Opinion | Teaching Students About Racism in America


To the Editor:

Re “Debate Over Scope of Racism Embroils Schools” (front page, June 2):

White historians once taught that Reconstruction and equal legal rights and voting rights for Black people corrupted democracy. Textbooks ignored the Tulsa race massacre and others like it. Few historians write like that anymore. We include all sides of the American story and examine racism and injustice as evolving systems of power as well as manifestations of individual prejudice.

The search to understand history is not an ideology, as Republicans claim. It is common sense. You can’t solve problems by pretending they don’t exist now or didn’t exist before. It is far too late for Republicans to impose willful ignorance on today’s students. They know that racism is a systemic problem for all of us to solve.

Michael Honey
Tacoma, Wash.
The writer teaches history at the University of Washington Tacoma and is a Harvard Radcliffe Institute fellow.

To the Editor:

I am disheartened to read about the controversy over the teaching of “critical race theory,” as much of the discussion assumes that schools are indoctrination centers as opposed to institutions that develop critical thinking skills. Giving students the contemporary and historical facts would be the ideal, and let them develop their own theories based on the evidence.

However, in the post-Trump world there are no established facts upon which we agree. This is the real academic and political danger that we face. When we cannot agree on facts or evidence, then we cannot agree on solutions to problems. We cannot even discuss them!

Give students the relevant information and let them decide for themselves whether this country is infested with “systemic oppression and implicit bias.”

Larry Hoffner
New York
The writer is a retired public high school teacher.

To the Editor:

Re “Pondering the Fate of Roth’s Legacy” (Arts pages, June 7):

I knew Philip Roth for more than 60 years, and I loved him.

Norton pulled the Blake Bailey biography (in which I am mentioned several times) in spite of the fact that the allegations against Mr. Bailey are thus far unproved. What will Norton do with the books? Have a book burning? Or let them go on the black market so somebody can sell them at inflated prices?

The larger question — should the world be deprived of an acclaimed biography of one of America’s greatest contemporary writers — is answered somewhat by the marketplace. Someone else is publishing it.

There are much broader issues at stake. Should the public be deprived of the work of writers, living or dead, because of their or their biographers’ alleged transgressions or actual crimes?

So much is being lost in today’s debate about Mr. Bailey’s book and Philip Roth’s life. Other biographies and studies of Roth’s work will be published. They should be encouraged and protected.

Martin Garbus
New York
The writer is a First Amendment lawyer.

To the Editor:

Passing the Baton to Conducting’s Next Generation” (Arts & Leisure, June 6) discusses the hurdles facing conductors who aspire to lead major orchestras in this country.

You write: “When Marin Alsop steps down from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this summer, it will leave the top tier of American ensembles as it was before she took the post in 2007: without a single female music director.”

True, but that assessment is missing another critical ingredient. It will leave the top-tier American ensembles without an American music director. Currently, there are at least four vacancies for the top jobs.

When orchestras searching for new leadership announce their 2021-22 seasons, perhaps we might see a few homegrown talents among the candidates.

Join Michael Barbaro and “The Daily” team as they celebrate the students and teachers finishing a year like no other with a special live event. Catch up with students from Odessa High School, which was the subject of a Times audio documentary series. We will even get loud with a performance by the drum line of Odessa’s award-winning marching band, and a special celebrity commencement speech.

Clearly the priority is on music-making when determining music director qualifications. But part of that decision must also encompass boldness: finding someone who has innovative ideas, connects with the orchestra and community, and can create a truly individual identity for the organization.

Just possibly, that person has been in our backyard all along.

Leonard Slatkin
St. Louis
The writer is music director laureate of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Classical Crossroads: The Path Forward for Music in the 21st Century.”

To the Editor:

Re “In Space Race, Bezos Says: See Ya, Elon!” (Business, June 8):

Well, bully for Jeff Bezos. He’s going to space on his rocket ship while his workers can’t take adequate bathroom breaks.

I’ve got an idea: Before Mr. Bezos becomes the next Buzz Aldrin, why doesn’t he focus on giving his employees a living wage and humane working conditions?

We have an alarming crisis of inequality in America, and it’s getting worse. This isn’t a prescription for a stable society. Space exploration might be a step forward for Mr. Bezos, but for Amazon it’s been a giant leap back to the Gilded Age for its workers.

Henry Peterson
Syracuse, N.Y.

To the Editor:

The Hamptons Crawl” (Sunday Styles, May 30) focused attention on the onset of the summer season, the traffic, the cost of rentals and food, and the return of the privileged to the beautiful East End of Long Island. Unfortunately, in every discussion of the Hamptons there is one huge secret that is left out.

In the Hamptons there are large numbers of residents who struggle. They are not arriving in helicopters; they are taking woefully inadequate public transportation to their service jobs. They are not partying on the beach; they are sleeping on borrowed floors, in barely affordable housing.

The pandemic exposed the magnitude of this problem. Food instability rose dramatically, taxing local resources. Many local workers are employed again, but low wages and the high cost of housing make putting food on the table an ongoing challenge.

What if everyone who enjoyed the Hamptons gave back — a donation to a food pantry or a few volunteer hours for a charity?

Claudia Pilato
East Hampton, N.Y.
The writer is president of the board of All for the East End, which supports nonprofit

To the Editor:

Re “With Harvard Case Coming Up, Study Tests the Value of Diversity,” by Adam Liptak (Sidebar column, June 1):

In response to Chief Justice John Roberts’s question — “What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?” — I would argue that there is moral, practical and educational value in diversifying the physics classroom.

The moral value is that it is unfair to maintain the status quo, where the underrepresentation and negative bias faced by women and people of color in STEM are persistent and severe.

There is practical value in preparing students to be global leaders in a diverse work force, and in engaging all the best minds for the advancement of science.

There is educational value in validating the importance of social equity as a topic that students should be educated about.

By trying to diversify the type of student who pursues physics, we are not looking for someone’s personal experience to inform their views on conservation of energy or other scientific laws. We are trying to keep up with the global work force, to prepare today’s youth to address the problems they will face, maybe even show them how social issues affect science and are affected by science.

At Hamilton College, we offer courses that teach students about social and structural hierarchies in the context of every discipline, including physics.

Kate Brown
Clinton, N.Y.
The writer is an associate professor of physics at Hamilton College.

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