This week Michigan Senator Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) introduced a set of bills to in part, prevent “censorship of our founding documents” (SB 120). Typical stuff . While that can be dismissed as the usual hot air of political posturing, one of the other bills is more substantive, one (SB 423)
establishes requirements for schools to incorporate teaching provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the Michigan state constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and would require the Michigan Department of Education to incorporate those subjects into standardized testing of students.
Left unsaid in MLive, was that our Senator Mark Jansen stepped up as a co-sponsor.
It is a measure, in short, right out of the concerns (and playbook) of social conservatives. At its heart it wants to create an educational space for God, anti-Federalism, and free enterprise. It’s the standard issue stuff of old time southern populism, and not surprisingly, it can be found in ALEC’s book of model legislation. We’ve seen this before.
There is a healthy irony here, where otherwise education-skeptical, limited government conservatives stand up and mandate educational requirements. Then again, it perhaps unintentionally reveals a view of education in the conservative heart. Schools are seen as singularly powerful, absent the cultural considerations (poverty, race, etc.), so what is taught or not taught can then become the determiner of our social life. Education is not only ideological, but presently teaching the wrong ideology, the ideology of the elites rather than the presumed normative stance of the non-ideological, neutral stance of the average citizen.
So it is, that the recipe for fixing what is wrong in American education must turn about changing its ideological heart by teaching
America’s founding documents, including documents that contributed to the foundation or maintenance of America’s representative form of limited government, the Bill of Rights, our free-market economic system, and patriotism. (SB 120)
Yet even a cursory review reveals what’s missing: the total absence of any of the great national documents regarding African Americans. Well, yes, in politeness, they did leave off the bit about slaves being worth only 3/5 a vote in the original Constitution (that was white of them), but where is the insistence that children of this state learn about the Emancipation Proclamation? Or the Lincoln’s great Second Inaugural. Or for that matter, the Gettysburg Address? For a party that once championed, bled and died for these great truths, this is a peculiar omission.
And this provides the other head-scratching item: it would have been so simple, so obvious, such an easy play for shoring up Republican image before minorities. But that omission is not a flaw, but a feature of the underlying ideology. The southern populist view of education is forged in the Jim Crow era with the educational disenfranchisement of blacks, America and its schools were self-evidently for whites. In contrast, the educational vision of Michigan rooted in the Northwest Ordinance was always broader, bigger, bolder. Although Michigan residents could be every bit as prejudiced as the southern populists, the schools were shaped by the Federalist (not the anti-Federalist) vision of republican virtue and equality.