Monday, August 4, 2014

Advancing Equity Through Ad Hominem Arguments

This week we continue our discussion of Hillsboro's (and many other public school districts') embarrassing Equity training materials, which are based in Critical Race Theory , redefine "racism" so that only white people can be racist, and teach that meritocracy in America is a myth, since most success really results from the exercise of White Privilege

An important principle of rational debate, which we should (hopefully) have all teachers understand and pass on to their students, is to avoid logical fallacies, unsound styles of argument that lead you to conclusions which do not follow from your premises.  One basic fallacy that most students learn early in their career is the fallacy of ad hominem arguments, arguments that attack the opposing speaker instead of addressing their ideas.   Aside from being logically invalid, such arguments are impolite, disrespectful, and ultimately unproductive, if the goal  is rational debate.  Sadly, the teaching materials used by our district's Equity training are built upon the concept of legitimizing ad hominem attacks, and effectively instruct the staff to both utilize and encourage this invalid form of argument when discussing racial issues.

To start with, the very concept of White Privilege has ad hominem reasoning built into it.  You may recall the internet article that went viral a few months back, by a Princeton undergraduate frustrated at being repeatedly told to "check your privilege" when he expressed politically incorrect ideas. Too many of the responses to that article were picking apart his exact level of social privilege, without looking at the most important point: your level of social privilege is irrelevant to the validity of your logical arguments. If someone makes a cogent point, its validity should not depend on whether they are black, white, Latino, or a purple alien from the planet Tralfamadore.     Sadly, this invalid mode of argument has become so common that some have proposed explicitly labeling the "Appeal to Privilege" as a new type of logical fallacy.  If you disagree with something someone says, find a rational way to refute their arguments; simply labeling a person's statements inherently invalid based on the color of their skin is logically incoherent, lazy, and contrary to the spirit of rational debate.   

But the materials used by our district also embed another, even more ridiculous, style of ad hominem argument: the elaboration of psychological stages. This is the method, increasingly popular in academic circles, where you supposedly analyze your opponents' psyches, and determine a series of stages they need to go through before coming to agree with your supposedly enlightened point of view. If someone is in a pre-final stage, there is no question of addressing the validity of their arguments; their disagreement is a kind of mental disorder, and you just need to guide them through the proper stages. Here are some of the stages of "White Identity Development" from these training materials:

- Contact: We think of ourselves as part of a racial norm with no awareness of white privilege... We may perceive ourselves as color-blind and free of prejudice. We think of racism as the prejudiced behavior of individuals, rather than an institutionalized system of advantage benefiting whites.
- Disintegration: We have a growing awareness of racism and white privilege as a result of personal encounters... We experience discomfort due to guilt, shame, and anger...
- Pseudo-independence: We have an intellectual understanding of racism as a system of advantage...maybe take on a "guilty white liberal" persona...
- Autonomy: We incorporate a newly defined view of whiteness as a part of personal identity.

So in their view, if you believe in the advancing the ideal of a color-blind society, of aiming for fairness to individuals instead of dividing people by race and "thinking about whiteness", you are simply mired in an early, immature psychological stage. The fact that I'm writing these blogs supposedly shows that I'm mired in the "Contact" stage due to not attending enough politically correct seminars. Even if you are a mainstream liberal, apparently you are only in a "Pseudo-Independent" stage if your mind has not been fully reprogrammed to condemn American society based on its pervasive White Privilege. Once you are bombarded with emotional "encounters" and heavy peer pressure, you will either advance to the stage where you fully agree with Critical Race Theory, and want to restructure society to eliminate the advantages of Whiteness, or you are in need of further treatment. Any rational arguments you make against this thesis are not worth discussing, until you make your way through the necessary psychological stages determined by the enlightened elite.

Should our Equity classes be modeling and enforcing ad hominem arguments, teaching that your statements can be dismissed as a product of White Privilege if your skin is the wrong color? Should we be teaching that if you believe in treating people as individuals and judging them by the content of their character, there is no possible validity to your rational arguments, since you are simply in an undeveloped psychological stage? If you disagree, please make your voice heard. Call the district at 503-844-1500, come and speak at the public comment period during one of the board meetings, or contact HSD through one of the other methods on the contact page

And remember--  if you live in another school district, or are more involved with some non-school public entity--  do not assume you’re not affected by this issue!   Radical supporters of Critical Race Theory have worked their way into Equity or Diversity positions in many school districts, and the organization Uniting to Understand Racism supplies training materials to many public bodies.   Call your administration and ask to see the materials they use to teach these subjects.   You will likely be in for an unpleasant surprise.

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