School Choice

Chris Stewart Wants February To Be 'Uncomfortable History Month'

Nearly 90 gag-order bills would ban schools from teaching the grisly particulars of American history. This activist is fighting against the censorship and for school choice.


Though he's black and proud of it, libertarian school-choice activist Chris Stewart isn't celebrating Black History Month this February.

Instead, he's pushing what he calls "Uncomfortable History Month," or an embrace of teaching the past in all its contradictions, hypocrisies, and triumphs. At his Substack, a free mind, he tells the story of Mary Turner, a 21-year-old pregnant woman who was lynched in Georgia in 1918 for daring to protest the lynching of her own husband. When a statue honoring Turner was erected in 2010, vandals shot it up.

Turner's story is the sort of brutal incident whose telling is threatened by nearly 90 proposed local and state education lawsStewart calls them "gag orders"—that would ban schools from teaching the grisly particulars of American history, including state-sanctioned and state-tolerated violence against racial, sexual, and other minorities. The former Minneapolis* school board member and current head of school-choice organization brightbeam has a radical vision for educational reform in which public funding follows K-12 students and parents freely choose among public, private, secular, and religious institutions that would teach radically different curricula.

That vision flows directly from Stewart's libertarian philosophy: The "cardinal rule is that the rights of individuals will not be infringed upon by anyone." He fears that the enormous advantage handed to reformers in the wake of the failed K-12 response to COVID-19 lockdowns is being squandered on culture war battles that have more to do with helping Republicans get elected by denouncing Critical Race Theory than with fundamentally changing the way schools work.

In a wide-ranging discussion, we talk about the failure of the libertarian movement to win over blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities who should rally to our critique of state power and support for criminal justice reform. Stewart also details his problems with the progressive left, how he moved from Ralph Nader to Jesse Ventura to libertarianism, and why he thinks laws criminalizing speech are always and everywhere wrong. He discusses the origins and aims for Eight Black Hands, his weekly podcast featuring conservative, liberal, progressive, and libertarian black men talking about public education and private responsibility. 

Today's sponsor is The Long Time Academy, a podcast about being a better ancestor.

*CORRECTION: The original version of this article misidentified Stewart as a former member of the St. Paul, Minnesota school board.