Textbook Controversy Outs New Secessionists


…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive…it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government… – Declaration of Independence, 1776

Beneath the cold ground of snow-battered Rhode Island lies the body of 19th Century educational reformist and legislator Horace Mann.

Mann was lukewarm on religion, but if it turns out there’s an afterlife and the dearly departed are watching on from some celestial balcony, then the “Father of the Common School Movement” must be vexed and perplexed as the public school system he championed is slowly dismantled by the stealthier wing of the new secessionists.

At core, all new secessionist strains are based on highly selective, pretzel-logic “right to revolt” applications of the Declaration. But not all who subscribe to these distortions are the uber-conservative political outsiders who want to break ranks over legal weed in Colorado or resurrect an antebellum-style neo-Confederacy.

To the contrary. Per the case here in Florida, the folks most adept in eroding what’s left of the political, social and educational ties that bind are consummate insiders: Hard-right, state level officials like Senator Alan Hays, architect of a bill that would transfer adoption of all school textbooks from state to local boards.

Hays’ play is Republican bait-and-switch populism at its finest.

On its face, the measure has the ring of common sense: Why not let those closest to their local schools – boards, administrators, teachers and parents – determine which curricula best transmit their values and prepare their students for productive futures?

But before Floridians answer that question they should know that missing from the spin Hays and his Senate buds are putting on the public narrative is an inconvenient back story; namely, that irate parents and school teachers precipitated the bill with claims the highly regarded world history textbook selected by the state proffered a “pro-Islam bias.”

Tampa Bay Times columnist Daniel Ruth debunked that claim with investigative reporting indicating material on Islamic-related history covers all of one 33-page chapter among a total of 34 others – hardly a formula for warping young minds and recruiting Al Qaeda operatives.

This is the very definition of political “half-truthing”; yet hardly the first time in the modern age an opportunistic Republican used Red Scare xenophobia as reelection fodder. But more foreboding is the broader, 21st-Century secessionist back story behind the back story, in which runaway localism is eating away at American esprit de corps, straining to the point of breaking the commonalities that hold us.

Alarmist as it once may have sounded, there is a proliferation of genteel, democratically elected new secessionists like Alan Hays who want to take historic anti-federalist theory one step further by rejecting state as well as federal allegiance and authority.

Theirs is an ideology-driven, semi-isolationist localism that resonates with partisans and in partnership with Republican state executive branches rejects programs that would benefit their own constituents: funding for preschools, infrastructure grants, disaster relief and health care exchanges. This brand of conservative new secessionism has no titular head, no army and no battle plan beyond bending the Constitution in the interest of their slow but steady assault on common-good institutions like public education.

As with its cousin the tea party, conservative secessionism abhors too much direct attention – it relies on an air of detachment for its ability to adapt to any opportunity that arises.

But should that change, let me offer a suggestion for an official slogan: “If You Can’t Opt Out of Washington and (fill in your state here), Opt Out of Every Damn Thing Else!”

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Tarpon Springs, Fla. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2014


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