Contemporary conservatives aim to disseminate an alternate version of reality through the media echo chamber and the schools.
By Chauncey DeVega
May 13, 2011
America, the Tea Party GOP is coming for your kids.
Mike Huckabee, Republican front runner and presumptive 2012 presidential nominee is getting into the education business. He has started a project, “Learn Our History,” where on a monthly basis–sort of like BMG or Columbia House music–Huckabee’s organization will send subscribers Time Travel Academy, an animated children’s cartoon featuring a group of intrepid time travelers who teach lessons about U.S. history “without a political bias.”
If judged by its artistic qualities, the cartoon is so poorly done as to be a pitiable joke. Its main characters are a contrived group of multicultural “tweens.” The history is predictable: Ronald Reagan is America’s savior, America is a Judeo-Christian country preordained by God to be exceptional, and flag-waving jingoistic nationalism is a virtue and never a sin. The guiding principle of this right-wing approved version of U.S. history is simple: “What we see and hear isn’t always the same as what we read in books, or see on TV. We know the truth. And that’s good enough for us.”
The takeaway here is simple. The “liberals,” a cabal that ostensibly holds sway over public schools and universities, are corrupt and anti-American. In their fantasy, conservatives have access to a quasi-secret, pure and unadulterated version of history that is only available to true believers. The Right is the proverbial keeper of the flame. They are obligated, through a gospel of sorts, to both protect and share this “correct,” self-validating (and quite inaccurate) version of American history with all who will listen — and they’re using education and the media to do it.
The Time Travel Academy is patently absurd. Huckabee’s effort at overt historical revisionism is part of a larger national trend that has been decades in the making. Here, conservatives are playing chess while the Left and progressives are playing checkers. To that end, the Right has developed a two-fold strategy.
First, they correctly understand that the educational system is one of society’s primary sites for political socialization. There you create citizens. The classroom is also where citizens are equipped with the critical frameworks needed to ask hard questions about the common good, their role in society, and the State’s obligation to the people.
Conservatives have made a series of bold strikes in politicizing the classroom in the service of their agenda.
1. David Horowitz, failed academic and incendiary polemicist, and his group, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (now called the David Horowitz Freedom Center), have been policing college classrooms for years. They have compiled a McCarthy-like enemies list of professors who are “dangerous Leftists” that “poison” and “pollute” the minds of young people by criticizing the pet policy positions of conservatives. Offenders who earn the ire of Horowitz and his organization are routinely harassed. Some have even been drummed out of their positions as college professors for being too liberal and “Leftist” for Horowitz’s taste.
2. The Koch brothers, the astroturf puppet masters of the New Right, have been funding academic programs and research centers that parrot the extreme gospel of trickle-down economics, anti-statism, and other policy positions that are favorable to the most extreme elements of the conservative agenda. Subverting the rules of academic freedom, the Koch brothers have also donated monies with the condition that faculty members support their policy positions.
3. Christian Nationalist pseudo-historians such as David Barton offer an uncritical view of American exceptionalism and the Constitution where the United States is portrayed as a theocracy beholden to Judeo-Christian beliefs. They have become darlings of the New Right and the Tea Party. A historian without credentials, he has become a mascot for popular conservatives and praised by Newt Gingrich as a preeminent scholar in his field. Barton has risen to fame on the backs of Glenn Beck and Fox News, who together pander his “righteous” and “correct” versions of American history to their audiences. As part of a cottage industry that features such factually challenged writers as Jonah Goldberg, their jackbooted and incorrect versions of history (synthesized by ideological pedants and hobbyists) have become the intellectual cornerstones of contemporary conservative thought.
4. The Arizona Ethnic Studies ban, along with the efforts to rewrite Texas school books to reflect a conservative view of U.S. history, are entry points for (re)educating children in a mold that fits the Right’s social and political agenda. In the age of Obama these state-level moves are designed to quite literally whitewash American history and to remove the successes of liberals and progressives from the classroom. In total, these assaults on education are efforts to propagandize the country’s youngest and most impressionable citizens by elevating conservative mythology to the level of historical certainty.