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.