Legislating History, Legislating Science, Legislating Reality

Much of what is coming from the Far Right these days could come straight out of George Orwell or Jonathan Swift.

An Oklahoma legislative committee has just voted to forward to the legislature a bill eliminating the funding for Advanced Placement history courses. In fact, the overwhelming demonstration of support for that bill both within the committee and in the broader legislature has prodded legislators to introduce a bill eliminating funding for all Advanced Placement courses.


The following explanation is offered by Think Progress [http://thinkprogress.org/education/2015/02/17/3623683/oklahoma-lawmakers-vote-overwhleming-ban-advanced-placement-history-class/]:

“An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students ‘what is bad about America.’ Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

“Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) has introduced ‘emergency’ legislation ‘prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.’ Fisher is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues ‘the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.’ The group attacks the ‘false wall of separation of church and state.’ The Black Robe Regiment claims that a ‘growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.’

“Fisher said the Advanced Placement history class fails to teach ‘American exceptionalism.’ The bill passed the Oklahoma House Education committee on Monday on a vote of 11-4. You can read the actual course description for the course here.”

I was tempted to make a spirited defense of Advanced Placement courses and an argument for the need to keep the teaching of history as far removed as possible from parochial politics and religion.

But, I think that it is time to stop legitimizing the ridiculous statements and actions by those on the Far Right by treating them as anything worthy of a serious counter-argument.

So, let me just point out that Fisher and his cronies want to mandate that, instead of Advanced Placement history, students in Oklahoma be exposed to what they are calling the “Founding Documents,” which in their meaning of the phrase will include the Ten Commandments, the New Testament, and a handful of speeches by Ronald Reagan. Yes, that’s right, apparently Reagan’s influence was so profound that the Founding Fathers anticipated what he’d have to say about what it means to be American.

By the way, if you didn’t click on the link in the excerpt from the Think Progress piecehere are the opening paragraphs of the Black Robe Regiment’s website:

“The Black Robe Regiment is a resource and networking entity where church leaders and laypeople can network and educate themselves as to our biblical responsibility to stand up for our Lord and Savior and to protect the freedoms and liberties granted to a moral people in the divinely inspired US Constitution. The Regiment had its historical beginnings during the Revolutionary War when Pastors from across the colonies arose and lead their congregations into the battle for freedom. Unlike today, the church during this time served as the center-point for  political debate and discussion on the relevant news of the day. Today’s church leaders have all but lost that concept of leading their congregations in a Godly manner in all aspects of their worldly existence and are afraid to speak out against the progressive agenda that has dominated our political system for the past century. Through this time the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists. The false wall of separation of church and state has been constructed in such a manner that most are unaware of its limited boundaries. The church and the body of Christ has been attacked on all fronts and challenged by the progressive courts and groups such as the ACLU while we have sat idle in consent.

“The time has come that we must now arise and awaken to the danger of this hyper-progressive agenda that so permeates every aspect of our political, legal, and educational systems. It is time now to educate ourselves and push back against the erosion of our freedoms and liberties and restore the constitutional authority back to all aspects of our governance. It will take the leaders of our churches to shepherd their flocks as did their predecessors during our first fight for liberty.

“It is in this spirit that we have created this site. It is to serve as a resource and reference for church leaders and laypeople alike. It is to be a portal for Christians to  communicate and network in order to restore the body of Christ to its rightful position of tolerant leadership in all aspects of our government.”

If you have managed to actually read through this at all carefully, the phrase “tolerant leadership” should come as quite the surprise at the end of it.

And if all of this seems just like some craziness out of Oklahoma, sorry, but, as the piece from Think Progress notes, Far-Right legislators in Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina are introducing very similar bills. And a statement issued last year by the Republican National Committee provided the impetus for this rash of bills because it included the inflammatory declaration that the Advanced Placement history test “deliberately distorts or edits out important historical events.”

Never mind that the material being tested has not been significantly altered for years.

Never mind that Fisher and other Far Right ideologues have embraced not this painting of the Founding Fathers–

Constitutional Convention

but this one–

Jesus w Founding Fathers

I guess if we are adding the Ten Commandments to the “Founding Documents,” this figure have to be added to the painting:

Heston as Moses

From a Far-Right perspective, it would be a kind of “two-fer,” suggesting not only that the Ten Commandments were in the forefront of the Founders’ minds as they drafted the Constitution but also that many of them may have been members of the NRA.

And we will also have to add President Reagan to the mix. I would like to suggest that this photo be used, just to get a rise out of the anti-Evolution folks:

Reagan as Bonzo

For those who don’t recall the plot of the film Bedtime for Bonzo, Reagan plays a university psychologist who is experimentally exploring the “nature vs. nurture” issue by attempting to teach morals to a chimpanzee. Given the Far-Right denunciation of evolution, should he even have been trying to do that?

And, as if to demonstrate that this sort of mindset—to make intellectual disciplines conform to political ideologies and religious beliefs, not to teach morals to chimpanzees–extends far beyond the individual states and issues related to educational standards, the U.S. Congress recently voted on whether climate change is occurring.

Yes, the members of the Senate and House recently voted on whether they will regard a conclusion reached by a consensus of scientists worldwide as having sufficient merit for them to endorse it. Whether they would recognize it or not, they were in effect accepting the premise that if they voted against the reality of climate change, then it would simply not exist.

That, in itself, is absolutely absurd.

But what is even more absurd is that, for religious and/or political reasons, they stripped the resolution of the language that indicated that human activities have been a major contributing cause of the changing climate.

So, in effect, they somehow managed to do the impossible: to make an absolutely meaningless vote even more meaningless.

And why are they so willing to expose themselves to very deserved ridicule? Because, not coincidentally, the industries that are the major producers of greenhouse gasses have very deep pockets when it comes to lobbying lawmakers and contributing to their political campaigns. And because a growing number of those lawmakers are ideological purists and/or religious fundamentalists for whom there is no catastrophe worse than countenancing even the slightest doubt about their own doctrinaire beliefs.

And yet, these absolutists are willing to declare, without any apparent uneasiness whatsoever, that when it comes to defending democracy and freedom of thought, they are in the vanguard.

Again, one can only imagine what Orwell or Swift would have done with this sort of material.

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