Ignorance is bliss – according to Republicans. More specifically, they advocate ignorance in education, indoctrination over inquiry and investigation. They are afraid of facts and those who wield them.
Bad enough that they sit zombie-like in front of Fox Faux News’ absorbing the lies of fascists trying to destroy the republic. Worse that they want to inflict their deliberate ignorance upon future generations.
Those who delight in calling people who advocate civility over hate speech “snowflakes” are most fragile themselves when dealing with historical issues such as slavery and racism.
In December, KFOR-TV reported, “A bill has been filed at the Oklahoma State Capitol that would limit how professors and teachers can teach about racism and slavery.”
Filed by Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Sallisaw, HB 2988, he says, “insists upon in teaching it in balance and in context.”
His idea of balance is reminiscent of the move in a Texas school district to teach “both sides” of the Holocaust. “It doesn’t prohibit anybody from teaching that America had slavery,” he said at that the time, “that it was evil….It doesn’t prohibit teaching that we’re better for not having slavery.”
Except that the bill includes very specific restrictions about what can and cannot be taught on the subject.
Academic Freedom? How about free to be dumb (silent) while dumbing down Oklahoma students.
Then, following GOPQ tactics of creating a straw person to attack, Olsen claimed, “I don’t know about Oklahoma, but there are some that teach that the whole purpose in the founding of America was to initiate and perpetuate slavery and, you know, that’s not true.”
Out there somewhere, somebody is up to no good. Trust him? I prefer documentation, maybe a percentage of offenders.
And, of course, the founding of America could not “initiate” slavery since that deplorable affront to humanity had been around 156 years before our founding. And, no, perpetuating slavery was not the “whole purpose” of our independence. But, our founders were presented the option of abolishing slavery at that time and chose not to do so.
Others occupied that moral high ground at that time. Just as there were always those among our ancestors advocating for better and fair treatment of Indians. We “annexed” the American Southwest and California from Mexico after winning the Mexican-American War that was precipitated over the southern boundary of Texas. (Thoreau spent a night in jail protesting the “war tax.”)
The point is that even when a majority chose dishonorable courses of action, there were others among us who tried to push toward a higher ethical standard. One of my favorite professors, who taught American foreign policy at the time of the Vietnam War, was later forced out of his position. We could hope that more of his ilk might have been on many more campuses – that they might have taught enough people enough to prevent the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Philosopher George Santayana most likely originated the notion, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” though it has been attributed to (and appropriated by) others. Teaching a sugar-coated historical fable about this country constitutes a deliberate forgetting of our mistakes and increases the likelihood of their repetition.
Skewing the past is not sufficient mischief for Republicans. Oklahoma Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Hamilton cites other “anti-education bills dirtying up the legislature this session.”
SB 1174 “would prevent the discussion on current events or controversial issues of public policy or social affairs.”
SB 1142 “would remove social-emotional-learning from the classroom.” KFOR-TV’s Austin Breasette explained in January: “The classroom is generally a place where many students learn self-control and relationship skills.” After two years with pandemic limitations and distance learning, many students could probably use the extra help in re-entering society.
There is not much that fascists prefer to a good book-burning. SB 1142 would permit a “school district-wide book banning by a single parent on topics that address sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” But, that is not enough for anti-education Republicans. The bill would also criminalize teachers and librarians who might run afoul of this censorship.
That’s right. One parent controlling the entire curriculum. And we can bet the know-nothings would organize to object education itself right on out the school door.
Factor in low pay as well the state’s official anti-education stance and it should come as no surprise that Oklahoma has a severe teacher shortage. The educational future in the state is so bad that KOCO-TV reported in January that, “Oklahoma City University is no longer turning out elementary teachers. The university was left with no choice but to suspend its early childhood and elementary education program in the spring of 2022 because of the low enrollment.”
Who can blame the reluctance of young adults to enter a field despised, under-funded and viewed with suspicion by state leaders?
And, true to Republicans’ backward thinking, another Oklahoma lawmaker filed Senate Bill 1161, which demands, according to KFOR-TV, that any elective religious courses on ”Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament” use only the King James Bible. Certainly! There have been no scholarly advancements in the past 400 years.
The bill’s author, Sen. George Burns, R-Pollard, repeated the old lie that the founding fathers – most of whom were assailed as atheistic deists in their own day – “relied heavily upon the scriptures in the formation of our country, and the Bible they used was the King James Bible.”
How an old, flawed translation might help today’s students is beside the real point of pandering to the church crowd. And, while current regulations on teaching Sunday School on the public dime require “teachers for such courses to be certified in social studies or literature, SB 1161,” KFOR points out, “would allow school districts to choose an ordained or licensed member of the clergy to teach the courses, as long as they teach as a non-compensated volunteer.” Proselytizing, anyone?
Last month in Texas, one Christian Collins, a candidate for the Eighth Congressional District, summarized the anti-education mantra that GOPQ candidates have been spewing increasingly for the past five years. As reported by Huffington Post, the guy who wants to represent my long-time home of Huntsville told a rally at a church in The Woodlands that innocent students face a real peril if they pursue education:
“They go off to college not knowing what they believe sometimes, and their teachers, their professors, try to deconstruct everything that you’ve taught them. And they go off with the college that you paid for and come out radical, leftist, hating-America atheists, and they don’t have any usable skills to get employed. And then they’re even more cynical.”
Huntsville is the home of Sam Houston State University. According to the U.S. News and World Report Best College study, 20 percent of its 2020 graduates were in the fields of business, management, marketing and related support services. I’m pretty sure they’re not being taught Marxist economic theory as the way to get ahead in American business.
Another 20 percent of SHSU’s graduates picked up degrees in homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting and related protective services. Sam has had a top criminal justice program for years, a natural fit for Prison City, USA.
Ten percent of the graduates were heading toward health professions and related programs. I guess they could be perceived as dangerous by the far right if they choose to put medical science above political expediency in deciding health issues.
Another ten percent picked up degrees in “multi/interdisciplinary studies.” I hope that represents students majoring in academic subjects such as English, history and the sciences with teaching qualifications included. If not, future teachers do not represent even three percent of the graduates, which is where the top ten majors list cuts off with students majoring in parks, recreation, leisure, fitness and kinesiology.
Notice, too, the obvious fact that these students graduated with credentials to present to future employers. Of the top ten most popular Bearkat majors, totaling 95 percent of the graduates, only the four percent graduating with degrees in visual and performing arts face problematical career paths. That is because making a living with artistic endeavors is just darn hard – even for the many talented artists that I knew or observed during my Huntsville days.
Yeah, Christian Collins is a liar. So, it is no surprise that Huffington Post reports that he “has the support of some of the most vocal pro-Trump Republicans in Congress, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), both of whom attended his event. He also has the endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).”
Collins earned a B.A. in government from that notorious party school, the University of Texas, and then picked up an M.A. in organization communication from Liberty University, where only the Falwells were allowed to party – until they got caught. But, attacking intellectuals and intellectual pursuits wins points with the know-nothing wing of his party. (Sort of reminiscent of Phyllis Schlafly who told American women to stay at home – while gallivanting across the country.)
It is education itself that the rightwing fears. Getting steeped in the history and procedures of a discipline provides a solid starting point. More importantly is that colleges teach students how to think, how to combine the facts into new arrangements – more profitable, say, for all of those business majors.
Thinking is infectious. Once you start, it is hard to stop without realizing your bad faith. And those who insist that they are the font of all knowledge get nervous when people point out the cracks in their foundations. Threatened, they attack the source of this dangerous thinking, and you end up with the lies and nonsense candidate Collins spouted – in a church of all places.
Anti-education Republican propaganda has cost several hundred thousand American lives during the coronavirus pandemic, and the deleterious effects persist. White-washed histories – out of sync with reality – can only perpetuate societal fractures. But, that suits anti-education Republicans just fine. They relish divisiveness as a wedge to be used against our democratic republic. And, if they can help it, their autocratic agenda will never be discussed in schools.
(Duncan resident Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)