Professor, 'Free Black Thought' co-founder discusses why he teaches English, not 'social justice'

Campus Reform spoke with York College of Pennsylvania Professor Erec Smith about his experience with cancel culture in academia.

Smith discussed his views on teaching English grammar and why that pursuit is not compatible with promoting social justice in the classroom.

Erec Smith is an associate professor of Rhetoric and Composition at York College of Pennsylvania. After experiencing cancel culture 2019, he has since become an advocate for viewpoint diversity, especially in the Black community. 

In a June 2021 “On the Media” podcast, Smith discussed the incident that led him to be “canceled” in higher education. 

He spoke to WNYC Studios’ Shamed and Confused podcast about “Feeling ‘canceled’ in Academia,” and was featured in a December 2021 segment on Reputation

Smith, the author of A Critique of Anti-racism in Rhetoric and Composition: The Semblance of Empowerment, received criticism online within the academic community after he voiced an opinion downplaying the leftist academics’ claim that teaching standard English perpetuates White supremacy. 

[RELATED: UVA student gov cancels bill condemning cancel culture]

“I was certain that we could have a civil and intelligent conversation. And I was wrong,” Smith stated in the podcast. “I wasn’t talking to academics, I was talking to middle school mean girls.”

Though Smith received backlash in 2019, he has since found success in being canceled. 

When speaking to Campus ReformSmith said, “The treatment I received from the 2019 incident was meant to silence me, but it actually gave me a metaphorical megaphone.” 

Between writing two books and numerous articles for publications like NewsweekCity Journal, and Discourse, Smith has continued to speak out. 

Additionally, Smith co-founded Free Black Thought, a nonprofit organization. 

”We are a small group of scholars, technologists, parents, and above all American citizens determined to amplify vital black voices that are rarely heard on mainstream platforms,” the organization’s mission statement reads.

”As parents, we are troubled that our children, black and non-black alike, are coming of age at a time when K-12 schools and elite institutions such as academia, major media companies, and corporations appear committed to enforcing narrow and tendentious standards of black racial authenticity in thought and behavior,” the text continues. “We hope our efforts inspire our children to see their blackness as a space not of constrained identity but of endless possibility.”

Accordingly, Smith explained to Campus Reform his outlook on the concept of standard English and teaching its grammatical rules to students. 

“English does, indeed, come from England, a country that committed several atrocities to people of color in the name of manifest destiny,” Smith said, but “from a pragmatic perspective, what matters is effective communication, not the genealogy of particular modes of communication.”

[RELATED: UCLA lecturer hopes his lawsuit will thwart ‘cancel culture techniques’ in academia]

”To put it simply, one cannot be both a rhetorician and a social justice activist who demonizes particular dialects, especially the one most common in civic and professional contexts,” Smith said. 

”Those two dispositions cannot co-exist, despite the number of people who believe they can,” he added.

Smith also said he believes people are “waking up” and “starting to realize the language games being played by proponents of critical pedagogy, especially when it comes to race.”

”They are starting to realize that diversity no longer means diversity and equity no longer means equity,” he stated.

The York College of Pennsylvania was contacted and declined to comment on this story. 

Follow @AhoAntoinette on Twitter