You have to respect Republicans and their ability to transform their paranoid, faith-based concerns about big government into profit-making realities. Take the public education system, for example: For decades, Republicans have derided public schools and teachers for being inept, corrupting forces that poison our children’s minds while failing to pass on the most important things we all need to survive. You know, things like: God is good, holding a gun is a sacrament, and caring for others’ well being is terrorism.
And today, after forty years of Republicans fulfilling their prophecies by slashing school budgets, banning or censoring courses of study, and crippling teachers with an encyclopedia of restrictions to follow and hoops to jump through, public schools are finally living up to the dystopian visions talk radio has been warning us about ever since the 60s demonstrated just how powerful a political force young people can be when educated.
Never content with simply destroying a vital public institution, Republicans are now increasingly turning to the school system they’ve gutted to gain personal profit and self-advancement. Which brings me to Arizona State Legislators Rich Crandall and Terri Proud: both recently introduced legislation that will adversely affect public schools if passed into law.
Proud’s proposed bills—HBs 2563 and 2473—would allow schools to offer the Bible as an elective, as opposed to just the inescapably pervasive cultural doctrine it currently is. Crandall’s bill–SB 1061—would allow schools to opt out of the National School Lunch Program, which requires schools to offer free lunches for poor and needy children. The bill, in part, reads: “Whereas it is necessary to let the poor eat cake, their children aren’t eating shit.”
On the surface, Crandall’s bill is the more patently self-serving one, as the “distinguished” gentlemen has financial ties to two different companies that provide nutritional services and menus to public schools (and does so in over 14 states). By removing federal guidelines on school lunches, though, Crandall will more easily be able to line up contracts with local schools for his businesses, thus increasing his personal bottom line. And while this fact points to a clear conflict of interest for Crandall, he’s merely keeping to a long-standing Republican tradition of campaigning on the virtues of free market capitalism, only to, once elected, use their governing power to legislate themselves a rewarding competitive advantage.
To Crandall’s credit, he does have legitimate concerns about the Federal mandates schools must follow. For starters, the Dept. of Agriculture is currently revising regulations for the lunch program. According to Crandall, new mandates—such as providing fresh fruits with breakfast—“could prove burdensome.” Of course, I’m not certain whether he means it would be burdensome for the schools or for the kids who have lived off processed foods so long that fresh fruit will likely cause their digestive tracts to clamp down tighter than a well-oiled bear trap.
Crandall dismisses the notion that many students living in poverty will end up losing the one decent meal they get each day, saying he has “complete confidence the local school board’s going to take care” of hungry children, which is odd considering he doesn’t trust schools to do anything else properly. Still, Crandall says most schools will likely stick with the Federal program or create ones of their own.
Some of the schools that have a small percentage of eligible students, he concedes, will opt out of the program. In those cases, that small percentage of poor kids lucky enough to be going to school with a bunch of upper middle class and wealthy kids (and getting the better education that comes with greater property tax revenues) have a simple choice: go to another, lesser school and eat, or fight through a little scurvy to get a better education.
I believe they call that school choice.
Aside from allowing Crandall to bolster his businesses’ financial reports, he’ll also get brownie points from the extremist, Christian fringe of his party which views public education as the greatest obstacle to good parenting—and, as I’ve said elsewhere, I completely understand why, if you’re a Christian, you don’t want your children going to school and learning about the world you’ve lied to them about.
Seriously, I understand, and that’s exactly why it’s so important that your children be well educated. In the end, parents are only stuck with their kids for 18 years, whereas society is on the hook until they die. Frankly, society has a greater stake in a child’s well-being than does any parent. So, if you want to raise your kids to be fanatics, go ahead; but the second they walk outside the front door I feel it’s my social obligation to bombard them with Nietzsche quotes, historical and scientific facts, and copies of the The Communist Manifesto.
And, yeah, if need be, a free lunch.
Call me a crazy liberal if you will, but I don’t think children should suffer because their parents are bad capitalists. It’s something I learned in a famous book that suggested children shouldn’t wear the sins of their fathers. Look it up.
And with that said, you might be wondering what Christianity has to do with school lunches. You know, aside from the fact that it drives conservative Christians nuts that their tax dollars are being used to fund places that challenge blind faith with reason, not to mention Republicans’ general disgust at the idea of their taxes being spent on children other than their own.
The truth is the school lunch hour has become the Christian right’s secret weapon in spreading the word of God throughout high school campuses. Though they’ve lost fights to get prayer in school and to have intelligent design “taught” alongside evolution, Christians have been wildly successful at turning school lunch hours into come-to-Jesus moments. Through various “social clubs” that meet in class rooms, most high schools offer lunch-time prayer circles led by faculty members. So, instead of hanging out with friends, catching up on their homework, or playing ball during lunch, students can get their Jesus on with an adult whose credentials in mathematics undoubtedly qualify him or her to answer the headier theological questions young people spend so much time thinking about.
And in case you were an Arizona student and were never taught to read between the lines, these prayer clubs are really just faith-based alternatives to sex education in which your kids’ band instructor teaches them that abstinence is a virtue, lust is a sin, and homosexuality is a ticket to hell.
Still, I suppose these “clubs” are a good thing, as they’ll give poor children something to do instead of going to the cafeteria to eat. Plus, they can use the prayer time to thank Jesus for the meal he didn’t provide.
Now, in case your child’s school doesn’t offer lunch-time sermons, Rep. Proud’s recent legislative offerings have got your back. If her bills pass, they will effectively create a loop-hole in the separation of church in state that has kept prayer from school. So, instead of your child learning productive skills in wood shop or developing a greater understanding of people in sociology, they can elect to study the one and only subject repeatedly taught for free, by millions, some of which will even come to your door uninvited to do so.
Seriously, the Bible is the most taught subject in all of America. Parents teach it, churches teach it, the media teach it, athletes preach it, and you can even learn about the Bible by standing behind people waiting in line at the grocery store. Considering this, do high school kids really need another venue for learning about the Bible? For the record, that’s a rhetorical question meant for those who believe it would be a good use of public funds to provide students with instructional courses on breathing.
According to Proud, though, courses in the Bible do have an important educational role aside from further indoctrinating students into the dogma they were born into. She believes the course would allow teachers to demonstrate the Bible’s cultural impact via the references made to it in countless works of art and literature, most of which are now illegal to teach in Arizona.
“This is such an essential foundation for our kids’ knowledge,” Proud argues because, “we are so engulfed in [the Bible].”
On this point, I couldn’t agree with Proud more: we are engulfed with it, so instead of pissing into the ocean how about you throw our kids a life raft?
Besides, the suggestion that the Bible will be taught simply as an influence on art is duplicitous. Any real academic discussion of a Biblical reference will require a detailed explication of the passage being alluded to. In the end, this course is little more than Bible study and a firmly flipped middle finger to those disturbed by Arizona’s recent banishment of Mexican-American studies in Arizona schools.
But Proud has good reasons for proposing this legislation. No, she’s not just being a good Christian, nor is she particularly concerned with quality education. The truth is, she’s a first-term legislator who recently got redistricted into a more competitive legislative district (and in 2010 she narrowly won by 2 percent of the vote). As Proud is a first-term Representative with little to run on besides her Republican credentials, and as Americans are increasingly angry at Republicans for their obstinate refusal to do anything to help America if it helped President Obama at the same time, she needs something to campaign on. Policy? Vision? Leadership?
Nope, Proud is choosing to travel down the well-worn path of Christian acceptionalism. Doing so won’t improve education in the slightest, and it likely won’t get her reelected later this November. But it will allow her and the Christian right to throw one more stone at the 21st century they’re so desperate to prevent from happening.
Chalk these bills up as a few more battlefields in the Christian right’s war against enlightenment. Honestly, it’s a hopeless battle, because though Crandall might score some cash if his bill passes and Proud will certainly gain some votes simply for proposing hers, the reality is some things can’t be taught in school.
And if there is any lesson our current world teaches us, it’s that if there is a God he clearly doesn’t care. And if there’s a second lesson, it’s that Republican candidates for office are shameless whores that loudly pray to God while only serving themselves.