American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently proclaimed that her union members have a right to teach “honest history ” in government classrooms. But putting politicians, bureaucrats, and union zealots in charge of a curriculum is the worst recipe for candor. Rather than truth, the likely result will be vaccinating young Americans from recognizing how Leviathan imperils their liberty.
Weingarten’s protests were spurred by the backlash in some states against Critical Race Theory (CRT), the latest politically correct fad from activist educators. CRT received a steroid boost from the New York Times’ 1619 series, which ludicrously claimed that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery (AIER’s Phil Magness debunked that charade in many articles and in this book ). According to Weingarten and other CRT proponents, American schools criminally ignore the racial abuses in American history. However, the vast majority of state curriculums already teach that slavery was an abomination and a national disgrace.
We economists have lost our appreciation for the humanities, and that means that we underestimate the importance of human dignity. This is no small oversight. McCloskey spends about a third of her book arguing that understanding the humanity of the northwestern European population can explain why it industrialized first. Other countries around the world had wealth, strong institutions, and well-trained mathematicians and engineers (perhaps better ones), but industrialization happened in Britain first because it treated its people with dignity and empowered them with both rhetoric and knowledge. Scotland, for example, had extraordinarily high literacy rates, and even people of modest means had the “opportunity to have a go, testing their ideas in commerce.” Liberalism gave everyone a chance to innovate and create, and in doing so it upended the existing social and economic order.