It's poisoning not just public education, but issues from pollution to foreign policy. They really think if you don't call attention to a toxic mess, it will go away - or at least the people complaining about it will go away. They really think if you just keep proclaiming America is the greatest nation ever, that will make it true.
But there is an even more crucial factor at play here: American conservatism’s historic addiction to the power of positive thinking.That's the conservative weakness liberals can't seem to exploit: the pants-shitting fear of everything and refusal to face facts.
“It doesn’t emphasize any positive things,” said Jane Robbins, a fellow at something called the American Principles Project. “History class, echoed Julie Williams, the leader of the Jefferson County School Board’s three-member conservative majority, should predominantly concern “present positive aspects of the United States.”
And that, above all, is what pushed conservative buttons the hardest.
The cult of optimism in education is an old impulse on the right. In 1967, the target was the eighth grade text Land of the Free by the esteemed African-American historian John Hope Franklin. Pasadena’s “Land of the Free Committee” said the book’s “negative thought models” would give our children a “guilt complex.”
Acolytes availed themselves of a clause in the Supreme Court’s anti-pornography Miller v. California decision giving municipalities the right to ban expression violating “contemporary community standards”; thus armed, a Ridgefield, Connecticut, school board banned Mike Royko’s biography of Mayor William J. Daley, Boss, explaining that it “portrays politics in an un-American way and we don’t want our kids to know about such things as corrupt politics”—a particularly neat example of the right-wing tendency to confuse patriotism with burying your head in the sand.
SNIPLiberals—including those who might not even self-identify as such, since a vision of patriotism that insists on civic self-criticism is indeed ineluctably liberal, just as the conservatives charge—counter with the civic value of history that provides “a full measure of truth about our promises and our problems as Americans” (the president of the California Council of Social Studies, speaking in 1967), asking questions like, “Does that mean we’re going to eliminate slavery from class discussions, because that wasn’t a particularly positive time in our history?” (Jefferson County’s PTA president, just last month).
But the underlying war will continue. Because whistling past the graveyard has become as much a part of the right wing’s political religion as, well, religion.
Which is funny. I thought conservatives were supposed to believe in America. Don’t they believe it’s strong enough to teach our kids how to think like grownups?