In Eric Beerbohm & Elizabeth Beaumont (eds.), NOMOS LXVI: Civic Education in Polarized Times. NYU Press (forthcoming)
The powerful role that teachers can play in our development is the focus Binyamin, Jayusi, and Tamir’s chapter in this volume. They argue that teachers, in particular teachers that don’t share the same background as their students, can help counter the increasing polarization that characterizes our current era. In these critical notes I raise three challenges to their proposal. First, by exploring the mechanisms of polarization I demonstrate that polarization is not a problem unique to thick diversity or thick multiculturalism. Second, the central premise of the authors’ proposal rests on the ability of greater contact to reduce prejudice. The contact hypothesis, however, has numerous backlash effects and unintended consequences that can increase prejudice rather than reduce prejudice. These backlash effects and unintended consequences raise serious doubts for the success of placing minority teachers in majority classrooms to reduce prejudice. Third, I raise concerns about how the proposal tokenizes minority teachers, the use of instrumental rationales for diversity, and the politics of deference and being-in-the-room privilege that also go unaddressed in their proposal.