authority, boycotts, censorship, civil rights, Colorado, demonstrations, free speech, Jefferson County, law, left-wing, political agenda, protocol, radicals, right-wing, school boards, school reform, students, teachers
In September 2014, the Jefferson County (Colorado) School Board recommended review of the A.P. American History curriculum, which, it suggested, should reflect free enterprise values, as well as respect for authority and for civil rights, and avoid elements that encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law.
The proposal met with less than universal acclaim. A teacher sickout briefly closed two schools, and then hundreds of students offered a commendably balanced response, showing the spirit of free enterprise and commitment to civil rights but also engaging in civil disorder, social strife, and disregard of the law as they fled classes and demonstrated in the streets.
Public discussion, already coarsened by the anguished resignation of a veteran Superintendent and by teacher anger at a Board scheme to link pay to classroom effectiveness, descended to fourth-grade So’s Your Old Man, with catch-phrases like Right-Wing Agenda and Censorship lobbed across the schoolyard, and Will of the People and Legitimate Authority lobbed back.
The battle was even until the Board President gassed his own troops by charging that the demonstrating students were simply pawns of the teachers.
It was at this point that I, normally a liberal, but one of those bleeding-heart ones, found myself inexplicably moved by the Board’s self-inflicted injury. Wondering how I could help, I recalled my high school Civics class and found, in the attic, a textbook moldy with age but fresh with the common-sense adages that made me the model citizen I am. With some modifications to fit the situation, I offered its wisdom to the Board, which, in gratitude, asked me to share a few examples with you:
Lesson 1: What Is a Mandate?: Lincoln and FDR went through hell to earn their mandates. School board members with controversial reform plans, elected narrowly in low-turnout elections, have a platform but not a mandate. The Laws of Politics hold that: (1) Most voters are moderates; (2) Where voter engagement and turnout are low, radicals can mobilize true-believers and win simple-issue local elections; (3) But radicals’ passion elicits an equal and opposite reaction from those previously passive. When your position is as flimsy as a tenth-grader’s absence excuse and your advantage as easily lost as his algebra homework, test the waters with care.
Assignment: To temper your enthusiasm for bomb-throwing, read Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ (‘Into the valley of death rode the 600 …’).
Lesson 2: The Value of Etiquette: Avoid unintentional offense so as to save the offense for when it is really needed. In layman’s terms, ‘Put a sock on it!’
Assignment: Read Emily Post. She may seem musty, but she is timeless.
Lesson 3: The Art of Warfare: With an understanding of the political limits within which you operate and the value of holding your tongue, you should be ready to proceed to the hard stuff.
Assignment: Read Mao Zedong on guerrilla war (‘The enemy attacks, we retreat … the enemy retreats, we attack …’ ). If taking advice from a Communist causes you discomfort, remember that, as leader of China, Mao was a fellow arch-conservative, so intolerant of social disorder, civil strife, and disregard of the law that he set up re-education camps with a curriculum that would warm your hearts.
Lesson 4: The Tortoise and the Hare: Endurance is the key, and the key to endurance is a steady pace and a calm temperament, for which reading is the ideal preparation.
Assignment: Read anything you find instructive and relaxing. However, as much as it may be your moral touchstone, avoid the Bible, which is filled with Prophets, including Jesus, who actively opposed vested authority, violated law and custom, and fomented strife in ways that no right-minded authority could tolerate.