The Cosmic Mountain

A Modern-Day Parable Marking the Day the Supreme Court of the United States Outlawed Affirmative Action in College Admissions

Cosmic mountains are places where human beings can retreat in order to face the ghosts of the past and ask for forgiveness. In France, there exists a cosmic mountain where the ghosts of the victims of the Deutsches Ahnenerbe-Studiengesellschaft fur Geistesurgeschichte in Natzweiler Struthoff (a Nazi camp where inmates were subjected to obscene medical experiments designed to ‘prove’ the superiority of the Aryan race) cry out for retribution. It’s a popular climb with medical doctors. In Poland, there is a cosmic mountain outside of Auschwitz, where people can ascend in order to escape the scatological history of German racial anthropology, racial hygiene and the biology of racism. There is a cosmic mountain in East Timor popular with the Indonesian military. And, outside the Mỹ Lai 4 and Mỹ Khe 4 hamlets of South Vietnam, you can find American war veterans mulling about the mountain peak. And in the Iraqi town of Abu Ghraib, CIA interrogators can be spotted crawling naked up the steepest slopes. There are cosmic mountains everywhere, including many in the US.

Throughout this long and winding country, ‘regular folks’ listen with great relish to Donald Trump describing progressives and the left as ‘fascists and communists.’ Students, especially, have become confused about these terms because so many books have been banned in their school libraries that they don’t know the contexts or points of reference to employ in making sense of Trump’s remarks.

We no longer listen to historians in the United States since we have been told by Republican propagandists and other ‘combat intellectuals’ that there is no ‘real history’ anymore since there are no more facts, only opinions. And we are told that the only opinions that are worth listening to are those that are backed by strong ideological convictions that have the support of those with the power to make their opinions heard.

But those who harbour strong ideological convictions are those whom we have been taught to avoid because we don’t want our children indoctrinated by the communists and fascists that Trump has warned us about. But then those who advise us to avoid listening to those with strong ideological convictions have even stronger ideological convictions themselves, which forced us to consider that it’s better to listen to those without strong ideological convictions. Even better, if we gravitate to those without any serious convictions at all. But those without strong convictions or absent any convictions are seldom able to leverage the power and influence necessary to make themselves heard. So, we concluded that their opinions must not be worth hearing.

There is a whole range of cosmic mountains that attract the lost ghosts of history located in the state of Mississippi. One cosmic mountain, in particular, is filled with these ghosts. Beneath the mountain is a marketplace where, in the late eighteenth century, slave auctions and sales took place at a landing along the Mississippi River, just outside of a local town. Teachers from the nearby town, who for years felt it was important to teach the history of the town’s old slave market, are no longer teaching at the local schools. They were forced to ‘retire’ due to complaints from white students about feeling humiliated in learning about the cruelty attached to the history of the slave market since their parents had told them that the local slaves were treated just like members of the slave master’s own family. The town had to survive on the profit potential of cotton since there had been a marked decline in tobacco production. This apparently justified the slave market.

The white students received the backing of the local white politicians in City Hall, who opined that it was bad for the morale of the town and the county to teach the history of the slave market. And that teaching about the history of the town’s slavery was merely ‘woke’ ideology intended by communist critics to shame America. The parents loved to quote Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, who, in a speech to the Moms for Liberty summit in Philadelphia, echoed Winston Churchill when he proclaimed: ‘As president, I will fight the woke in the corporations, I will fight the woke in the schools, I will fight the woke in the halls of Congress. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob.’ DeSantis said at the Moms for Liberty summit in Philadelphia. DeSantis was the second choice for president among parents, following Trump. They loved his advertisement that revealed him as God’s chosen fighter:

And, on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said: I need a protector…. So God made a fighter.

God said: I need somebody who will take the arrows, stand firm in the face of unrelenting attacks, look a mother in the eyes and tell her that her child will be in school…. So God made a fighter.

God said I need a family man. A man who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply with smiling eyes when his daughter says she wants to spend her life doing what dad does…. So God made a fighter.

These sentiments led to low morale among teachers who had taken a course in critical pedagogy in their teacher education classes and who believed that teaching the history of the town from the perspective of the victims of slavery was not only important but crucial. They had read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and had been emboldened by George Santayana’s prophetic words: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it.’ But the politicians objected to the teachers on the grounds that they were too opinionated about the history of the town. They were instructed to take a neutral position on the slave auctions. The teachers refused and responded that their lessons were not grounded in opinions but facts. But then the politicians told them that their facts were too ideologically motivated and they should consider alternative facts surrounding the history of the town. To the dismay of the town officials and the predominantly white parents from the local schools, the teachers refused. That’s when the teachers were labelled ‘enemies of the state’ who were intent upon disrupting the genteel mood of the town by teaching their students about the horrors associated with the slave pens and slave-trading firms that used to exist not far from their classrooms.

Since they didn’t want the teachers’ lessons subtracting from the achievements of the town’s hard-working citizens, the politicians decided that the whole idea of history itself was to blame, and so history was put on trial, and all the books in the school libraries that used to be on the shelves were brought out of storage and used to create the biggest bonfire in the town’s history in order to celebrate the great achievements of their great Confederate town and make ‘everyone’ feel good about being Americans. Some argued that City Hall should fly the Confederate flag once again. This brought about chants of U-S-A, U-S-A! and God bless America! from the parents assembled in the school auditorium.

But this only made the black students and their parents angry, so it was agreed upon by the politicians that the curricula in the local schools would be decided by a democratic vote by the local parent-teacher association. But the association had only one black parent. Nevertheless, a vote was taken, and the white parents said they felt vindicated since the vote was the most ‘democratic’ way of dealing with the history class. This forced the teachers and the students to trek right back up the cosmic mountain, where they were met by the ghosts of those who had perished at the hands of the slave masters.

In order to meet state requirements, the history class had to continue until the end of the semester, which forced the parents to read about the history of their town by ‘biased’ historians since they wanted their children to graduate and attend the university. After all, the Supreme Court of the United States had just abolished affirmative action, and they felt their children now had a better chance to be accepted into the state university system, even though it’s not clear that any institution of higher education in Mississippi considered race as a factor in its admissions policies. Affirmative action had already been struck down in Mississippi in 1996 by the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case that some legal observers saw as the beginning of the end of affirmative action in higher education. But, as Murtaza Hussain writes, affirmative action is fine according to the current conservative Supreme Court justices as long as students are getting sent to die in America’s wars: ‘The precedent set by the court’s decision is primed to transform college admissions standards around the country, yet there is one area where the law mandating diversity in recruitment is remaining conspicuously unchanged: US military academies.’ Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote in a dissenting opinion: ‘The Court has come to rest on the bottom-line conclusion that racial diversity in higher education is only worth potentially preserving insofar as it might be needed to prepare Black Americans and other underrepresented minorities for success in the bunker, not the boardroom.’ Still, the parents welcomed the news from their trusted Supreme Court and took up the challenge of deciding how to teach the history of the town’s slave market and the slave-trading firms so that their teenagers would be eligible to apply for college. A ‘democratic’ consensus was reached once again, and the predominately white parents decided that, instead of planning lessons on the history of the town, it was enough to have a mock slave auction and to give a homework assignment where the students were asked to ‘give three “good” reasons’ for and against chattel slavery.

The class was topped off with a viewing of Birth of a Nation. Afterwards, the white parents went home feeling that America was great once again, just like Trump promised it would be if Americans would only listen to his advice since they had removed any ‘bias’ from the teaching of the history of their quaint Mississippi town. And their children could now enjoy their new lives as university students, so long as their professors kept ‘bias’ out of their lessons. After that, it was decided by the townspeople that there was no need to visit the cosmic mountain anymore. And so the legend of the cosmic mountain slowly faded from existence.

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Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.