The right seems to be aiming for a return to the textbook era of the 1950s
For the 17th-century Puritan theologian Richard Mather, the most dangerous threat to religion was not the government but the Presbyterians. Still, he was practical enough to move slightly to the left, refusing, for example, to wear the usual floor-length robe while on duty. When the church hierarchy learned of this outrage, they suspended him, declaring that “it would have been better for him if he had sired seven bastards”.
It was Mather who was behind the initiative to raise 201 shillings annually from Boston landowners to fund a free public school focused primarily on teaching Latin. To today’s Republicans, an increasingly curious group, this would likely disguise the great preacher as America’s first tax-and-spending liberal. Today, of course, his devotion to truth and learning would also make him suspect.
Thomas Jefferson wrote about the separation of church and state without realizing that there would ever be a need for a separation between church and school.
Doctrine and religion grew hand in hand. Puritan minister John Harvard would have been amazed that modern public education treats the Bible like a coiled rattlesnake. Yale, which spent most of its first century teaching only religion, retains the motto “Truth and Light” even though modern religion is more concerned with covering up facts than presenting them.
In the post-truth era, when election defeats are turned into victories and riots are dubbed ice cream socials, it makes perfect sense that those well-known providers of facts, the public schools, would be the next to be attacked. The right are running for the school board like never before, where they believe they can stop counties from teaching liberal babble like two plus two equals four.
Right-wing advertising campaigns have already begun, basically saying, “Public schools teach the truth. Are you going to let her get away with it?”
They believe they can keep scientific discoveries under wraps by firing teachers who are on the “wrong side” of climate change or evolution. They want to ban books that offend them, which apparently is all left of Winnie the Pooh.
They seek a return to the textbook era of the 1950s, when those who took up arms against their own country were heroes and slavery, if it existed at all, was good for the black race, which clearly needed the structure and enjoyed.
In the state of Virginia, we’ve seen that Republican lawmakers have such a sloppy understanding of American history that they get it wrong even if they don’t try.
It is not ironic, let alone embarrassing, for conservatives to suggest that a black woman, by definition, will not be as qualified for the Supreme Court as women of other sexes and races; They don’t realize that they just wrote in big block letters the perfect argument for why we need to teach critical race theory.
For some of this, those across the aisle have no one to blame but themselves. When Christmas becomes a “winter holiday” and statues of people of historical importance are melted down, political opponents can be forgiven for failing to see why they should not try to remodel public schools as public purveyors of right-wing propaganda.
The conservatives are right that the public schools are stacked against their faith and the universities are throwing out a disproportionate number of liberals. Education tends to do that to a person.
Could you change that? Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, for example, wants to divert public school funding to 50 Christian charter schools modeled after an obscure, conservative Michigan college with ties to Donald Trump.
This kind of “classic education” wraps history as a happy cause, where no (white) American has ever done anything wrong, and those who address issues like slavery, anti-Semitism, and racism, along with the failure to treat everyone equally and fairly, are treated as spoilsports that get in the way of a good story.
It promises to teach children “civic virtue,” where hating other races and wielding guns are virtues, as are lying, cheating, and stealing when done for the glory of God, who we know has less interest in it , to feed the hungry and to heal the sick as if he had the liberties.
In a word, what makes success doubtful is capitalism. “Re-education” has worked in authoritarian regimes, but only in those whose leaders also control the economy. In America, financial rewards go to those who are actually educated in the humanities and sciences, not to those who have received an Alice-through-the-looking-glass mashup of wild conspiracy theories and truth-avoidance.
A curriculum created by conservative politicians is only good for producing conservative politicians. Fortune 500 companies need people who can shoot figuratively, not literally.
Tim Rowland is a Herald Mail columnist.