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Phillip E. Johnson

Left Behind

Todd Gitlin begins his book on our current culture war by recounting the absurd Oakland (Calif.) school textbook battle of 1992. He presents this spectacle as a paradigmatic example of the retreat of the Left from universalism and its descent into tribalist irrationalism. The State Board of Education had approved for local adoption a new series of social science textbooks for kindergarten through eighth grade. The books were written and edited for Houghton Mifflin by a group of consultants headed by ucla history professor Gary Nash, a leftist of the same stripe as Todd Gitlin. The series was on the whole proudly multiculturalist, placing great emphasis on the positive contributions of indigenous people and minority races and the crimes that were committed against them.

No one would have been surprised if the textbooks had been denounced by Rush Limbaugh and Lynne Cheney, but on this occasion the cultural Right was silent. When the minority-dominated Oakland School Board considered purchasing the books, the public hearing was packed with racial demagogues of the Left, who searched out isolated passages that could be interpreted as offensive. The most aggressive attacker was a professor of ethnic studies from San Francisco State University. She appeared with a platoon of her students, who probably received academic credit for this laboratory experiment in agitprop. Gitlin quotes another veteran white leftist as remarking that the attackers "would have spoken in the same vein if the authors [of the textbooks] had been George Wallace, Ross Barnett, and Bull Connor." Why not? George Wallace and Gary Nash are both white.

In the end, the series was rejected, and Oakland teachers went into the next school year without any social science textbooks at all. What was tragic about this orgy of racialist symbol-mongering, according to Gitlin, was that it occurred while the public schools were grossly underfinanced and amid "a stupefying degree of inequality in American society and, ...

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