At first glance, one can only admire the Arizona Legislature passing, and new Gov. Doug Ducey (my first level Linked In buddy) signing into law a measure mandating that all high-school seniors take a civics class and pass a civics test.
If I remember correctly, everyone at my high school was required to take a semester of civics and another of economics. I took the new test and aced it.
Too much of our education system today is geared to producing workers, cubicle proles in the New Gilded Age, and "consumers." Anything that educates citizens about their rights and responsibilities — and capabilities — is healthy. That Arizona is said to be the first state in the union to take this step is astounding.
So perhaps I should leave it there and let the brightsiders say, "He didn't hate Arizona, for a brief shining moment! Everything's fine, with championship golf!"
It is curious, to say the least, that this legislation didn't go through the usual process of a bill; it was rushed through. That defies good civics. And it was not the brainchild of an elected lawmaker, but part of a program pushed by an outfit called the Joe Foss Institution, based in Scottsdale. Any student of civics knows that such legislation is prone to corruption.
The Joe Foss Institute claims to be a non-partisan organization "dedicated to teaching civics and patriotism to America's students." Maybe it's a coincidence that the "our mission" page features a Ronald Reagan speech. It lists some "partners," including Friends of the NRA, but the money and real agenda is murky.
So we'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
But it will be interesting to see how this plays out. What limitations will be placed on teachers — or will teachers be indoctrinated.
Will a vigorous discussion be allowed on the constitutionality of the Supreme Court deciding the 2000 election (thanks, St. Sandy)? Any civics student knows this should have gone to the House of Representatives.
How about the Patriot Act or Citizens United? Neither pass muster in my reading of the Constitution. Or endless wars that are not declared by Congress, as is required in the Constitution? Is the Constitution a living document or must we always seek original intent?
Will students be taught about slavery and how the Southern states gamed their enslaved populations to give them extra seats in the House and hence the ability to drive much of American policy before the Civil War. Among these were the despicable theft of land in the Southeast of the Five Civilized Tribes, which had been protected by solemn treaties, and the illegal war with Mexico.
There was good old Woodrow Wilson — on a new rebound among historians — throwing war protesters in prison. And FDR — and the Supreme Court — putting Japanese and Japanese-Americans in concentration camps (some built by Del Webb).
Any decent civics course must examine Dred Scott and Plessy vs. Ferguson. Also, Brown vs. Board of Education and Roe vs. Wade. It must also go back to the misty time before the Gingrich revolution when legislation was created through compromise. Will that be allowed in Arizona in a spirit of open inquiry?
And don't forget the notion of an informed citizenry, the reason that freedom of the press was enshrined in the First Amendment. Civics goes together with knowledge of what's happening in the state, nation, and world — and that comes from real journalism, not fiddling with their devices or watching Fox. Will this be demanded, along with rigorous debate?
Or will we soon see teachers being brought before star chambers for daring to teach the many shades of American exceptionalism? Because the role of citizenship and democracy came up in the same lecture or discussion with, say, climate change and government corruption?
In our Cold Civil War, the facts have a liberal bias. And the government that existed when I was seventeen — even with Richard Nixon facing impeachment — has been broken beyond recognition. Broken by big money. Broken by the extremism of the Republican Party.
Finally, we face the paradox that the Legislature quickly passed the civics bill. It will likely do nothing to adequately fund education. And let's not forget the Palinesque new Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Maybe the best we could hope is that teaching the Constitution will subvert the Kook paradigm. Or will this turn into a propaganda program to mint young fascist robots?