I confess, I’m going to miss him, but the other day our most conservative representative in our State House was out carrying water for the corporate Right. As the Press reported:
State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, says kids are graduating from high school without a sound education in our constitutional underpinnings.
He and 22 Republican co-sponsors have introduced a bill mandating the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are taught in public schools.
His bill also calls for a daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
I had earlier snarked that “there’s nothing I like saying more than liberty and justice for all,” but that misses the other mischief that’s underway.
For of course, Rep. Agema has no intention of promoting the actual study of the Bill of Rights or of the Declaration, let alone the Constitution. This is, shall we say, something of a rigged curriculum that he advocates. His bill (HB 5240) not only specifies that the documents should be taught, but the correct interpretation, as well. My personal favorite principle is
and the principles of a strong defense capability
Though I confess that rivaling it were the advocacy of both the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist papers. As the song goes, “first you say you do, and then you don’t.” For a measure that intends to push for recovery of foundational principles this borders on the incoherent.
One explanation for this is that Rep. Agema is simply carrying water for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — one of the opaque mischief makers advocating “model” legislation. Among their suggested bills, one Founding Principles Act, with its leading proviso:
(A) Local boards of education shall require during the high school years the teaching of a semester course on:
(1) the philosophical foundations of our form of government, and
(2) the principles underlying the Declaration of Independence , the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the writings of the Founders, which are the principles of government for a free people and are known as the” Founders’ Principles.
Though of course, as we’ve seen, Rep. Agema must do them one better with even more patriotism (a flag in every classroom plus the daily Pledge), and an even more explicit orthodoxy.
Much as I like a good political conspiracy, it doesn’t seem that the representative is completely following the ALEC playbook here.
What’s going on is something sadder, a distrust of the very principles that he seeks to enshrine. He wants the Right answers to constitutional questions, not as a matter of study or of history, but of ideology. The founding principles, the very manner of debate points to a plurality of political viewpoints. If we are to Pledge to a nation with liberty and justice for all, that “all” becomes corrosive of orthodoxies, or the narrow reading of principles. “All” stands against those who would limit the rights of religious believers — as Rep. Agema has advocated; that “All” also pushes against the restriction of marriage, again as the representative and other conservatives have argued. That “All” also wants to have maximum participation in our elections, and maximum opportunity for our children in their schools. That “all” is one very powerful word.
It may finally be that Rep. Agema like others believes that the truths rest in the words — a nominalist and even post-modern assumption. The irony being that in standing up for principles of freedom, he in fact ends up shackling that very freedom.