Maplewood Opinion Schools / Kids South Orange

LETTER: Now More Than Ever, Columbia High Needs to Support Discussion of Diverse Viewpoints

July 16, 2020 

To the Board of Education, The School District of South Orange & Maplewood 

Dear BOE Members Maini, Cuttle, Siders, E. Baker, E. Baker, Joshua, Mazzocchi, Wright, Zubieta and Forman: 

Re: Petition to Remove American Government: Institutions & Policies (by James Q. Wilson and John J. DiLullo) from Columbia High School Curriculum 

The South Orange Village Green published an article describing a petition created by Columbia High School student Bryn Healy, calling for the removal of the above referenced book from the Columbia HS curriculum. As a South Orange resident concerned about our community and the quality of our educational system, I strongly urge you to reject this call for removal. 

Ms. Healy passionately denounces the book as being “biased”, but the examples she cites of the book’s bias instead reveal her own bias. At this suggestion of Ms. Mary Mann of The Village Green, I purchased a copy of the book to check Ms. Healy’s arguments for myself. One example of the book’s “bias” Ms. Healy quotes, about racial profiling, is as follows: 

“But there is another side to this issue. Perhaps people of a certain race are more likely to break the speed limit or smuggle drugs in their cars…” (p. 139). 

Before this passage, however, the book discusses the complaints in New Jersey in 1998 about police stopping drivers for “driving while black”, and how Presidents Bush and Clinton condemned racial profiling. This is one side of an argument. After this passage, the book discusses a study by RAND Corporation in Oakland demonstrating that police did not racially profile during stops because the ratio of black drivers being stopped was the same in the day and the night when cars’ occupants are not visible. This is the other side of the argument. 

A second “biased” passage cited by Ms. Healy, about affirmative action, reads as follows: 

“The second view holds that if it is wrong to discriminate against African Americans and women, it is equally wrong to give them preferential treatment over other groups…” (p. 145) 

Before this passage, the book describes in some detail the argument for affirmative action, under the heading “Equality of Results”. The passage quoted is part of a second heading “Equality of Opportunity”. After the two concepts of “equality” are described, the book goes on to compare the characteristics of supporters of each concept, and to discuss the complexity of the issue. 

A third “biased” passage cited by Ms. Healy, about the American political system, reads as follows: 

“Indeed, the Civil War illustrates the way certain fundamental beliefs about how a democratic regime ought to be organized have persisted despite bitter conflict over the policies adopted by particular governments.” (p.80) 

This passage follows six paragraphs of discussion of elements of common “American” political values, and how these elements are not universally agreed upon, or adhered to, by Americans over our history. The passage is part of a challenging discussion of whether and to what extent common “American” values exist. 

A fourth “biased” passage cited by Ms. Healy, about global warming, reads as follows: 

“But other organizations, such as the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), have produced reports arguing that greenhouse gases have not caused the earth to warm…” (p. 559) 

This passage follows a discussion of the origins of the environmental movement in the 1960’, the founding and success of the EPA, a definition of global warming, and the positions of various scientific groups that global warming is caused by humans. The passage cited as “biased” is a description of a scientific group that disputes this assertion. The book goes on to describe how both environmental activists and conservative groups “base their arguments on ideology as much as on facts.” 

For each of these four “biased” passages cited by Ms. Healy, the book frames the issue, presents opposing arguments, and encourages the reader to consider the arguments and think for themselves. The liberal arguments presented in the book, however, have been omitted by Ms. Healy in an apparent attempt to mislead the readers of her petition into believing that only conservative viewpoints are presented in the book. 

Ms. Healy’s petition states “It’s fine to read conservative viewpoints as long as they are being presented as such and taught alongside opposing viewpoints.” It seems to me that is exactly what the book is doing – presenting opposing viewpoints about issues, in a fair, reasonable and intelligent manner. 

Why, then, would Ms. Healy wish to ban this book? The answer is found in this statement from the petition: “the students in this class shouldn’t have to parse out what’s accurate and what’s not through the biased and inaccurate sections. This book promotes conservative talking points along with purely discriminatory ideas. These should not be stated as fact to students, as this textbook does…” 

In other words, Columbia High School should not expose its students to any conservative views because this will force the students to have to evaluate these views against the liberal views that are dominant in the South Orange-Maplewood school district. 

Ms. Healy’s real concern seems to be that, if presented multiple points of view, some of the students might end up agreeing with some conservative positions. Ms. Healy’s petition to ban the book seems to be an attempt to stifle all discussion of alternate viewpoints other than her own, by simply refusing to acknowledge their existence. Ms. Healy may not realize it, as she is quite young, but such tactics were used by fascist and communist governments in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Communist Russia and modern-day China to brainwash or intimidate the general populations to advance the governments’ racist, anti-freedom and anti-intellectual policies. These abhorrent tactics are now being recycled for use in modern-day America to intimidate, into silence, people holding any viewpoint that does not comply with progressive liberal orthodoxy. 

I cannot think of a worse idea for Columbia High School than to shut down the discussion of diverse political ideas. If you ban this book, you will shield students from having their feelings hurt by having to listen to ideas that differ from local mainstream thought. You will also stunt your students’ ability objectively evaluate to opposing ideas, think for themselves, engage in reasoned evaluation and debate, and become informed, mature citizens prepared to participate in our democratic system. 

In these politically polarized times, it is important that Columbia High School takes a strong stand supporting discussion of diverse viewpoints. South Orange-Maplewood is justifiably proud of our social diversity and inclusionary attitude toward all races, ethnicities and sexual orientations. It would be hypocritical, and shameful, for us to fail to support our communities’ political diversity with equal pride and enthusiasm. 

Sincerely, 

Anthony A. DelGreco,

South Orange, NJ

 

Other Stories