Jul 242010
Apparently, there is no end to the things the Tea Party people think the government can’t do properly.  Now, they’re attacking public education — although what I’m talking about is not an overt verbal assault on the education system.  Their hostility to this is implied in the activists’ new project.  They have begun hosting multiple-week classes on economics, civics, and government in local areas around the country.  Most especially, they are now into hosting classes on the Constitution and it’s meaning.  Essentially, this action says two things:  one, they weren’t educated in these to begin with, and two, they are hostile to taking such classes from experts.
From the first, we can deduce that either their civics and social studies courses in high school or college were sorely lacking or that they did not undertake their studies in these subjects seriously then.  I’ll grant you that much of the civics you get in high school is a waste of time.  I don’t know how many times you have to learn to parrot the three branches of government and that our system uses checks and balances to restrain the powers of each, but I learned to recite these ad nauseam.  Yet, there are people on TV who don’t seem to understand how government works, judging from the comments they make.  I think that, largely, civics training in secondary education is so superficial as to be mostly useless and those teaching it aren’t exactly great political theorists.  I know my teachers — in the gifted program no less — never broached anything approaching a deep political statement.  (Once when a student in my class tried to throw me by asking about my theory of the social contract, I pretty much shut him down by breaking out the Ibn Khaldun from the 14th century.  Nice try, kid.)  A solid history class, however, should explain to students what was new about the democracy of the 18th century — and early capitalist theory — and most textbooks do cover this.  From these facts, a smart person could deduce that the Tea Party people just weren’t paying much attention in class back then — even to the rudimentary offerings given to them.  That would be the norm in America, I think, where citizens don’t appreciate the historical training given to them when they are young.  Really, history is wasted on young people.
The latter inference about these Tea Party activists is more interesting and unusual.  If they feel that their education in civic matters is deficient, they could certainly enroll in classes at a local junior college or university — even if not for credit — to supplement their knowledge.  Adult continuing education programs have been around for years.  They are not, however, doing this.  Instead, they are hosting their own classes which are taught by non-professional “experts.”  Anyone familiar with my work would certainly understand that I am highly sympathetic with those who reject professional history, and I agree that an amateur who is self-educated could be an excellent source for information.  I am a little surprised, though, that these activists reject professional political science and economics, as these tend to be heavily dominated by conservatives.  I guess they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater on that one.  Maybe they haven’t rejected professional scholars because of some overt hostility to government employees (as many junior college teachers are) or to their scholarship specifically though.  I think largely they just  assume that the subjects professionals teach will not align with the Tea Party’s interpretation, and, in that case, they are setting up their own courses where they control the information presented.  In essence, the purpose of these classes is to indoctrinate or propagandize by reinforcing their message with “education.”
Or, maybe they haven’t thought about it that thoroughly.  Maybe they didn’t think about continuing education classes as an option.  Or, maybe they don’t live near public schools they could take advantage of.  I smell the rebirth of the Chautauqua movement!  (Look it up.)  Everything old is new again.
 Posted by at 11:47 am
Jul 102010
Rick Buchanan, a Tea Party activist, recently pontificated to a reporter with the Washington Post:  “The founding fathers were very afraid of a central government.”  This from a man organizing a twelve week class for the public on the Constitution — of course, the document that established our central government and even strengthened that from the failure that was a weaker version under the Articles of Confederation.  Less ironically, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia considers himself an “originalist” or one who reads the Constitution according to its original meaning for the founding generation (as he determines it).  Some other unnamed “patriot” who sponsors foundingfathers.com claims to voice the founders’ intent — particularly promoting your right to have a gun in this country.  These few examples illustrate the fervor with which conservative elements in our society promote the importance of the founding fathers’ positions and claim of the primacy of the same.  This rhetoric dominates much of the political conversation these days, and it’s pretty much become heresy to reject this mythic founders’ intent and/or suggest that they were wrong in their stands.  Citing the founders settles all arguments.  Even the ACLU has resorted to this tactic in its attack on government surveillance practices.
A good part of the problem with this veneration of the founders’ intent is that it perpetuates the historical inequalities in our society and fails to recognize that these men were elitists who oppressed others and established a government that protected their ability to do that.  Originally, the only citizens with any political standing were white men of property.  Blacks, Indians, and other minorities were powerless in this system.  They had no civil rights, no recourse to the courts when done wrong, or ability to challenge the status quo.  Women too had no rights.  Like black slaves, they were prohibited from making a contract with others and were the property of their husbands.  Initially, the law even recognized their husbands’ right to beat them — as long as they did not use a stick larger than their thumbs or cause permanent disability.  Women had no claim to their own children and no money of their own.  Things were equally miserable for the disabled and homosexuals.  They were shut away in institutions or punished publicly — humiliated for their “crime.”  Even poor white men were excluded under the system.  They couldn’t vote or run for office and functioned at the mercy of the wealthy men whose personal power dominated society.  The system was designed to give these “best men” the authority to run their communities as they saw fit, and limiting government freed them from restrictions or oversight in doing that.  This practice was born of the belief that wealthy white men were better than others and should be the ones to run society then.  Others were to be neutralized by the law to prevent any threat to their power.
Then, history happened.  The founders’ words were turned against them.  “All men are created equal” came to literally mean all men.  And then, “men” was read figuratively to include women.  Civil rights movements made truth of the democracy the founders established.  Women, minorities, the disabled, and the poor came to have equal footing under the law and in the political system.  While inequities certainly persist, our efforts have gone in the right direction and continue.  Our founding fathers were wrong to exclude the vast majority of Americans and we have rejected their racist, sexist, elitist ways.  We should not be ashamed of this;  we should be proud.  This talk about the intent of our founders is an insult to our history and an offense to our people — including those who were beaten, abused, force fed, and murdered fighting for their equal rights.  The original intent was to discriminate and oppress.  There can be no celebration of that and no call to return to it.  Those who engage in such are the enemies of democracy and the foes of history.  We must want no part of our founders’ aim.
 Posted by at 11:46 pm