February 27, 2022

Bob Shepherd: You Thought the Scopes Trial Was Something? Well, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

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Bob Shepherd blogs about Tennessee Governor Lee’s plan to bring in conservative Hillsdale College to launch 50 new charter schools.

I’ve just been reading through this stuff from Hillsdale, which is supposed to be a combination American History and Civics curriculum. It’s basically a guide to fundamentalist, nationalist indoctrination.

The first thing to notice about this curriculum, in comparison to existing K-12 American History and Civics programs, is that it is quite short. You can read through it in an afternoon. If your goal is to use history to indoctrinate students in a Christian fundamentalist nationalist mythology, it’s best to keep the discussion at the 50,000-foot level and deal mostly in abstract jingoism, with a few exempla thrown in. This is the sermon as textbook. If you get too much into the details, you are going to run into all kinds of messy events that don’t exemplify the mythology you are promulgating–the Mystic Massacre; the disenfranchisement at the dawn of the country of all but propertied white males; the Fort Pillow Massacre; slave auctions where trade in girls and young women was saved to the end of the day because such human property was particularly prized (guess why?) by good Christian white, male slaveowners; the Wounded Knee Massacre; a century of lynchings and Jim Crow and voter suppression and the KKK and U.S. federal housing policy designed to keep black people from home ownership, the primary means by which ordinary people build generational wealth; the Eugenics and Nazi Bund movements in America; so on ad nauseam. 

One of the reasons why Fascism appeals to semiliterate mobs is that it makes everything simple. All complexity is burned away. And that’s just what the Hillsdale American Exceptionalism Curriculum does. (The successor to the 1930s pro-Nazi German American Bund called itself The America First Party, using the America First phrase that Dog-whistle Donald picked up for repetition at his rallies. Where was Leni Riefenstahl to film these?) This need to keep things simpler than they are is why, soon after seizing power, all Fascist governments establish complete control over publishing, the media, and schools and find pretexts for exterminating intellectuals and burning books and artwork.

The President of Hillsdale College, Larry Aarn, introduces his curriculum by saying that the purpose of education is to produce citizens, from the Latin civitas, or city, who can use language to distinguish the good from the bad, and that in history instruction, the way to do that is to concentrate on the lives of great persons. So, at the outset, everything is cleaved into “the good” on the one hand and “the bad” on the other (in other words, this is going to be a curriculum that deals in absolutes), and an avowed program of hero worship is advanced.


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