- - Thursday, February 2, 2023

“We don’t want students to go through [Florida universities] at taxpayer expense and graduating with a degree in ‘zombie studies…’ ”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said these words this week as he announced his plans to eliminate all of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Critical Race Theory bureaucracies in Florida as a part of his higher education reform package. How many other states will follow his lead in 2023?

Many of us have been arguing over the past few years that the emergence of new DEI and CRT bureaucracies was problematic on several fronts. First, they appear to be little more than state-sanctioned racism.

During his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Living that dream does not mean treating people poorly because of the actions of someone who looked like them decades ago.

Sadly, too many CRT programs seem to be focused on making people — particularly students — pay for their “White privilege.” Unfortunately, many of the people pushing this failed approach are using it to gain political power instead of seeking racial reconciliation.

Over the years, I’ve seen far too many poverty pimps. They are the politicians who blame race for the conditions of their voters while pushing policies that keep their constituents poor and dependent on the government.

These radical views are even showing up in places like the home of one of the founders of our nation: James Madison. The people who operate Montpelier do not allow an American flag to be flown at the former home of an American president and author of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Federalist Papers. In fact, they don’t even talk about those documents.

Instead, Montpelier is filled with woke displays and references to the 1619 Project, which a wide variety of historians has undermined. They even include an exhibit about how the first 18 U.S. Presidents benefited from slavery — even though John Adams and Abraham Lincoln clearly did not own slaves.

Colleges, universities, and schools should be teaching objective American history. Defenders of programs like CRT falsely claim that opponents like myself want to ignore any discussion of slavery in the history of our nation. Ironically, the opposite is true.

We believe that America should not be defined by the scourge of slavery but by the triumph of overcoming it. We fought a Civil War where more than 620,000 Americans died. Lincoln freed slaves in the Confederate territories during the war and then pushed through a Republican-controlled Congress an amendment to the Constitution that would ban slavery.

In my home state of Wisconsin, more than 91,000 soldiers fought in the Civil War. For a relatively new state with a population of just over 775,000 at the start of the war, that meant that one out of every eight to nine men, women, and children was a soldier in the war. Of those, more than 12,000 never came back. 

One of them was Hans Christian Heg. He was a colonel in the U.S. Army. He fought and died on September 20, 1863, at the Battle of Chickamauga. Prior to his military service, he was an outspoken anti-slavery activist and member of the Republican Party.

When I served as governor, I could see the statue of Heg outside my offices by the east wing of the Wisconsin State Capitol. During the Black Lives Matter riots in 2020, that statue was vandalized. They broke off the head and threw it into the lake. So much willful ignorance. 

Matthias W. Baldwin made his fortune as a builder of locomotive engines in Pennsylvania. A religious man, he called for the end of slavery long before the Civil War. His views were used against him by competitors who wanted to sell to railroads in the South. In 1835, Baldwin donated money to build a school for Black children in Philadelphia, and he paid for the salaries of the teachers.

In 2020, the statue of Baldwin outside of the Philadelphia City Hall was one of the ones defaced by BLM rioters. So much for understanding history.

Students in America certainly do need to comprehend what happened with slavery, but they also need to know who fought to end it. And they certainly should not be using it as a crutch for challenges facing anyone more than a century and a half after the end of the Civil War.

We can and must do better. The actions proposed in Florida are just one more step forward as we move toward a more perfect nation, not through radical propaganda and intimidation but through objective information and respect.

• Scott Walker is president of Young America’s Foundation and served as the 45th governor of Wisconsin from 2011 to 2019.

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