(Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Jan 10, 2023
Have you heard the latest Republican lie?
There are so many it’s hard to keep track, but here’s the newest one.
Public school teachers are turning their students into communists.
I’m not kidding.
That’s what they’re saying on far right blogs, podcasts and TV shows.
All because Mr. Singer wore a red sweater vest one day to class.
In matters of opinion, isn’t it better to tell students the facts and let them think for themselves about their relative virtues?
Not really, but that might have been a better provocation than the reality – which is all in far right pundits’ heads.
So for the GOP, it’s all about fear – what can you scare voters to believe that will shepherd them to support your agenda?
So to start with, Republicans want you to be terrified of public schools.
They want you to have to pay to get your kids educated – but public schools give learning away for free to everyone – just for paying taxes.
Right-wingers would much rather make it all a business where the more you pay, the better the education your kids get. There’d be poor quality charter schools for those who can’t afford the entry fee, but the best of everything would be reserved for the kids of the rich and powerful whose parents would use school vouchers to offset some of their tuition at private institutions.
Public schools would undo all that – especially if they were adequately funded.
Can you imagine a country where everyone was fully educated!?
Lawmakers might have to create real policies, a platform, solutions – to actually govern!
So GOP operatives spread hysterical lies about public schools. They call them “government schools” as if that meant some imposed bureaucracy of outsiders and not what it actually does – schools governed by elected members of the community.
The lies and innuendo are never ending. Public school educators teach fake history where the civil rights movement was a good thing. They refuse to instill the truth of Creationism over fake Evolution. Teachers are pedophile groomers – never mind the actual Republican lawmakers charged with pedophilia and rape. And on and on and on.
Which brings us to the latest one – the new red scare that public school teachers are raising the next generation to hate Adam Smith and love Karl Marx.
The whole idea seems to have started with DeVos, the billionaire heiress and former Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump.
Robert Bluey, vice president of publishing for the Heritage Foundation, asked her a question on The Daily Signal Podcast (a Heritage Foundation mouthpiece) about the growing popularity of socialism among young people.
And it’s true, according to a 2018 Gallup poll, Americans aged 18 to 29 are almost as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%).
So on behalf of the right-wing think tank behind the critical race theory brouhaha, transphobic legislation, climate change denial and a host of other regressive causes, Bluey asked DeVos why young people aren’t as firmly championing capitalism as previous generations.
DeVos, of course, blamed teachers. She responded:
“I recall visiting a classroom not too long ago where one of the teachers was wearing a shirt that said “Find Your Truth,” suggesting that, of course, truth is a very fungible and mutable thing instead of focusing on the fact that there is objective truth and part of learning is actually pursuing that truth.”
This is a rather strange answer. It may be the case that there are absolute truths in the world, but economic theories certainly don’t qualify. In matters of opinion, isn’t it better to tell students the facts and let them think for themselves about their relative virtues?
Tell them capitalism is great. Tell them socialism is terrible. Screw critical thinking.
The Heritage Foundation, at least, liked her answer, using it as a template to fund a plethora of stories about public schools – not just leaving the matter up to students to decide – but actually bullying kids into championing communism.
Douglas Blair, a Daily Signal producer, codified the idea in his article “I’m a Former Teacher. Here’s How Your Children Are Getting Indoctrinated in Leftist Ideology.”
In the text of article, Blair admits he was only “in education” for 4 years, but it seems he was not a full-time classroom teacher for most of that time. According to his Linked-In account, he was a French teacher for 9 months in a school in Portland, Oregon. Before that he was an Extracurricular Aide, an English Language Assistant and Language Immersion Counselor at various schools in the US and France.
His evidence of indoctrination reads like “Kids Say the Darndest Things – Republican Edition.”
For example, he says he asked an elementary school girl if she liked Winston Churchill, and she frowned calling Churchill racist.
I’m not sure why that’s so upsetting. Churchill led Great Britain through WWII, but he undeniably WAS a racist, too. Churchill said that he hated people with “slit eyes and pig tails.” To him, people from India were “the beastliest people in the world next to the Germans.” He admitted that he “did not really think that black people were as capable or as efficient as white people.”
So Blair’s examples of indoctrination come out to complaining that kids learned accurate history.
If only the GOP could use history and education to change minds instead of decrying them.
Florida Gov. DeSantis is giving it a try. In 2022, he signed a law requiring schools in the sunshine state to actively teach about the horrors of communism.
That’s right. Whether teachers need to or not, they have to spend at least 45 minutes on it every November.
“We want to make sure that every year folks in Florida, but particularly our students, will learn about the evils of communism. The dictators that have led communist regimes and the hundreds of millions of individuals who suffered and continue to suffer under the weight of this discredited ideology,” DeSantis said, adding that “a lot of young people don’t really know that much” about the political ideology.
At first blush, this may sound like a good idea. More historical knowledge is a good thing, but it’s the context that makes this troubling.
Florida Republicans already have passed a battalion of laws telling educators what they CANNOT teach.
So you can’t teach about racial issues including the history of slavery if it makes any student “feel uncomfortable.” Math books are censored from depicting “prohibited topics.” You can’t talk about a wide range of human sexuality including LGBTQ people because of the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
But you’d better teach about how bad communism is! Or else!
First, this is the very definition of a GOVERNMENT SCHOOL – the legislature dictating what teachers teach on a given day and not trusting them to do their own jobs.
Second, why single out communism? Certainly it has lead to horrors and misery, but so has capitalism. Are we to teach about the terrors of rampant greed, sweatshops, wars for oil, runaway inequality? After all, students in impoverished neighborhoods going to underfunded schools are actual victims of free enterprise, not collectivism. The free hand of the market is soaked in blood, too.
Third, there’s the subtext. This sounds to me like an invitation to conflate communism with socialism (which are two different ideas with different histories) and to champion one ideology over another.
Finally, let’s not forget this all comes from state law. It’s politics, not pedagogy, and in politics it’s only indoctrination when someone else does it.
So are public school teachers really molding their students into young Bolsheviks?
I seriously doubt it.
Economic theory rarely comes up in math, reading or science. Maybe it comes up occasionally in social studies.
In my middle school language arts classes, we discuss all kinds of things that come out of the books we’re reading.
Sometimes economic inequality comes out of S. E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” or Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” When we read Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” the concept of distribution of resources is broached.
In each case, I encourage my students to think about the problems from the stories, the solutions offered in the narratives and to discuss the matter with classmates. We hold Socratic Seminars and write critical essays. For “The Giver,” students work in groups to create their own utopias – you’d be surprised how many are socialist, though there are also a number of capitalist republics, dictatorships, and anarchies. Kids love anarchy.
[Education] is one of the chief engines of change, and nothing can truly stop that. If Republicans think they can, they’re in for a shock.
And I admit it – I encourage my students to think for themselves. I try not to give them my answers – my truths.
Facts are facts and opinions are opinions.
So why ARE young people increasingly more critical of capitalism these days and more friendly toward socialism?
To achieve a better world, we have to do more than simply recreate the one in which we live.
That’s why education is so important. It is one of the chief engines of change, and nothing can truly stop that.
If Republicans think they can, they’re in for a shock.
Perhaps they should have paid more attention in school.
Or exposed their opinions to more rigorous critical thinking…
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