Jakob Levin
Jakob Levin
Undergraduate Student at the University of Florida

On Disputed Narratives and History

Fear Totalitarianism

“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.” — Winston Smith (1984, George Orwell, p. 142)

As I write this post from Jerusalem, where I am studying and living for the semester, I cannot help but opine on a much-listened discussion among public school teachers and administrators in the Lone Star state. From Jerusalem, a city of diverse peoples and relative coexistence, it is a struggle to comprehend how volatile civil discourse is in America, and why there is such a stark disagreement on settled history. On this, Texas is not alone in the Union.

Earlier this month news broke out of Carroll Independent School District (Carroll ISD), a school district within the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, that an administrator had suggested there may, in fact, be another side to the Holocaust. The recording, obtained and released by NBC News, is even more disturbing. Gina Peddy, the executive director of curriculum and instruction, told teachers during a Thinkpol mandated meeting to “remember the concepts of [Texas House Bill]3979, and make sure that if, if you have a book on the Holocaust that you one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.” Audible gasps and caustic laughter can be heard immediately in response, yet to Peddy, what she said is not an indulgence of Holocaust-skepticism, but as she notes that Carroll ISD is not alone, it is the obligation of education professionals to balance both sides of history.

Texas HB3979, passed on the 15th of July by way of a party-line vote (R., 36-0), in the words of Republican Governor Greg Abbott, “is a strong move to abolish critical race theory in Texas.” In truth, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is just another reiteration of Conservative Reactionary Hysteria™ that evolves each decade as a countercultural movement to modernity’s newest social progression. The 1980s saw absurd allegations of mass child abuse to please the Devil through satanic rituals, which would become known as the Satanic Panic; the 1990s bore the conception of political correctness out of the right-wing subconscious as society began to accept more diverse opinions on culture, race, religion, gender, and all other realms that challenged binary dogmatic domination; the 2000s continued this trend of reactionary fervor in the wake of the September 11th attacks by way of a silly notion of creeping sharia, which, as this paper analyzing the basis of Islamic heavy-metal bands notes out, led one Australian legislator to invoke Hitler’s “final solution in his call to ban Muslim immigration to Australia” (I would like to note here that there has been virtually an incomparable uproar to a ‘creeping halacha,‘ which translates to “the way to walk” in English just as sharia translates to “the path to follow,” so it is great for a Jew like Joe Kaufman, a perennial Republican challenger to Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-23rd., who echoed Hitlerian tropes about Muslims following the 2016 Pulse shooting, to show his true colors so we can deal with him and those with his pathology in earnest). The latter fear would remain present throughout the next two decades as Donald Trump would ascend to the presidency and on his seventh day in office, would sign Executive Order 13769 implementing “stringent restrictions on travel to the United States for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen” under the guise of national security. Of course, anyone with a minuscule understanding of the national security threat posed by Salafi-jihadism (a term I believe to be more accurate than ‘radical Islam’) would laugh at this claim, as the 9/11 terrorists were nationals of Saudia Arabia, the UAE, Lebanon, and Egypt, and none of those countries were included in his Muslim Ban.

The actual verbiage of the bill states that “a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs” and if a teacher chooses to do so, they should “explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” I am not aware of any mainstream school of thought that challenges the amorality of the public policy choice of the Nazi regime to implement Aktion T-4 and gas chambers throughout its death camps, or the social policy of the Nuremberg Laws that extricated Jews from the German population and placed them as a fifth-column onto the chopping block. Yet Peddy’s claim implies that one of these, or any of the other amoral Nazi’s social and public policy decisions, has a legitimate contending basis that should be brought forward for debate in schools. From a more judicially critical lens, one would argue that to bring these topics into classroom discussion, one would at least need to prove there is a reasonable basis to engage students.

Texas HB3979, passed on the 15th of July by way of a party-line vote (R., 36-0), in the words of Republican Governor Greg Abbott, “is a strong move to abolish critical race theory in Texas.” In truth, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is just another reiteration of Conservative Reactionary Hysteria™ that evolves each decade as a countercultural movement to modernity’s newest social progression.

So, what type of book would one present that contains the opposing narrative of the Holocaust?  I would point to the German führer’s diatribes in Mein Kampf, outlining his antisemitic and ultranationalist ideology, as one possible example, and not for the likely reason that Peddy proposed peddling in some ahistorical Holocaust revisionism. If there was ever a time in American history when civic education needed a vasopressor shock it would be now, as some on the Right thirst for a bloody civil war where anyone who does not follow their line of thinking is labeled as ‘the enemy’, and what could infuse a true love of America and equality more than a critical reading of Chapter 9 on Nation and Race? This is where Hitler decries miscegenation as leading to the “(a) lowering of the level of the higher race; (b) Physical and intellectual regression and hence the ……beginning of a slowly but surely progressing sickness” and goes on to say that “the Jew’s life as a parasite in the body of other nations and states explains… the Jew to lies and to lie perpetually, just as it compels the inhabitants of the northern countries to wear warm clothing.” For one, students would be exposed to the ideology that is antithetical to the American creed from an early age, being able to identify its characteristics in society and likely within some of their own families, but secondly, it would be a clear marker for the rest of society to know that those who oppose the teaching of Mein Kampf this way or alternatively, would like it taught the way Hitler intended, are actual fascists and racists.

Now, let me bring your attention back to the original meeting of teachers and administrators in Carroll ISD last month. As NBC News originally reported, “the training came four days after the Carroll school board, responding to a parent’s complaint, voted to reprimand a fourth grade teacher who had kept an anti-racism book in her classroom.” Who is this fourth grade teacher, and what could they have possibly had in their room that was so disturbing to the parents of the students? The teacher is Rickie Farah, a teacher at Johnson Elementary School in the Metroplex who Carrol ISD honored as the “Carroll ISD Teacher of the Year” last school year. This also when a student of hers brought home the book  This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell, which led to the parents’ enragement and to seek an official reprimand of the teacher, a vote that passed with interestingly two of the three school board trustees having been recipients of campaign donations from the appealing parents. This is not Carroll ISD’s first encounter with issues of race and education either. In 2019, a pair of videos went viral of Carroll ISD students loudly and proudly saying the N-word. In the aftermath, a 60-person council of various stakeholders met to consider proposals that would “boost cultural competency” in the district, ultimately proposing to (1) hire a director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI); (2) implement a reporting system that would allow students to report acts of discrimination; (3) engage in training with staff and faculty on a cultural level; and (4) reassess school curriculum with the concepts of DEI in mind. Following backlash from parents, Carroll ISD paused the implementation of those policies in an attempt to reengage the community, yet was hit with a court injunction temporarily halting the process. Interestingly enough these are virtually the same policies that a cohort of alumni that I am a part of proposed to the Posnack School last year, yet following an ahistorical letter authored by a student and signed by many board members and administrators, and the lobbying by one family in particular (whose matriarch has served on the board for nearly a decade and hosted Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT for America which has been labeled as an anti-Muslim group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, this past April at her house) all modes of communication between alumni and the school went dark. Gabriel is famous for claiming that a “practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America,” pushing the fiction of ‘creeping sharia‘ through ACT for America’s lobbying of legislation, and endorsing the traitorous notion that the November election was stolen from Donald Trump and audits should be pursued to uncover the grand scheme, leading to the eventual hope that he will be ‘reinstated’ somehow (the Constitution does not provide a process for the reinstatement of a president, we do not live during the Stuart Restoration). No wonder the institution would not course correct to address social and racial issues; the stakeholders with the most power would not only like to not have these conversations but actively work to impose their worldview unto others.

Conservatives have their own, nationalist version of [political correctness] PC, their own set of rules regulating speech, behavior and acceptable opinions… its thesis is the belief that nothing in America can’t be fixed by more patriotism enforced by public shaming, boycotts and policies to cut out foreign and non-American influences.

As I have already outlined, the fervor over CRT and DEI is just a response from people who have been outed for the negative and hierarchical thoughts they like to keep to themselves and their families. For a deeper understanding of what some of the core themes of real CRT is, I point readers to this newsletter from Slow Boring, an outlet on burgeoning editorial platform Substack by one of the co-founders of Vox, Matt Yglesias, where he argues that “to those of us who actually studied obscure political theory in college, the thing that conservatives say that they’re doing here sounds very alarming.” He would be right in this case, and I would take it a step further than ‘very alarming’. This is fascism at its core. As I have written before, both here and here, fascism is being rapidly accepted by a startling swath of the American population, but it may be helpful to define it more succinctly. Fascism comes from the Italian word fascio, which translates to ‘bundle’, and is derived from the Latin word fasces which means ‘a bundle of sticks’ and is an ancient Italian symbol of power and authority; politically and socially, fascism is an ideology and worldview that places the nation as the primal determinant for all policy, folding the notion of nation into an all-powerful and all-encompassing State. Alex Nowratesh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, coined the term ‘patriotic correctness’ in the Washington Post just after the election of Donald Trump, writing that “conservatives have their own, nationalist version of [political correctness] PC, their own set of rules regulating speech, behavior and acceptable opinions… its thesis is the belief that nothing in America can’t be fixed by more patriotism enforced by public shaming, boycotts and policies to cut out foreign and non-American influences.” In the case of Trump’s presidency, with full control of the State, efforts of patriotic correctness could only be described as fascistic, especially when we take into account the violent insurrection following a democratically-sound election loss by Donald Trump, or as a judge found was the case in the imprisonment of Michael Cohen, because he was publishing a book that would spill secrets Donald Trump did not want out).

Fascist policy in schools is not going away anytime soon, nor is it limited to just Carroll ISD. Just this past week, Texas state Rep. Matt Krause, R-93., launched an investigation into books used in the classrooms of public schools, arguing that books such as Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents should not “make students feel discomfort” based on HB3979.  In Virginia’s Gubernatorial Race, the 1987 Toni Morrison classic Beloved, a Pulitzer Prize winning story about a former slave and her family who cannot shake the horrors of the past, has become a focal point for the confluence of society, politics, and education. Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin’s campaign released an ad with a parent clutching her pearls over her son having an Advanced Placement (AP) reading assignment “with some of the most explicit material you could imagine.” What was the assignment in question? Beloved. Laura Murphy, the parent in the video, began her campaign back in 2013, which led to an introduction of a bill dubbed after the book that eventually was shot down by Virginia’s incumbent Terry McAuliffe. Sure, a book that analogizes America’s troubled reconciliation with slavery in its plot is going to contain some fairly explicit material; after all, chattel slavery was fairly grotesque and explicit. However, if we do not confront the reality of history, we will certainly repeat it. Children are the prime agent for change, not because they can be easily indoctrinated as these parents hope, but because with nurturing a critical understanding of society and history within them, newer generations will only be more tolerant and accepting. Maybe our children will bring society to a point where the Media™ will stop commodifying anger and hate, as personalities like Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones have done for their entire careers. Maybe then, we will cease to see antisemites unfurling a poster declaring “Henry Ford warned us about Jews” on an overpass in Austin, Texas. Or maybe we will not, and we will be doomed to continue the inferno of history.

About the Author
Shalom! I'm Jakob Levin and I am currently a fourth-year at the University of Florida pursuing a B.A. in Political Science. I hail from Plantation, Florida, where I attended the Posnack School for 13 years but now that I am a Gator, I call Gainesville home (I am currently in Jerusalem studying at the Hebrew University for the semester). I am open-minded, driven, and passionate about topics that intersect with my American-Jewish identities. I study topics that deal with the parallels between modern anti-Semitism and American political extremism, and issues relating to security and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. I write on issues pertaining to constitutional law, political violence, elections, and governance.
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