a proper context, which is why more information is what's needed, not less. Research the issues using sources that back up their statements with facts, not opinion. Talk to experts. After that, you can decide if you really need to duck and cover or just calm down.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com.

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