Authoritarian impulses have always played a disproportionate role in American discourse. Despite the much lauded First Amendment, those in power seek to contain and control knowledge that might be dangerous to their continued hegemony. John Adams enforced the Sedition Act of 1798 to control critical discourse. Woodrow Wilson used an updated version of the Sedition Act in 1918 to squelch antiwar positions, even to the extent of imprisoning a perennial presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs. The Sedition Act of 1918 was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1919. In the 1920s and then again in the 1940s and 1950s the United States government persecuted critical thinkers after concocting so-called “Red Scares”. Accused “radicals”, “communists”, and “sympathizers” were blacklisted, censured, and socially and economically destroyed for daring to speak.
From Comstock Laws to the Hays Code, the United States has significant cultural conflicts when it comes to knowledge that may offend the dominant values and existing power arrangements. This is especially true when this knowledge might serve to empower the disempowered and the marginalized.
Nowhere does this tension between rights to free speech and critical thought, traditional values, and established power play out more acutely than in our public schools. In the 1920s, teacher John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in a science classroom. The resulting trial became a national event. Scopes was convicted, but the medieval philosophy justifying the repression of scientific knowledge in classrooms was badly damaged–but not destroyed.
The kind of medieval thinking that sent Scopes to jail is alive and well and playing out in public classrooms all over the country. Specifically, the state under authoritarian control endeavors to censor and undermine academically valid and reliable facts and theories that it considers dangerous. In Florida, for instance, the authoritarian governor with his hawkish minions in the legislature has made it illegal to teach that racism is a systemic component of American culture. The law specifically censors The 1619 Project.
More disconcerting, the authoritarian leadership, currently entrenched in the Republican Party, but not without a history of support in the Democratic Party, are the beneficiaries of a politically cohesive and empowered reactionary base. We can expect more censorship, repression, and deception moving forward.
Teaching science in science classes, history in history classes, or literature in literature classes, should not be a consequential act of political resistance on the part of the teacher. Today, however, this very mundane thing is a courageous act in the face of powerful, mobilized, and outspoken political forces. Teachers already struggle with low pay, the stressors of the job, the endless mandates, disrespect, and disregard from their communities. This is especially true in our more reactionary states–like Florida. In many states, every effort has been made to bully and coerce teachers into compliance with ridiculous state mandates. Unions have been disempowered. Tenure has been revoked. At the end of every school year in these backwater states teachers are made to fear for their livelihoods, facing the probability that their annual contracts may not be renewed because they chose to enlighten their students with actual science, history, or literature.
It would be nice if teachers universally refused to conform to these medieval standards. However, teachers cannot be blamed if they choose to conform. They need their jobs. They have mortgages, children, lives to live. Teachers are martyred in myriad ways every single day of their careers. It is unreasonable to expect them to be martyrs in this. Instead, those who care about knowledge, the advancement of academics, developing the next generation into its full potential, or just public education in general, need to step up and play interference for their teachers.
This website is designed to provide a means by which teachers and students can access the very Dangerous Knowledge the state intends to censor, either directly or indirectly, from the classroom. Teachers may use this site as a subversive tool to help them provide their students with access to Dangerous Knowledge without having to incorporate it into their lesson plans.
Students, too, may use this site to get access to knowledge that is being denied them. This may be a tool by which they avoid the tyranny of an authoritarian state. It may also be a vector by which they can supersede the influence of parents who have embraced the medieval, reactionary deceptions of the authoritarian movement in the United States or elsewhere.
In short, this site is intended to be a repository for Dangerous Knowledge
“So, exactly what do you mean by Dangerous Knowledge. Surely, you don’t mean that students should be exposed to anything.”
In every school and in every classroom decisions must be made with regard to content. These decisions should be made based on the context of the class, the needs of the students, the age of the students, the composition and interests of the community, and innumerable other variables too extensive to mention. These decisions should be made by professional teachers in the classroom in consultation with their administrators. Not by the state.
Of course, nobody is advocating for stocking 50 Shades of Grey in an elementary school library. Adults will make decisions for minors with regard to their exposure to different media. Teachers are fully capable of making these decisions.
Furthermore, if you survey any school, you’ll find that teachers are a fairly diverse group. Despite what authoritarians might say on the FoxNoise machine, teachers are not a homogenous group of Marxists trying to brainwash children. Most of us are pretty middle of the road when it comes to politics and religion. Some are to the left. Some to the right. Some are devout believers in any of a number of religious beliefs. Some are less so. Some are free thinkers. That’s the beauty of having a diverse faculty. Students can benefit from being exposed to a wide array of different points of view.
As far as this website is concerned, Dangerous Knowledge refers to any material that is intended to challenge established values and existing power arrangements and/or is intended to encourage students to think critically about these relations. As such, Dangerous Knowledge is often subject to state and corporate sanction and repression. This sanction must be confronted.
That’s not to say that this site takes an amoral approach to the materials a teacher might use. It should be clear from the above description that an underlying theme of this site is social equality and justice. Curricula and materials that promote in-group vs. out-group identities, scapegoating, exclusion or marginalization, and…yes…exceptionalism will not be defended on this site. This site is intended to be a bulwark for teachers, students, parents, and communities intent on challenging existing power arrangements and taking a critical view of established values and common sense notions–all along the political spectrum, left, right, and center.
Some moral assumptions that will be made by this site include the following:
- A humanist and enlightenment perspective…: Teachers, students, and parents come from diverse backgrounds including an endless array of beliefs. These should be respected. What we have in common is a shared humanity, inalienable human rights, and the capacity to think and to learn.
- …But not without a tinge of Romanticism: As human beings, we are also emotional, expressive, even passionate. These are positive qualities that should be cultivated, not repressed.
- Small “d” democratic values: Human beings working cooperatively and democratically as a community of equals is the best means of maximizing human potential.
- Academic Freedom: Policies that empower teachers to be creative, critical, and inspiring should be emphasized over mandates, punitive accountability, rigid curricula and rigor for the sake of being rigorous.
- Academic Responsibility: Every freedom carries with it certain responsibilities.
- Parents matter: No parent should be able to dictate what is taught in any classroom. That being said, parents should not be left out of the process. When dealing with controversial topics, open communication with parents is crucial. If parents understand your goals and context for your lessons, they will likely perceive the Knowledge as being less Dangerous than they thought. If the parent trusts the teacher, they are less likely to believe that the teacher is trying to “indoctrinate” their children. Teachers need to remember, if they are not communicating with their students’ parents, Hannity is.
- Students should be safe. Lessons should not be: Every effort should be made to make students feel comfortable expressing themselves in the classroom. Dangerous Knowledge often inspires emotional responses. A capable teacher can guide students through the process of analyzing and evaluating Dangerous Knowledge. A student may find that their most cherished beliefs are being challenged. Teachers must prep their classes for embracing and including all students and helping all students understand the stakes involved in learning Dangerous Knowledge.
- Teachers are people, too: If only teachers never got it wrong. Sometimes lessons are just bad, or the approach to controversial issues is poorly planned or judged. This is a matter between teachers, mentors and administrators. State censorship and/or punitive measures against teachers is the wrong approach.
Help Me Spread Dangerous Knowledge
This is a singular endeavor. This page does not represent an organization and is not backed by dozens of people working on topics and making contributions to the cause. It’s just the cyberface of an activist trying desperately to plug the dam to keep fascism from flooding us out. If you’d like to help in this endeavor with content, advice and ideas, lessons, or anything that might help, it would be greatly appreciated