Cancel culture, style of Jewish educators
Two weeks ago I co-wrote a Open letter at the Charles E. Smith Jewish School in the Washington, D.C. area, raising concerns about the school’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) program. Like so many others, the school’s diversity program does not offer alternative perspectives to the typical “anti-racist” point of view. My co-author and I, who both had children who graduated from school, regard this âpedagogyâ as a form of indoctrination.
I decided to post this open letter on JEDLAB, a Facebook group of Jewish educators with 12,000 members. I was active in the early days of JEDLAB, a space where innovative educators shared and discussed cutting-edge ideas and approaches often at odds with the Jewish educational establishment. I liked it so much that I even interviewed the founder of eJewish Philanthropy.
It seemed like a perfect forum to generate interesting and important discussions about emerging diversity programs in Jewish educational contexts.
Apparently, however, DEIJ initiatives in Jewish schools are not open for discussion.
Almost immediately, a member of the Facebook group called the post âracistâ. The member said that I did not have to publish my point of view there. Several others piled in, also calling the post âracistâ and calling for its immediate removal. Not a single person opposed or came to my defense (except, of course, in private messages). The member’s comment accusing me of enacting racism got many likes, including one from a mainstream Jewish professional who is a self-proclaimed moderate on the subject. His vote of support for this vitriol suggests otherwise.
About an hour after posting, the post was deleted without explanation by the group’s admins. There are two possible explanations:
The first is that the administrators agreed that raising concerns about the “anti-racist” perspective being taught to children is inherently racist. Ibrahim X. Kendi has speakand we all have to line up.
If so, I despair of the future of Jewish education.
A second possibility is that the admins have received complaints that my ideas make the space âunsafeâ for attendees. This, of course, meant that the administrators had to silence someone with a different point of view. This is the âheckler’s vetoâ: a few strident voices protesting against a particular point of view lead weak institutions to stifle debate.
This is the âheckler’s vetoâ: a few strident voices protesting against such and such a point of view lead weak institutions to stifle speech.
If so, I again despair about the future of Jewish education.
Our children must be educated in a culture and sensitivity that values Makhloket Leshem Shamayim– arguments for heaven’s sake. This sensitivity welcomes, even encourages, debate between people with different points of view. The Jewish tendency to question and engage in intellectual discourse is one of the great qualities of the Jewish tradition. Why would anyone, let alone Jewish educators, try to erase that? Don’t we want our children to be critical thinkers and challenge the status quo?
Of course, many Jewish educators and parents appreciate discussion between people with different points of view. A principal of a pluralist Jewish school messaged me directly on Facebook and thanked me for raising the subject. A prominent teacher called to say “I wanted to kiss you”. Many Jewish day school teachers have contacted me and my Open Letter co-author to thank us for raising their concerns. These teachers can’t speak publicly themselves because, well, they’re worried about being canceled, just like my Facebook post.
These teachers can’t speak publicly themselves because, well, they’re worried about being canceled, just like my Facebook post.
How is this good for the Jews?
David Bernstein is the founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Value (JILV.org). Follow him on Twitter @DavidLBernstein.