I’m starting to think it is the purpose of a house of representatives (using lower-case there to mean, generically, that half of a bicameral legislature, not a specific house that happens to be full of representatives) to pass utterly stupid bills for the purpose of venting on a particular issue, with the knowledge that there is a senate around to kill those bills and keep up the appearance that there are grownups in charge. (I don’t actually think that, but it is tempting to start.)
This is prompted by learning that the Arizona House of Representatives is considering a “strike-everything” amendment to Senate Bill 1108, which previously had something or other to do with “homeland security,” and has replaced the text of that bill with a provision that would withhold public tax dollars from any public school offering a course that promotes “dissent from the values of American democracy and Western civilization.”
What could go wrong with that?
The bill, which was approved by the relevant committee and is now before the full House, would create new sections 15-107 and 15-108 in the Arizona Revised Statutes. Section 15-108(A) would provide a simple, easily applicable and not in any way misunderstandable test for what is precluded:
A PUBLIC SCHOOL IN THIS STATE SHALL NOT INCLUDE WITHIN THE PROGRAM OF INSTRUCTION ANY COURSES, CLASSES OR SCHOOL SPONSORED ACTIVITIES THAT PROMOTE, ASSERT AS TRUTH OR FEATURE AS AN EXCLUSIVE FOCUS ANY POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS, IDEOLOGICAL OR CULTURAL BELIEFS OR VALUES THAT DENIGRATE, DISPARAGE OR OVERTLY ENCOURAGE DISSENT FROM THE VALUES OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND WESTERN CIVILIZATION, INCLUDING [BUT NOT LIMITED TO?] DEMOCRACY, CAPITALISM, PLURALISM AND RELIGIOUS TOLERATION.
Public schools would have to provide their curricula and course materials to a government official who, after a hearing, “may withhold a proportionate share of state monies from any public school that violates Subsection A.” Exactly how such a violation would be determined, the full list of “values” that come included with “Western civilization,” and clear definitions of those values, are not provided.
According to a local paper, SB 1108 was sponsored by Rep. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), who told reporters he was reacting to what he called “sedition” in certain textbooks and/or classes, apparently in the Tucson School District. The paper said “Tucson resident” Laura Leighton appeared at the committee hearing and read from a textbook she claimed outlined a plan to take back the U.S. Southwest from the “gringos” and send them all back to Europe. According to the paper, the book was actually describing something that happened in 1915—probably referring to the German attempt to bring Mexico into World War I, an overture Mexico wisely and unsurprisingly rejected. But you don’t have to agree with whatever is in these textbooks to understand that censoring things that might “promote” the “disparagement” of undefined “values” is a lousy idea.
Hey, while we’re on the subject of definitions, here’s how the Oxford English Dictionary defines “pluralism”:
4. The presence or tolerance of a diversity of ethnic or cultural groups within a society or state; (the advocacy of) toleration or acceptance of the coexistence of differing views, values, cultures, etc.
And anybody who disparages that definition had better watch out, if this bill passes.