Do Republicans Care If Anybody Is Smarter Than A Third Grader?
What’s wrong with the media? They should be more like Chris Matthews and hold politicians and their spokespersons accountable for their ignorance.
With their fervent re-election of George W. Bush four years ago, the Republicans have ushered in an era where they would claim it is a handicap to be intelligent. This is a shocking development in a nation that once prided itself on its level of education and leadership in the world. As a member of the baby boomer generation, I have often speculated that conservatives, who we scared the hell out of, came to feel that too much education was dangerous to their ideology. Ever since my generation rolled out of the public school system and onto the streets to protest the wrong-headed war in Vietnam, conservatives, under the banner of the Republican Party, have been cutting off funding to public schools and calling for more religious dogma in science classes.
Of course, we on the left have helped them in their efforts. Realizing that segregation “looked bad,” they couldn’t use it in the way they wanted to accomplish their goals although they called for the preservation of neighborhood schools. In Oklahoma City where I grew up, that alone would have segregated the schools because it was a city geographically divided by race. The Republicans also had the problem that Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican President, first sent the national guard to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Good ol’ Ike had taken race off the table for them. But they were helped by a very liberal lady from Austin, Texas, Madeleine Murray O’Hare, who sued to stop prayer in public schools. Her suit reached the highest court in the land where she prevailed.
This seems like ancient history to many who were born afterwards, but those of us who lived through the prayer-in-school period remember it well. When I began elementary school in Edmond, Oklahoma, every morning we began our school day with a group recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance and The Lord’s Prayer. It was standard procedure, and nobody really questioned it. I came from a not-very-active, but consider-ourselves-Christian family, and it was my only real exposure to a religious rite on a regular basis. I remember always being mystified by the word “hallowedbethyname.” I assumed it had something to do with Halloween, something I had some experience with. It ranked up there with other mysteries such as “elleminopee,” a term from our daily recitation of the alphabet. I didn’t know what that meant either, but I loudly joined my voice with those of my classmates in blind obedience.
By the time I got to junior high I knew about “l, m, n, o, p” and only smiled to myself when chanting “hallowed be thy name” remembering my early ignorance. By this time my parents had drug us boys off to Catholic Church and we began getting some religious education at Mass on Sunday, not to mention the catechism classes that we attended one evening a week leading up to our Easter Sunday Sunrise Mass baptisms. It was in this period of my development that I began to know how to pray. And of course, that way of prayer being Catholic, it included crossing oneself afterward. Well, my foolish notion that that was okay was quickly corrected by my classmates – mostly Southern Baptists – who began calling me an idolater – another word I didn’t understand other than realizing it was bad. I also didn’t realize until then that when the teacher called for everyone to close their eyes and bow their heads, that there were “faith police” who were exempt from the closing your eyes part. Yet, there they were. It was a quick introduction to the religious intolerance that the many held for the few.
I began to learn a lot of things in this period that I didn’t know before. Most of my classmates were Southern Baptists and knew each other as such, so the odds were you would end up asking a Southern Baptist girl to a school dance. It happened to me twice in junior high school with the same results. It seemed that parents of Southern Baptist girls allowed their daughters to attend school dances and in fact dance, but what was not allowed was any evidence that might show up at church in the next few Sundays. So most of the time at a dance, with a Southern Baptist date, I spent my time dancing around the floor carefully avoiding being caught in the act by a photographer from the school newspaper or yearbook. Okay, I’ll admit it, these particular girls tended to lead rather than follow in such situations. After all, they had their reputations to defend.
That was the atmosphere that I grew up in until I reached high school. At that time the O’Hare decision was handed down by the US Supreme Court and outraged the fine citizenry of Oklahoma City, particularly Southern Baptists. I, on the other hand, having been the victim of taunts directed at me because I was a Catholic – exposed due to my unfortunate sin of crossing myself after The Lord’s Prayer – found the ruling to be absolutely correct. I was glad and still believe that it was the right decision. I believe to force children to recite a prayer at the beginning of the day is not a prayer at all. It is just an attempt on the part of one religion to force its will on another.
On the other hand, I feel that Madeleine Murray O’Hare, whatever her personal motives, handed to them exactly the right tool the conservatives needed to begin their systematic dismantling of the public education system in our country. In 1976 I moved to Greenville, Mississippi, because I got a job there. I was astounded at the racial divide I found there. It was far worse than what I observed growing up in Oklahoma City. And Greenville, Mississippi, the home to Hodding Carter, a Jimmy Carter cabinet member, considered itself to be quite liberal. And I guess they were by Mississippi standards, but their public school system had been decimated by a segregation order handed down by Federal Judge William Keady. Judge Keady was a great man. I knew him well and worked as the court reporter in his court many times while I was there. But many of the white people in Greenville held him in contempt for integrating the schools.
What happened to the public schools of Greenville, Mississippi, and most other towns and cities across the deep south? Using the more acceptable excuse of prayer in school, white parents en masse moved their children out of the public schools and into Christian academies set up by all-white churches in the community. By the time I came to Greenville in 1976 the public schools were at least 99% black. The Christian academies, to cover their tracks and help their athletic programs, gave a few poor black children scholarships. Using prayer in school as an excuse, they dodged integration. Ever since that period, Republicans – especially from the South – have been calling for the seemingly innocuous “school voucher” programs to “give parents choice.” What they really want to do is transfer public taxpayer monies to “faith-based” schools, thus starving the public education system of much needed funding.
It is sad to see one of the greatest accomplishments of our nation being dismantled by a group of people who are afraid of those who look different, those who have different religious beliefs and traditions, as well as those who embrace science. This narrow-minded group of people have a seriously embraced agenda, and they want to roll the social progress of this nation back to the 1950s when black people “knew their place” and things were better. They use fancy terms like “strict Constitutionalist” to bring legitimacy to their cause. If we adhered to the idea of strict constitutionalism, slavery would be re-instated and all the civil rights achievements of our democracy in the past 200 years – including the right of women to vote – would be swept away. These people are a danger to the modern world and can only be compared to the Mullahs of Iran and the Taliban of Afghanistan in their religious zeal. They don’t really believe in democracy. They are seeking a theocracy based on their misguided interpretation of their own founder, Jesus Christ, who preached a message of love and tolerance for all. We must hold them at bay and preserve our democracy at all costs.
Well, that’s my little history lesson for the day. I hope it enlightened some as to what an eyewitness saw.
Keep fighting the good fight!
PS. Willpen has posted a must-read article from the Huffington Post. Go there and check it out. It’s a little long, but keep reading to the end. Every American should know what it says.
The site also contains a video clip of the Nancy Pfotenhauer interview by Chris Matthews on Hardball yesterday. If you think that Sarah Palin is the most uninformed woman in the Republican Party, check it out. It’s a hoot!