At local school board meetings, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, anti-teacher, anti-curriculum speakers make unsubstantiated charges and do not listen to replies. No discussion, no compromise is possible. They are not there to find solutions, they are there to disrupt.
Nationally, wealthy foundations like the Thomas W. Smith Foundation and those supported by Koch brothers petro-dollars, push for state laws banning teaching about race and racism in schools. They specifically target a mythicized enemy, Critical Race Theory, although there is no evidence what they want banned is taught anywhere in American K-12 schools. The proposed laws, modeled on one drafted by the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, would enlist parent vigilantes to monitor all teaching material and root out whatever they do not agree with.
In the United States Senate, every Republican voted “NO” on ending a filibuster that prevented bringing voting rights bills to the floor of the Senate for an up or down majority vote. No discussion, no compromise was possible. Senate Republicans unanimously acted to block democracy.
At the same time, the Republican National Committee plans to require 2024 candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination to agree in advance not to participate in debates organized by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which has organized the televised debates since 1988. It is worth noting that anti-democratic leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán do not participate in open debates either. The RNC also decided that attack on the United States Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 constituted “legitimate political discourse” and censured House Republicans who are participating in Congressional hearings.
I am frightened because blocking discussion, substituting propaganda, and promoting the “Big Lie,” is how democracy ends. Adolf Hitler knew this when he rode to power in Germany in the 1930s. In “Mein Kampf,” his manifesto for seizing power, Hitler wrote, “propaganda must be adjusted to the broad masses in content and in form, and its soundness is to be measured exclusively by its effective result.” Hitler’s goal was power, not discussion, not compromise, and certainly not truth. Once they had achieved power in Germany, the Nazi Party passed laws that allowed the Nazi regime to dictate what newspapers could print.
I am not sure what the answer to all this is. Joe Biden’s promise of building bipartisanship clearly is not working. I do know the first step to finding a solution to deadlock is to recognize that no discussion, no compromise is possible when one side, in this case the rightwing, I prefer to call them the wrong-wing, does not care about truth, does not recognize science, and does not want to find middle ground. It wants the system to fail hoping this opens up the road to power for them.
As a career social studies teacher, first in public high schools and now as a teacher educator at Hofstra University, I have never been interested in indoctrinating students to my ideas. I try to prepare document packages for them to evaluate that include a range of positions, and yes, that also include what I believe. I rarely included my opinion as a high school teacher, even when students ask about it. The goal was for them to formulate their own opinions about the past and present based on evidence, analysis, and discussion. By the way, these are also the stated learning goals of both the New York State social studies framework and the National Council for Social Studies.
If students are convinced of something just because I believe it, I failed as a teacher, and they will likely be convinced of something else just as easily when they have a different teacher or even more likely, hear it on television. Students have many influences, parents, peers, other adults in their lives, television commentators, social media, and maybe even newspapers.
Teachers have a lot less influence than our accusers believe we have, which is unfortunate, because education may be the only thing that can save democracy in the United States.
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