Tuesday Reading List: Being Honest About White Supremacy, Rejecting False Equivalence, and Mastery-Based Learning

Christopher Petrella is in The Washington Post, reminding us that racism exists in elite circles:

... it should come as no surprise that the lead architects of the Charlottesville demonstration — Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, Tim Gionet and Matthew Heimbach — are middle- to upper-middle-class, college-educated white men in their mid-20s to mid-30s. Spencer, in fact, is a former doctoral student in modern European intellectual history at Duke University. He has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old, a kind of professional racist in khakis.” But white supremacists of old were, in fact, the very same “suit-and-tie version.” In her 2015 book, “Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan During Reconstruction,” Elaine Frantz Parsons argues that “the men who first became Ku-Klux — Frank O. McCord, Richard Reed, John C. Lester, Calvin Jones, John Booker Kennedy, and James Crowe — presented themselves as elites and intellectuals, above and opposed to the violence of rough men.”

Petrella goes on to explain that white supremacy relies on the stature of its elite white adherents for propagation. Sometimes personal hatred is at the root of such activities, but the ideology is far more insidious than dramatic episodes of street violence. On most days, white supremacy involves white people looking for personal and systemic ways to maintain a caste system of racial advantage.

For example, as Daniel Lathrop and Anna Flagg write in The New York Times, the criminal justice system treats white people and black people differently in every conceivable way:

When a white person kills a black man in America, the killer often faces no legal consequences. In one in six of these killings, there is no criminal sanction, according to a new Marshall Project examination of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014. That rate is far higher than ones for homicides involving other combinations of races.  In almost 17 percent of cases when a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian over the last three decades, the killing was categorized as justifiable, which is the term used when a police officer or a civilian kills someone committing a crime or in self-defense. Over all, the police classify fewer than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable. The disparity persists across different cities, ages, weapons and relationships between killer and victim.

The rest of the article has extensive data, which illustrate the various situations in which violent murders result in significant criminal responsibility for the murderer. The racial disparities here are STUNNING. Not only does the criminal justice system prosecute and incarcerate a disproportionate number of black Americans, but that system also fails to protect black Americans when violent crimes are committed against them.

The confluence of these personal and systemic factors creates an untenable maelstrom. Isaac Chotiner of Slate interviewed Jelani Cobb about how history teaches us to respond to white supremacist violence:

I think that at one point it was prudent to ignore those movements, because they were looking for counterprotests for attention. We are past that point now. What we saw this weekend was a debut. If you saw all these people marching together, and we know about the esprit de corps that comes with people marching together in a regimented fashion. They get high off that. They have drawn first blood and taken the life of one of their opponents. What would a movement like that do except look for something bigger now? From what we know of history ... I think this would prompt them to do something bigger and maybe cause more casualties. We are at a much more dangerous point than we were 72 hours ago.

I wish I disagreed with Cobb, but I don't. Appeasement is not an adequate response to a violent, domestic, white nationalist, terrorist movement. Here's what the middle ground sounds like to me and a lot of other people:

Art by Kasia Babis (https://thenib.com/centrist-history?id=kasia-babis&t=author

Art by Kasia Babis (https://thenib.com/centrist-history?id=kasia-babis&t=author

When commentators draw a false equivalence between the non-violent Movement for Black Lives and racist white supremacist terror, those of us who stand for justice see capitulation, appeasement, and betrayal.

Finally today, on a different topic, Kyle Spencer is in The Hechinger Report examining a new approach to measuring progress in schools:

Moheeb is part of a new program that is challenging the way teachers and students think about academics, and his school is one of hundreds that have done away with traditional letter grades inside their classrooms. At M.S. 442, students are encouraged to focus instead on mastering a set of grade-level skills, like writing a scientific hypothesis or identifying themes in a story, moving to the next set of skills when they have demonstrated that they are ready. In these schools, there is no such thing as a C or a D for a lazily written term paper. There is no failing. The only goal is to learn the material, sooner or later.

The idea of "mastery-based" learning has been gaining traction in education circles for the last decade or so, with a few pioneer districts leading the charge. Spencer dives deep to determine how this kind of system works in practice. Unlike other fads in education reform, this concept plays not with the idea of who or what is taught by whom, but with how much time it takes for children to master content.

Have a great day ...