It is a truism to say that Marxist thought has done much to undermine the quality of today’s college experience. But few people realize just how deeply Marxist thought has penetrated education in America. Its influence is not restricted to the realm of higher education. Nor is it restricted to the realm of economics. Marxism also affects our moral reasoning and it begins to do so in grammar school. The case of Mrs. White is illustrative.
Mrs. White was a first grade teacher in the 1960s. She taught in a small school in Alabama just a few years after the schools integrated along the lines of race. She was rather blunt in her teaching methods. But she was effective. In fact, no one ever questioned her efficacy in the classroom.
One day, Mrs. White was teaching a young black boy to read. He was pronouncing the word “this” as “dis” and the word “that” as “dat.” Mrs. White told him he needed to learn to speak English properly. She said that integration was a right accompanied by responsibilities. She went so far as to tell him that he wasn’t a “nigger” and shouldn’t speak like one. She told him he was an intelligent young man and needed to act like it.
Her methods were unorthodox but hardly controversial in that day. Years later, after the young black boy became a young black man with a college degree, he stayed in touch with Mrs. White. She was the best teacher he ever had. She taught him how to read – something neither of his parents learned to do.
In 1968, just five years into her teaching career, Mrs. White went through a very public divorce. She had an affair with another man and subsequently decided to leave her husband and three children. When she left her family, she was forthcoming about the reasons. In an unusual move, she decided to give her husband full custody without any legal challenge.
The response to Mrs. White’s divorce was uniform. Parents called for her dismissal, which was effected at the end of the school year. She never taught again – although it was a moot point given the substantial wealth of her second husband.
Mrs. White had only one daughter, named Gina. When Gina graduated from college in 1983, she became a schoolteacher. Her choice of career surprised many given that her mother had walked out on her when she was a child. No one expected her to want to grow up to be like her mother - but she did so in many ways.
In 1990, Gina did something that surprised many, given the pain that divorce had brought upon her own life when she was just a little girl. Gina, like her mother, left her husband. And, like her mother, she did so after a long extramarital affair. A final similarity was that there was no effort to win custody of her two children. She wanted to break away and begin life anew with her second husband.
Unlike her mother, she suffered no adverse effects in the workplace. Her divorce never really came up at work except among good friends who offered their support. She continued to teach for a number of years until an unfortunate incident changed her life in the course of a day.
Ebonics was a topic of discussion in the realm of education in the 1990s. In fact, one day in front of class, she was asked her opinion of Ebonics by one of her black students. Her reply was blunt. She told him Ebonics was harmful. She said it taught young black people that they were “nothing more than niggers” when, in fact, they are just like everyone else. She concluded by saying “Therefore, they should talk like everyone else.”
Gina’s use of the word “nigger” in the classroom set off a firestorm that resulted in her termination. The termination occurred over the protests of the young black man who asked the question and who insisted he was not offended by her answer. In fact, he agreed with it.
Most people would say that America has become a more tolerant place since the 1960s – a land relatively free of condemnation. That view is more than simplistic. It is wrong. The nature of judgment, not the level of judgment, has changed drastically in the last half-century. The cases of Mrs. White and her daughter demonstrate that clearly.
Mrs. White was given a pass on her use of a racial epithet in class in the 1960s because it was not seen as injurious to any individual. It wasn’t being used as an insult. It was being used to tell a student what he was not. But she was dismissed after her divorce because her behavior was seen as injurious to several individuals. It hurt her husband and children and set a bad example for her students.
Unlike her mother, Gina taught in the era of postmodern education where judgments are made on the basis of group considerations. People who see the truth as defined by power struggles are inclined to see our institutions as oppressive. And that is why Gina was supported rather than fired after her divorce. She was making a statement, not just about herself, but about women everywhere. They are free to be happy rather than subjugate themselves in deference to patriarchal oppression.
But postmodernism would not tolerate her later transgression along the lines of race. She did not offend the black student in her class. She offended a race. And groups have consumed the rights once held by individuals.
In education today, there would be no speech codes without postmodernism. And there would be no postmodernism without the influence of Marx. It’s no mystery that speech codes are used to defend the Marxist ideas that gave them life. They play the role their parents assigned them.
Author’s Note: Thanks to Dennis McCallum, editor of The Death of Truth, for inspiring this column.