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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Public indoctrination

    Senate Bill 1108 started off as an innocuous bill, a simple measure designed to readjust Homeland Security advisory councils in the state of Arizona.

    Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the state legislature, and the bill has suddenly become one of the more ludicrous pieces of legislation to emerge since Mississippi tried to ban fat people from eating out at restaurants.

    The bill’s new architect, Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, is now focused on education – or not. The first clause of the new bill declares that, “”A primary purpose of public education is to inculcate values of American citizenship.”” Other synonyms for “”inculcate,”” according to Roget’s Thesaurus, include “”drill,”” “”drive,”” “”indoctrinate”” and “”pound into.”” That sounds about right.

    It follows logically that if we are brain washi… ahem, “”inculcating”” our children, we must be sure that we only get the right ideas in their head. But what are the “”right”” ideas? Thankfully, Sen. Pearce spells it out: “”Public tax dollars used in public schools (which include the state’s universities) should not be used to denigrate American values and the teachings of western civilization.””

    Thank goodness. Of course, given the state of our public schools, odds are that few will know exactly what these so-called “”American values”” and “”teaching of western civilization”” are. Yet Sen. Pearce is not prone to circumlocution, and states what seem to be the main pillars of western civilization: “”including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious toleration.”” Public schools are forbidden from teaching materials that openly “”denigrate, disparage or overtly encourage dissent”” from these values.

    Of course, this takes out the nation’s finest journalist, Henry Mencken, who denounced democracy as, “”the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.”” It also eliminates that anti-American zealot Benjamin Franklin, who declared that, “”Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.””

    But Sen. Pearce loves his Founding Fathers, so he has conveniently left in a clause allowing for the teaching of such dangerous ideas as republicanism, so long as the class as a whole, “”does not denigrate, disparage or overtly encourage dissent from the values of American democracy and western civilization.”” We can teach the anti-Federalists, so long as we admit that there was no way the Constitution abrogated too much authority. We can present Garet Garrett’s “”Salvos Against the New Deal,”” so long as we admit that President Roosevelt really did save capitalism and America (but wait: doesn’t supporting the New Deal mean “”denigrating”” that western civilization value of capitalism?).

    The bill is convoluted at best. Yet to Sen. Pearce’s credit, his bill hints at two incredibly important ideas, ideas that he himself probably didn’t realize as he wrote this. First is his hinting at the essential principle of “”pluralism.”” Ignoring the riddle of enforcing the idea of “”pluralism”” through a state mandate (it’s better for your health if you do), it’s worth noting that pluralism, whether known as “”federalism”” or a mere plurality of ideas, is indeed an important American value. One of the supporters of the bill, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, urges a return to “”melting-pot”” cultural studies. Yet the success of a melting-pot culture involves a cornucopia of ingredients that stew together for a long period of time, rather than being forced through the model 1108 blender that leaves everything a congealed mess. This stewing of ideas is the great success of American culture, an intellectual freedom unparalleled. You can simultaneously read Sayyid Qutb and Henry Thoreau, Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Postrel. The free exchange of such wildly diverse ideas creates new, better ideas, which is why the vast majority of intellectuals either originate or migrate to this country.

    Of course, these considerations do little to remove the sting of Arizona being the declaimed “”dumbest”” state in the union. Is it American values we’re missing? Perhaps it is that value of “”capitalism,”” so often praised and so little practiced. While our public universities compete in an education marketplace, and by and large succeed, our K-12 programs are still mandated by top-down policies such as Sen. Pearce’s. Rather than enhancing Arizona students’ education, the state instead opts to politicize their inculcation.

    Ironically enough, Sen. Pearce supports school choice on his Web site, saying that, “”In addition, all parents should have a choice of where to send their children to school, not just the wealthy … School choice needs to be there for all parents.”” Yet rather than actively pushing for choice-based education measures, Sen. Pearce has instead devoted himself to becoming the state’s education commissar. Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on Sen. Pearce, though; he might just be exercising his own form of “”pluralism.””

    Evan Lisull is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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