Is US great or a horror show? Depends where it’s studied
With the best of motives, legislatures sometimes try to turn classrooms into propaganda centers to burn into young brains particular political views.
Thought control is on the move in Tallahassee, where bills aim to force exposure of public school students to “victims of other nations’ governing philosophies.”
Identical bills by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez of Doral and Ardian Zika of Land O’ Lakes would require courses in US government to include “a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States.”
Mr. Zika, who was born in Kosovo and describes himself as an “ethnic Albanian from a Muslim community that was persecuted” in Yugoslavia, no doubt has the best of motivations in seeking to require teaching about political philosophies. Surely Ms. Rodriguez has as well.
But once the state requires teaching good guys versus bad guys, education becomes political indoctrination. However much we might agree with the lawmakers’ aspirations, the outcome would match indoctrination that communism and totalitarianism force, only from the opposite side.
Surely neither lawmaker wants propaganda promoting communism and totalitarianism. So why are they trying to install the same kind of indoctrination?
The News Service of Florida quotes Mr. Zika as saying the aim is to bring truth to students.
The hard question is, whose truth?
Tennessee long prohibited teaching about evolution because truth could be found only in the Bible. Substitute teacher John Scopes outlined the concept of evolution and was fined, leading to a trial that found such teaching lawful. Now we accept the outlawed concept, evolution of the species, as truth.
Centuries ago teaching also was that the earth was flat – that was the truth until it was no longer the truth. Students also learned that man could not fly. “Truth” is very hard to ascertain, and its meaning changes over time.
California’s Assembly voted last fall to require high school students to pass a one-semester course on ethnic studies. No doubt that legislation was as well-meaning as the bill now in Florida’s legislature.
According to John Fensterwald, writing in EdSource, proposed lessons in the course included “persecution of Native Americans starting in the Mission period, the discrimination against Mexican Americans as well as their influence on California politics and culture. Lessons would also focus on police profiling and government redlining policies that banned African Americans from white neighborhoods.
“But…,” he continued, “other ethnic groups, including Armenians, Sikhs and Indian immigrants have objected that the model curriculum ignores their experiences. Jewish Americans objected to references to Jewish stereotypes and the downplaying of anti-Semitism. Critics said lesson plans were ideological, with a leftist perspective that sees the American experience only through the lens of oppression and identity politics.”
So the lessons to be required in Florida would be how great the American system is compared with others. The lessons to be required in California were to be how the American system shortchanges and discriminates against minorities.
Which is the “truth” about life in the United States? There is truth in both viewpoints. So why require teaching from one perspective or the other?
Further, some people feel left out in both versions of “truth.”
“My issues with civic education is ensuring that civic education is holistic and tells the true story of the American experience. Everything about our American experience is not beautiful,” Rep. Anika Omphroy of Lauderdale Lakes told Rep. Zika last week. “There are things… that are dark, that are traumatizing, and impact us each in different ways. Will those aspects of the American story also be told?”
The way to focus on both the glories of the American system as would be required in Florida and the evils within the system outlined for California and to deal with those who feel left out of both views is not to put it all into law. Just let good teachers offer quality civics education without loading the dice one way or another.
Lawmakers are rarely teachers. In legislating what must or must not be taught, they are likely to focus on promoting their political views by inculcating students at a young age.
We support those legislators’ right to believe what they wish, whether it’s a rosy view of our nation in Florida or past and present injustices in California. Those views should do battle in statehouses across this land. Why not in classrooms too?
Respect differences of political opinion. In trying to control what students learn one way or another, we’re playing into the hands of communism, totalitarianism and all the other isms.
Maybe that’s why California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed his state’s effort to mandate how students think. Florida legislators also should say “no thank you” to groupthink.
When opinion is made “truth” by law, everyone loses – mostly the students who don’t get to do any thinking on their own. If totalitarianism is so bad, why in the world would we adopt its methods?