Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Extremist war on education

          Few things push my buttons faster and harder than attacks on a solid fact based education system. Evolution v."Intelligent Design"(Creationism dressed up as science) garners the headlines. It's sexy. It sells. It brings to mind the Scope's trial and "Inherit The Wind". What flies under the radar is the attack on traditional education itself as a secular plot to destroy conservative thought and religion.( Conservative Christianity)
There is a long tradition of contempt and mistrust of education in America's history. It may come from the educated elite dominating society at the expense of the agrarian, frontier nation we were at our founding. Socioeconomic control of the many by the wealthy, powerful few is nothing new. Farmers in hock to banks for seed money and the Company Store come to mind easily. As does market manipulation, slave wages and laissez faire Governmental policies. There was adequate reason to hold the elite in contempt and mistrust them.
Education on the frontier was seen as a necessary evil. It was felt all that a person needed was to know how to sign your name, rudimentary reading skills, enough math to figure what you owed, was owed you and market value of your crop. Anything else was superfluous. When day to day survival is front and center an expansive education is seen as an unneeded luxury.
Among the populace was a tradition of not being educated to overcome. My Daddy did OK without book learning. I'm doing OK without book learning. And boy, you'll do just fine too.
Even with this attitude education was seen as a vital Government function. During the expansion of the frontier land was set aside by law for the establishment of schools. This was the embodiment of the Jeffersonian idea that an educated population, exposed to new ideas would be able to work out their differences and move the nation forward.
As the Nation grew the benefits of education was recognized. Families realized if their children were educated life would have more opportunity for them. The general curve of an educated populace has historically been upward.
Following WWII the dominance of the American manufacturing prowess was based solely on having the best educated workforce on the planet. Our schools and Universities set the bar for everyone else. The explosive growth of the American Middle Class drove the engine of industry and fostered the goal of universal education for all.
The GI Bill enabled millions to obtain a post secondary education when it had been only a dream for their forebears. An educated America was pivotal in the improvement of the health and welfare of the nation.
So why the Conservative war on education now?
There seems to be an unforeseen side effect of a good, solid learning experience. Educated people seem to be more liberal and progressive. It must be a secular plot to destroy America.
There has been an idea in mainstream conservative thought since Buckley that American Universities are dominated by a liberal elite intent on indoctrination. This is called education. As one is taught critical thinking and are exposed to new and varied ideas your outlook evolves. As you learn old misconceptions are exposed and usually rejected. This is what happens as you learn.
Now the political idea that there is a secret American History not being taught is gaining acceptance in local and State Governments. You have people like David Barton and Glen Beck pushing it's a liberal, secular conspiracy to hide the truth. They have no credentials, knowledge of, standing, grasp of history or historical context. In other words, clueless.
OK, I admit history tends to be written by the winners. However that's where research and scholarship comes in. The purpose of a historian is to sift through the bias of contemporary accounts to glean what was actually happening and WHY. See, if you understand the why you should be able to avoid it happening again. That is the forlorn dream of us who are interested in History.
Beck is a big fan of a worldwide secular conspiracy to reestablish the Caliphate. Let's pretend that idea isn't totally absurd to start with.
What Beck, through intention or ignorance never mentions is what existed under the golden age of the Caliphate.
While Europe was engulfed in the Dark Ages following the collapse of Rome there was a shining light of science and knowledge in the world. It was the Arab world. The Islamic world.
Algebra is an Arabic word. We use Arabic numerals rather than the limited, unwieldy Roman numerals. Science, mathematics, art, architecture and the preservation of knowledge flourished. The Caliphate was the center of intellectualism in a dark western world.
What happened? (See? The why.)
Religious fundamentalism is the short answer. The systematic rejection of anything that conflicts with religious dogma. This is a historical lesson modern Americans need to take to heart, burn into their brains and teach our children.
We see this constantly now. Science denial is rampant, based on religion. Today my focus is on history. And historical denial is also rampant for the same reasons.
The most prevalent myth being pushed as fact is The American Revolution was a conservative movement founded on taxes and the desire to establish a "Christian" nation. The vaunted shining city on the hill.
The activists that pushed the Colonies into open rebellion against the Crown were radical men from Massachusetts. They were the first to openly take up arms against the British Army.
In the Continental Congress in Philadelphia the idea was to find a political accommodation with the Crown. The very concept of declaring independence and establishing a new Nation was alien during the height of Colonial Empires. It had never been done.
The delegates anger over taxes were that they were imposed with no input from these American Colonial subjects of His Majesty. Taxation without representation. They knew taxes were needed for Government to function. These men knew a standing army was needed to protect from internal and external threats. A standing army was expensive to maintain.With this came other unilateral affronts. They wanted seats in Parliament. They wanted a voice in governing these disparate Colonies. They wanted the rights of full British citizenship. The founders didn't care to be second class citizens.
These Delegates were the best educated, most influential men in The Colonies for the most part. There were brilliant orators. There were consummate politicians. There were the best and brightest. There were also political sycophants, intellectual dullards and fools. The trick was consensus building.
In this mix was an abrasive radical firebrand, John Adams. He represented the hotbed of American radicalism. Boston. It's safe to say without Adams' constant cajoling, his annoying persistence and drive the Revolution may not have happened or would have been an entirely different rebellion.
These Founding fathers were well educated men and products of their time. They were living in the middle of the Enlightenment or the Great Awakening. Thousands of years of traditional political thought was being rejected wholesale. Divine Right monarchy was no longer seen as the preordained natural order of things. Science and reason was replacing blind faith. They saw themselves as Humanists. Secular Deists.
They mistrusted organized religion. They mistrusted an absolutist government with no checks and balances on the whims of a King.
The Monarchical whims pushed these men into the realization a political solution to the Colonies grievances were unlikely.
The armed rebellion began in Boston resulted in widespread British retaliation. An army was raised and the conflict was lit. And this was not an extremely popular course of action.
A third of the population remained loyal to the Crown.They were the actual conservatives(Listening Misters Barton and Beck?)Most fled to Britain or Canada.
A third didn't care one way or another. A traditional American political reaction.
So, the great rebellion consisted of a third of the people. (I am proud to say I had Ancestors who were armed participants and members of the Continental Army. Irishmen,so taking up arms against the Brits wasn't that big of a stretch.)
So the history deniers claims this war was only about taxes and religion is not accurate at all. There were strong liberal and radical philosophical underpinnings. It is never as simple as the misinformed make it.
Without extensive military aid from France the Revolution would likely have failed. That sound you hear is GOP heads exploding re: France.
After the war a means of governing these former colonies had to be devised. There was no real precedent. Previous documents were examined and had varying degrees of influence. The Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, The Declaration Of Independence, The Virginia Charters and statute of Religious Freedom among others were consulted. The result was the Articles of Confederation. A weak central Government with strong, semi-autonomous States. This was an abject failure.
A group of delegates gathered in Philadelphia to fix it. Upon examination they decided it was beyond repair and scrapped it. They exceeded their authority and wrote The Constitution.

James Madison and others knew they had to mount a PR blitz to sell this strong central government plan to the States. Hence the Federalist papers. These essays outlined the advantage of a Federal Government that was superior over the rights of States.
It was a hard fought process. There were vicious political battles. An attempt by Adams and the Mass. delegation to outlaw slavery was swatted down. As was an attempt by the lower population slave States to have slaves counted as population for apportionment of Congressional seats.A rather awful compromise was reached. Slaves would count as 3/5 of a white person for apportionment purposes. Given the historical context of the times I am amazed a workable compromise was actually reached In political deal making ten amendments to this document were added to ensure rapid ratification.
Something to remember two centuries later is the Framers expressly forbade any religious test for political office. The establishment of a State Religion was forbidden. God and religious law are absent from the finished document. This was not an oversight.
The Colonies had harsh experience with religious rule. The Puritans of New England. They actually outlawed Christmas. Hey O'Reilly, the first war on Christmas was waged by the CHURCH!! Then there were those pesky witch burnings. Positions went to people simply because they were a member of the correct church.Those pacifist Quakers were viewed as the Mormons are today.
Mr. Beck, Mr. Barton, Ms. Palin and Representative Bachman what lessons can we take from this? America was not founded as a Christian Theocracy. Sorry to annoy you with established facts. Also the Framers were not early Abolitionists hellbent on freeing the saves. Again, Sorry.
The Framers relied on liberal and radical political thought to create the Constitution.. OOOOPS.
What can we do about what is going on. Again all politics are local.
Pay attention to your local school board elections. See how the candidates stand on fact versus myth. Truth versus ideological indoctrination. Expose the creationist/revisionist farce for what it it is. Keep them out of office. The same goes for places where the State Board is elected not appointed. If appointed go after and get the attention of the appointers.
Remind everyone how strong and prosperous America was when education was completely fact based and accessible. Remind people the strength we gain from an affordable College education system here.
Call out those in power who ridicule, denigrate and oppose real education and teaching of critical thinking skills.
If they think public education is expensive inform them the cost of ignorance is staggering in economic and social terms.
A good liberal arts education gives you access to the truth.
And the truth will set you free.
Maybe that's the real fear.

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