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Forum, April 25: New Hampshire bill HB 544 is a dangerous and slippery slope

Published: 4/24/2021 10:00:06 PM
Modified: 4/24/2021 10:00:03 PM
New Hampshire bill HB 544 is a dangerous and slippery slope

I’ve taught sociology at public and private universities for more than 40 years. Much of that teaching has involved presenting students with data on inequality in the United States, often from U.S. government sources, showing, for example, that on average African Americans have lower incomes and get less formal education, suffer higher rates of unemployment and incarceration, and receive worse health care than white Americans.

Students often ask the obvious question, “What accounts for these racial disparities?” The answer is complicated and involves a discussion of time-worn debates about racial inequality that span the ideological spectrum, from claims about white supremacy, impoverished Black culture, the historical legacy of slavery, institutional racism, implicit bias, white privilege and more.

Republicans in Concord worry that concepts like these are potentially “divisive.” HB 544 defines a concept as divisive if it suggests that one race (or sex) is inherently superior to another, or that the state of New Hampshire or the United States is fundamentally racist (or sexist).

As a result, HB 544 seeks to prohibit the “propagation” of divisive concepts by forbidding teaching students “to adopt or believe any … divisive concepts” like these. What this means, ostensibly, is that the bill seeks only to prevent teachers and others from proselytizing in favor of one concept over others.

But the bill comes perilously close to muzzling any discussion of them at all.

Introducing, discussing and debating these concepts of racism inevitably “propagates” them — it introduces them to those unfamiliar with them. In short, HB 544 comes perilously close to violating the principles of academic freedom, free speech and reasoned discussion of some of the most difficult yet important subjects of our time.

I wonder whether the bill, if passed, would prevent discussing the issues surrounding the George Floyd murder case in my classes. HB 544 is a dangerous and very slippery slope.



The writer is the Class of 1925 Professor of Sociology at Dartmouth College.

Column opted to be snarky, rather than address the real issue

Jim Kenyon’s recent column (“Exeunt Tenants,” April 18) nearly hit on a critically important topic for the Upper Valley and indeed the entire country. He would have done a true service by educating readers and discussing the profound lack of truly affordable housing in our communities. Sadly, he seems to enjoy more taking punches at an organization, in this case Northern Stage, which has been a catalyst for change in White River Junction and which has been not only an economic boost to the village, but also a good corporate citizen with such programs as Shakespeare in the Schools.

Some 25 years ago, when I served on the United Way board, I recall a presentation that focused solely on the hidden poverty in our area, where affordable housing and the lack transportation were critical needs — ones not much discussed and certainly needs not well met.

I submit that Northern Stage is not the problem. Not having affordable housing at a level that even begins to meet the needs of the Upper Valley is the problem. Northern Stage will continue to boost our economy, educate our children, bring nationally recognized, high-quality theater to the Upper Valley, and it will continue to be a good corporate citizen.

When will we all help provide the leadership necessary to advance the cause of affordable housing on a scale that helps meet the needs of our citizens — affordable housing at scale would help people such as nurses, health care technicians and other first responders who are among those who live as far as an hour away just so they can find affordable housing?

Now that would make a useful column, or better yet a series of columns, that might actually help advance a cause worthy of our efforts. Of course, that wouldn’t be as much “fun” as being snarky.



Outdoor masking often unnecessary

Is it possible that one of Donald Trump’s enduring legacies was his disdain for masks? His bad example may have led to excessive use of masks outdoors in Hanover. We seem to think we need to keep them on all the time just to show we’re not of Trump’s ilk.

The medical profession knows that the risk of transmitting COVID-19 among pedestrians passing in the open air is very small. The clinical director of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Paul Sax, wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine’s Journal Watch blog on April 19: “Transmissions do not take place between solitary individuals going for a walk, transiently passing each other on the street, a hiking trail, or a jogging track.” Yet one regularly encounters otherwise well-informed walkers and runners clamping on masks as if science demanded it.

Perhaps some believe they have to do it because it’s the law. It is not. Hanover’s mask-wearing rules explicitly grant open-air exceptions, requiring masks outdoors only when people are congregating or walking in congested areas where maintaining social distance is difficult. (Hanover Ordinance 39, Aug. 3, 2020.) And this was before any vaccines had been developed and distributed.

It still makes sense to mask indoors, even if you are vaccinated — frontline workers cannot tell who is vaccinated, and COVID-19 variants are a concern — and you need one outdoors if you are in a crowd or talking closely with someone. But the social pressure for excessive masking can deter older people like myself, for whom continuously breathing through a mask is a challenge, from getting some needed exercise. As a more beloved former president might have put it, mask not when you are out in the country.



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