Economist Paul Krugman warns: 'The right-wing thought police' won’t stop with critical race theory

Economist Paul Krugman warns: 'The right-wing thought police' won’t stop with critical race theory
Paul Krugman // The Oxford Union via YouTube

All around the United States, Republicans have been pushing bills that would prohibit teaching critical race theory in public K-12 schools — which is a solution in search of a problem, as CRT is only being taught on some college campuses and isn’t available in public grammar schools, middle schools or high schools. Liberal economist and New York Times opinion writer Paul Krugman discusses this anti-CRT hysteria in his January 24 column, slamming it as thought-policing on the part of far-right Republicans.

“Republicans have made considerable political hay by denouncing the teaching of critical race theory; this strategy has succeeded even though most voters have no idea what that theory is and it isn’t actually being taught in public schools,” Krugman explains. “But the facts in this case don’t matter, because denunciations of CRT are basically a cover for a much bigger agenda: an attempt to stop schools from teaching anything that makes right-wingers uncomfortable.”

CRT is a field of academic study teaching that racism of the past affects present-day institutions. Professors who offer CRT studies, for example, would argue that although Jim Crow laws were abolished during the 1960s, they inflicted long-lasting damage that remains in 2022.

Anyone who wants to find a college course that actually teaches CRT will have to look around to find it because not all colleges have courses that involve CRT study. But with the anti-CRT bills coming from Republicans, a book that has nothing to do with CRT — for example, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” or Toni Morrison’s novels — could be condemned as CRT.

Krugman points to an anti-CRT bill in the Florida State Senate as a troubling example of thought policing.

“There’s a bill advancing in the Florida Senate declaring that an individual ‘should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race,’” Krugman observes. “That is, the criterion for what can be taught isn’t ‘Is it true? Is it supported by the scholarly consensus?’ but rather, ‘Does it make certain constituencies uncomfortable?’”

Krugman warns that anti-CRT hysteria will inevitably lead to thought-policing of topics that are unrelated to racism.

“What’s really striking…. is the idea that schools should be prohibited from teaching anything that causes ‘discomfort’ among students and their parents,” Krugman argues. “If you imagine that the effects of applying this principle would be limited to teaching about race relations, you’re being utterly naïve. For one thing, racism is far from being the only disturbing topic in American history. I’m sure that some students will find that the story of how we came to invade Iraq — or for that matter, how we got involved in Vietnam — makes them uncomfortable. Ban those topics from the curriculum!”

Krugman continues, “Then there’s the teaching of science. Most high schools do teach the theory of evolution, but leading Republican politicians are either evasive or actively deny the scientific consensus, presumably reflecting the GOP base’s discomfort with the concept. Once the Florida standard takes hold, how long will teaching of evolution survive?.... The point is that the smear campaign against critical race theory is almost certainly the start of an attempt to subject education in general to rule by the right-wing thought police, which will have dire effects far beyond the specific topic of racism.”

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