American Experiment has battled PC for more than a quarter century.
On the morning of February 5, 1994, my friend and American Experiment colleague Kathy Kersten was having breakfast with her husband Mark Johnson when she read something in a Star Tribune editorial about the racial makeup of public schools in the Twin Cities area that didn’t seem accurate. A complex so-called “desegregation” plan was on the table and the editorial argued that if the Legislature didn’t approve and fund it, “courts would certainly intervene, and Minnesotans will rue the day legislators didn’t pony up to close the education gap that so affects the future of the state.”
This analysis puzzled Kathy, a lawyer by training, who asked Mark, a practicing lawyer, if it jibed with what he recalled about federal desegregation law from their law school days together at the University of Minnesota. No, they both agreed, it didn’t. As is her style and constitution, she immediately began researching the question, including how adoption of the rule likely would increase the possibility of litigation and eventual court oversight of local schools. This led, a month later, to her publishing an op-ed in the Star Tribune that fundamentally changed the course of all that followed. In shorthand, her argument was the beginning of the end of the plan.
I retell these rudiments because there has been a lot written and said about political correctness in the last year or so, much of it tied to everything Trump, but also to issues such as feckless university responses to radically illiberal campus protests as well as dirty fights over bathroom rights of way.
Yet no matter how uncomfortable or problematic it might be in some quarters to disagree with the new orthodoxy regarding restrooms, imagine what it might be like to challenge a really big effort—a desegregation plan, for heaven’s sakes—aimed at helping kids of color? Unless the critic is George Wallace circa the 1960s, how many people are willing to risk being called racist and other rancid names, even if the plan is clearly and simply bad public policy: unrealistic, unworkable, demeaning, exorbitantly expensive, and much more likely to hurt rather than help its intended beneficiaries?
Well, Kathy was one of the few back then willing to risk epithets. She also wasthe most probing researcher and learned voice in stopping a very large mistake.
I recall this event to reinforce my long-held belief that American Experiment has been Minnesota’s most potent and important PC Buster for more than a quarter century. And that noting so is not a bad way of concisely describing this institution’s core work ever since we opened up in 1990 with a full-day conference on “The New War on Poverty: Advancing Forward This Time.” It featured the brilliantly contrarian likes of Linda Chavez, Bob Woodson, Checker Finn, and Charles Murray, with all four of them juxtaposed in different combinations on stage with some of Minnesota’s most respected liberals, including the likes of George Latimer, the late Earl Craig, and the late Sandy Gardebring.
What other pertinent issues has Kathy taken on? Here’s but a partial list.
- Exposing an ideologically narrow (read: all lefty) orientation reading list for new freshmen at a local university.
- Detailing how wrongheaded school discipline policies in St. Paul schools are hurting all students regardless of race. As with much of her work, she’s elaborating on this Star Tribune op-ed in national publications suck as the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal.
- A column off hers in the aftermath of 9/11 inspired passage of national legislation that legally protests airline passengers-meaning they can’t be sued-if they report suspicious behavior by other passengers.
- And her path-breaking essay in the early 1990s, “What Do Women Want: A Conservative Feminist Manifesto.” Yes, it both enlightened and irritated a lot of people, profitably so.
As for me, I’ve written and spoken over and over about how massive family fragmentation is causing major educational, economic, and social problems as well as threatening our future. In keeping, how we must somehow find ways of re-institutionalizing marriage in countless communities across Minnesota and the nation where it’s barely alive. I’ve also focused on how opposition to private schools in school choice plans hurts low-income and minority children in particular. And how millions are hurt by our failure to take adequate—and perfectly constitutional—advantage of our religious institutions and traditions when it comes to helping people with serious needs of many kinds.
It needs to be emphasized, particularly during this presidential campaign and election year, that my American Experiment colleagues and I have never been of the mind that anything goes in countering politically correct nonsense, as refutations grounded in nastiness are almost always less per- suasive than they otherwise might be, especially when it comes to convincing wider audiences. But beyond that not-small strategic and tactical point, it needs to be recognized that incivility is intrinsically unattractive much more often than not. And that successfully fighting PC doesn’t mean being crude. It demands the exact opposite.