Windmillin'

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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Singing from the populist songbook

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.

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Filed under: Horace Mann, Republican Folly, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Leaving Wooden Shoes Behind

News this last month was the nomination of Dr. Michael Le Roy as the next president of Calvin College, a move that is both a recognition of shifts, as well as a portent of further shifts in the relation of Calvin College to the community, and of course, to its politics.

The striking characteristic of Dr. Le Roy is his lack of connection with either Calvin College or its supporting institution, the Christian Reformed Church. Sympathetic observers may see the move as signaling a softening in the conservatism of the Christian Reformed community, however they would be mistaken.

As a practical matter, the appointment of someone from outside the supporting community is something of an inevitability, now with more than 50 percent of the enrollment come from non-Christian Reformed backgrounds. While some imagine that this will bring the college closer into the broad liberal arts tradition, the reality of the enrollment pattern has instead pushed it closer to the American Evangelical church. That’s not all bad, as there is a minority progressive tilt among young evangelicals (say in the neighborhood of 30 percent). A less “Dutch” Calvin is a Calvin less bound to the folkways and reflexive politics of the original supporting community.

But the truth is, that supporting community — this network of churches, schools, institutions and associations– is going nowhere. Even with a new college president, they remain archly conservative, as  the recent actions of Sen. Mark Jansen have demonstrated. It’s not going anywhere.

Yet while the supporting community (this Windmill) remains staunchly conservative, the presidential nomination does signal several changes for the interaction between the College and the community. Three changes would appear to lie ahead in the relation of the college and the community. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, , , , , , , , ,

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