Earnest Socialists would have a hard time getting audience with either Education Secretary Arne Duncan or Michigan Tea Party-backed Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
But in a fit of political and educational irony on Monday, it was Duncan and Snyder who gave one of the core socialist texts of the 20th century—yes, The Rainbow Fish by Swiss children's author Marcus Pfister—prominent billing by offering a dual dramatic reading to a class of unwitting and highly impressionable preschool students at Thirkell Elementary School in Detroit.
The book, of course, is just about a pretty fish who receives a valuable lesson about sharing with others after a little chit-chat with a friendly octopus. But if rightwing nuts like radio personality Neal Boortz are to be believed, the true threat of the book that Snyder and Duncan used to captivate the youngsters is not easily seen at first sight.
Following its publication in the 1990s the book's seemingly innocuous plotline generated wild conspiracy theories about how the story of the glimmering fish would brainwash children into thinking that private property and individualism were crimes, turning a generation into raving Bolsheviks who would grow up to destroy the "free market".
As MLive.com reported:
The story has long been a source of contention on chat boards, book review sites and blogs, accused of having socialistic undertones, an ideology quite contrary to that of Republican Gov. Snyder, a successful businessman turned politician.
Of course, the irony is that Secretary Duncan was in Michigan to review Snyder's education initiative—called the Education Achievement Authority (EAA)—which its critics say is quickly destroying the public education system in the state under the guise of the same "corporate reform" model which Duncan himself has championed inside Obama's Department of Education and during his tenure as head of Chicago's public schools.
As the Detroit News reports:
The EAA has been surrounded by controversy, including the revelation last month that DPS loaned $12 million to the new school district in transactions arranged by the state.
State Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, gave Duncan a letter describing the EAA as "ineffective and corrupt."
Johnson wrote that EAA leaders touted test results showing 27 percent of its students advanced one year in reading and 22 percent advanced one year in math.
"Looking past the fact that this means 73 percent in reading and 78 in math did not make such progress, the entire testing scheme used to make these evaluations was flawed by technological glitches that were not addressed until recently," he wrote.
"Every child deserves a proper education," Johnson said. "But what the Republicans are doing does not work."
He also addressed Duncan, saying in part, "it is my hope that you and President Barack Obama will seriously consider the ramifications of giving the appearance of tacitly supporting this failed experiment."
As Duncan toured local schools with Snyder, members of Progress Michigan, a progressive advocacy group in the state, sent a mascot in a skunk costume to Brenda Scott Academy and Perry to protest. As the Detroit Free Press reports the group objects to a project of Gov. Snyder's that "secretly studied the feasibility of a voucher-like system" in the state that they say would further undermine public schools and their already inadequate funding.
And about that book...
Why did the right go nuts over a children's book and a fish that gives all its pretty scales away in order to discover the joy of generosity? As Tea Party favorite Boortz wrote in his 2008 book Somebody's Gotta Say It:
Silly fish. And what would Lenin now say about that meddling octopus?