A Lesson In Education and Politics
A great poet named Horace famously once wrote, "Art is long, life is short."
Our creations, our words, and our deeds may well outlast us. It is almost
certain they will, no matter how grand, banal, or shoddy they are – for some
stretch of time, what we make and do will outlast us.
My life is far too short at this point to waste on anything I do not find at
least amusing and productive. I am 40; soon, if I live, I may be 41. My life is
at the very least half over. Soon enough, I will be gone like vapor burning off
in the morning sun. If anything is left behind of me, it won’t be a name – it
will be the echoes of my thoughts, my art, my actions, my writing. And soon
enough these will fade as well, their ghosts perhaps speaking to someone whom I
will never know and who will never know me.
I set out an open challenge a couple of weeks ago by stating as plainly as I
know how some of my political beliefs and a few of the reasons behind my
beliefs. In the course of stating my ideas, I attempted to show why voting for
Republicans has turned into a terrible idea on many levels: economically,
morally, legally, practically.
I did not expect agreement; when anyone agrees with anything I say I feel both
honored and bewildered. I grew up in Lumpkin County – I have never been her
favorite son. I rarely associate with the right people; I’ve always had a
problem standing up when I’ve been told to sit down; I speak my mind, have my
own ideas, and I pay the price. I don’t expect any better. But whenever I
challenge others’ beliefs and am not writing comedy or satire, I address their
beliefs -- should others decide to defend their beliefs, I expect them to
address my beliefs and give good reasons why I am wrong.
Indeed, I expect far too much.
Of course, what I received in return for my labors and honesty were two males,
probably over the age of 21, putting into writing the literary equivalent of
picking your nose, blowing spit bubbles, and passing gas in public. "Wheee! Look
at me, look at me!" Okay, I looked. My response is, if you want to play with the
big boys come out and act like one of the big boys. Otherwise, excuse my yawn.
I threw out a challenge; I got back nothing worth wasting my time on. So I guess
I will have to continue by simply addressing some of the points I originally
made in a little more detail.
I think the state of education as it has "progressed" over the last 26 years of
extremist conservative rule is a nice place to start.
And why start on the national level? After the article in the 28 June New York
Times article that really put Dahlonega on the map in a way no one should be
proud of, education in Lumpkin County is a good place to begin. (To see the
article for yourself, the web address is:
In a nutshell, a biology teacher who by all accounts is one of the best teachers
in the school system was harassed by parents and her principal for daring to
teach biology. Of course, the parents, evidently misinformed about the nature of
science in general and biology in particular, assumed one can be taught biology
without its central theory, the one that holds the entire science together.
Unfortunately, that theory is called evolution, and many people have been so
thoroughly propagandized about it by people who neither understand it nor modern
science (and, no, I am not impressed with the Ph.D.s that one may cite who don’t
understand the basic concept, either), that when they hear the very word their
minds shut down and emotions run high.
And then there was the principal who went a little further. For some reason, the
principal got real interested in the teacher’s religious beliefs asking whether
she believes "every word in the Bible is true" -- one supposed "literally true."
One supposes this implies that the six-day creation story is what the educator
should have been supporting, not all this far-fetched nonsense about
evolutionary change, natural selection, nor the geological evidence that the
Earth and her inhabitants reached their present form in billions and billions
and billions of years. Not six days. The teacher, unhappy that the question was
asked or even pertinent to her task, wished the superintendent, a Mr. Dewy Moye,
to do his job.
This would have required Mr. Moye to "run interference" with the parents and
discipline the principal. Yes, parents have a right and duty to ask questions
about their child’s education. But, unless a teacher is presenting material to a
classroom that is truly bizarre and completely outside the accepted
understanding of the subject, parents need to be talking with their school board
and superintendent who should be able to explain the curriculum, the laws, why
classes are the way they are. And in the science of biology, evolution is an
accepted theory and is so common to the entire enterprise that to call it
"bizarre" is itself odd. To become upset because evolution is "merely a theory"
is exactly like someone becoming upset that physics teaches "the theory of
gravity." These theories are the best scientific explanations we have for
certain phenomena; these theories have passed and continue to pass examination
and prove very useful. We have no reason to discard them. If we discarded
everything that is a "mere theory," we would know nothing outside our immediate
intuitions – we would cease to be humans.
Mr. Moye did not run the interference. The rest of the story can be read in 28
June New York Times and in the 5 July Dahlonega Nugget. So what’s my point in
retelling the story? That the bare fact there are brick buildings called schools
scattered all over a county does not guarantee that teaching or learning is
going on inside them. It doesn’t guarantee that the people in charge of the
schools, from the funding to the management, care about anything except staying
in positions of power. Or know a damn thing about what a decent education might
look like. Since the conservatives took control nationally and locally, the
dropout rate has gone straight through the roof; we graduate lass than half our
students in America. "No Child Left Behind?" It looks more to me like
A school that has given evidence that it does not trust and listen to its hired
expert – that would be the teacher – and perhaps is willing to slide in a
fundamentalist fantasy in place of law-ordered standards and scientific theories
is liable to do the same in any subject where similar fantasies could be
inserted. No, something like algebra is quite safe at the moment. Fooling around
with math is difficult. But what if the subject was history or political
science? Maybe we quit talking about Nixon and Iran Contra and the
destabilization of the Middle East. Or the First Amendment. Maybe we start
teaching that the Founding Fathers were mainly Puritans and interested in
founding a Puritan-oriented "Christian State."
Believe I’m being far-fetched? I received in the mail a book endorsed by and
quoting many, many authors and preachers from the Religious Right who cry this
is exactly what needs to be done in our public schools. That along with abolish
the teaching of "Godless Atheism" and something they call "Humanism." Go look up
"Humanism" – that’s that nasty, rational way of looking at things that prevailed
amongst the Ancient Greeks and returned with the Renaissance. It sits firmly at
the origins of Protestantism, oddly enough.
Forgive the digression. My point is, there are people who want to turn the
public schools into houses of neo-conservative and fundamentalist propaganda.
Simultaneously, many don’t want to pay any taxes to support public schools that
teach things like evolution because "they don’t believe in it" nor do they
believe they have any responsibility to educate children capable of thinking on
their own, logically, clearly, able to read and interpret books, with some idea
of what the world they live in is like. In other words, they don’t believe they
have any responsibility to support the education of a good citizen.
Perhaps none of this is what is going on in Lumpkin County’s schools. Perhaps
we’re just looking at ill-considered misuse of power and the public trust. Maybe
this isn’t a few people in authority influenced by ideas they need to go put
into effect in a private, not a public school. But it resembles what is going on
around the country. It is what has been going on starting 26 years ago and it
will not stop until the Republicans lose their death-grip on state legislatures,
on governor’s seats, on Congress, on the White House, and on the Judiciary.
You are not going to end one party rule and the extremism it engenders by
continuing to vote for Republicans. And the education of our children will
continue to suffer for it.