Sunday, March 01, 2015

Oklahoma State Representative Dan Fisher Not Only Wears A Black Robe, But He Has A Black Heart

Today, Eags gives us a tale of two Okies — one admirable and the other despicable — in our ordeal of the Great Culture War. One is defending history and the other is trying to destroy it. Despicable Dan Fisher represents Garth Brooks and lot of other folks in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Honorable James LeGrand labors on the arid plains of southwest Oklahoma. If this is a (fair & balanced) illustration of dualistic cosmology (good v. evil), so be it.

PS: For more James LeGrand, click here.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Happy Talk History
By Timothy Egan

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This state has an extraordinary history. It’s where the Trail of Tears ended, and the Sooner land rush began. It suffered human-caused climate change at the most extreme — the Dust Bowl — and produced the wit and wisdom of Will Rogers. In all, the Oklahoma story is a compelling part of the national narrative.

But to listen to the Republicans who are trying to stuff their view of history into the heads of Oklahoma’s brightest kids, the current version of the American story isn’t pro-American enough. They want more rah-rah, more Bible, more speeches of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and perhaps a mention of how the Constitution — which doesn’t mention God — was written by God.

Advanced placement history courses put too much emphasis on “what is bad about America,” says State Representative Dan Fisher, a Republican, a Baptist minister and an active promoter of the view that church must meddle more in the affairs of state. Fisher would be just another knucklehead wiping potato salad from his face at a Ned Flanders picnic, except that he got a legislative committee to approve an “emergency bill” to ban A.P. history courses for college credit in Oklahoma high schools.

Oklahoma — not O.K. The state is facing a $611 million budget shortfall. So, of course, the politicians who run this fine piece of the prairie are busy with legislation to keep children ignorant, and to protect gay conversion therapy — the emotionally abusive and psychologically unsound attempt to, you know, fix the homosexuals.

The push against professional educators is part of a larger national effort by conservatives to get rid of the history they don’t like, in places like Texas, Georgia, Colorado and Tennessee. Last year, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution endorsing these culture war potshots.

With the latest initiatives, the party of science denial is now getting into history denial. On the academic front, they have a point, indirectly. Much of the A.P history framework is boring, bland, and sounds like it was written by committee, which it was. There’s little narrative, drama, heroics or personality — in other words, the real-life stuff that makes for thrilling history.

Here’s a sample “learning objective” from the current national course and exam description from the College Board: “Analyze the role of economic, political, social and ethnic factors on the formation of regional identities in what would become the United States from the colonial period through the 19th century.” And you wonder why the humanities are in trouble.

But the only thing worse than history written by educators on Ambien is history dictated by politicians on ideological binges. Add religion to the mix, and you have something like the history that theocratic states, e.g. Iran, might teach their kids.

Fisher belongs to the Black Robe Regiment. It sounds scary, and it is. This is a group of evangelicals who preach the darkest, most apocalyptic and ahistorical view of the good old U.S. of A. In their view, the Constitution “is a covenant between the people of America and their Heavenly Father,” and “was written for a Christian people,” according to their website. But we’re all slipping. So the Black Robes are trying to halt “the de-Christianizing of America.”

When not writing legislation to dumb down this state’s finest high school seniors, Fisher puts on a costume to promote the Black Robe view of the nation’s founding — more Jesus than Jefferson.

To quote the aforementioned Will Rogers: “There is no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”

But — good news! — Fisher has been mocked, mercilessly, in his home state. His legislation seeks to deny high school students access to a voluntary program that offers them college credit — a leg up in life, and a tuition-saver. He infuriated history teachers, who were not consulted, and students, who feel this bill would lessen the chances of kids who may want to get out of Oklahoma, and need a scholarship to do it.

What’s more, this latest Republican-led assault on the intelligence of young people is anti-American. If you believe in American exceptionalism, then empower students with critical thinking skills so they can defend it. Don’t give them a Bible lesson. That’s for church. Take it from James LeGrand, Oklahoma’s History Teacher of the Year in 2014...:

“We teach students to think for themselves using primary sources,” he wrote in a blog post. “I’m not going to sugarcoat slavery or whitewash the treatment of Native Americans or ignore Japanese internment.”

In the wake of such criticism, Fisher now says he will rework the bill. Or he could take the advice of President John F. Kennedy. He [JFK] believed in an America “where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.”

Kennedy, of course, was the first Irish Catholic president, and proud of his faith. His ancestors fled a country where the British monarchy tried to force its religion on the people. It’s all there in the history books, the ones written for people who aren’t afraid of the truth. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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