fairforall.substack.com – Moshe K. Levy
Over the past few years, an illiberal orthodoxy has infected schools across our country, including the private institutions which my daughters have attended. According to its tenets, we can all be neatly categorized according to our immutable characteristics (such as skin color, ethnicity, and gender) and hierarchically organized based on the “power and privilege” these characteristics supposedly entail. In this system, there is no room for individual spirit, unique attributions, or even thoughtful dissent. Many parents have noticed the regressive themes of this ideology in the materials and assignments that their kids bring home from school. One of the books that is most commonly encountered by parents is Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped (For Kids), which is currently being taught in elementary and middle schools across the country, both public and private. My daughter was assigned it as part of her sixth grade curriculum, prompting me to read it for myself. In short, this book introduces young children to race essentialism, skewed history, reductive or biased analysis of social trends, and the lionization of radical political figures, all under the guise of “anti-racism.”
Stamped (For Kids) opens with Kendi proclaiming that “[t]his is not a book of my opinions. This is a book about America, and about you. This book is full of truth. It’s packed with the absolutely true facts of the choices people made over hundreds of years to get us to where we are today.” From there, young readers are provided an overtly partisan history of the world, and America in particular. The book begins with Kendi’s version of the origins of chattel slavery. The European slave trade between 1415 and 1619 is presented as the precursor to slavery in America, driven by the writings of the Portuguese chronicler Gomes Eanes de Zurara, whom Kendi identifies as the first person to connect slavery to skin color. Slavery is portrayed as a uniquely European institution, despite its rampant existence in regions elsewhere at the time including China, India, and the Middle East. Significantly, Kendi neglects to mention that slavery today is outlawed in all countries that subscribe to Enlightenment values of individual human rights, but still unfortunately exists in India, China, Pakistan, North Korea, and multiple African countries. Likewise, Kendi describes the American Revolutionary War as an attempt to break free of England in order to preserve slavery, even though Britain continued the practice of slavery for several decades longer than some U.S. states. The Founding Fathers (especially Thomas Jefferson) are also depicted as avaricious and racist, without any context whatsoever.
Stamped then proceeds to Jefferson Davis’ quote that inequality between the races was “stamped from the beginning,” which serves both as the book’s title and its fundamental portrayal of America writ large (the fact that a young America soundly rejected Davis’ wretched vision for the nation by way of a bloody Civil War is apparently lost on this thesis.) President Lincoln is shown as a spineless figure of only marginal influence: “Like a rope tied to a kite, he seemed to sway in different directions depending on where the wind blew.” Simplistic analogies are interwoven throughout the book in sections called “Let’s Pause.” In these sections, history is presented as merely a “rope” on which people pull on one side for freedom and on the other for oppression. There are no multiple stakeholders with numerous layers, alternatives, resources, and reasonings—only binary actors making binary decisions.