These "Academic Freedom Act" laws seem like a very good idea to me, but I wonder if we're taking them far enough. If the Discovery Institute and all manner of right-wing think tanks want to Teach the Controversy, why limit ourselves to evolution and climate change? With that in mind, I've assembled a new school curriculum that (finally!) acknowledges the complicated world beyond "facts" and "truth."
Social Studies: Students will learn about the checks and balances built into our democratic way of life, of course. But we shouldn't leave them ignorant of competing theories, such as David Icke's "lizard oligarchy," in case the queen of England really does turn out to be a giant space reptile bent on world domination. As high school seniors, students will also spend the semester learning about Ayn Rand's theory of radical selfishness, in the hopes that it will keep them from reading Atlas Shrugged in college and becoming insufferably tedious for about a year and a half.
History: Move over, eurocentric history! Take cover, afrocentric and multicultural history! Under new management, history class will approach the hard questions of the past with an open mind toward alternate theories. For example: did the holocaust really happen, or is it just the invention of a shadowy cabal working behind the scenes of our financial and entertainment industries? You know who I'm talking about.
Physical Education: Gym class doesn't change, but students who get sick will now be told that their humours are out of balance, and will be bled by on-site leeches. Coaches also have the option of blaming vaccines when the football team loses.
English: Given the predominance of "literacy" in the early grades, students will spend the second half of their primary education learning how to communicate pre-verbally, mostly by pointing and grunting. For many teenagers, this won't be much of a change. The curriculum will culminate with a trip to a local quarry, where the students will attempt to recreate the Lascaux cave paintings, thus teaching them the valuable life lesson that art is hard so why try anyway?
Math: I tried to think of something funny about math, and then I remembered that we still teach kids about "imaginary" numbers, and to add insult to injury we do so very badly. Math is weird, y'all.
Foreign Languages: One word: Esperanto. Ironically, in Esperanto, this is actually twelve words. It's the language of the future, people. William Shatner did a whole movie in Esperanto once. I've got a good feeling about this one.
I was going to do a review at some point of Michael Berube's What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts? But then I left it in the floor of my car, and the dog threw up all over it. So I'm not really keen on flipping through it to marshal my thoughts right now.
But it's good. Incredibly well-written, subtle, and evocative of my best college classes. It's not even really a partisan book--almost more of a primer on anti-foundationalist literary theory, which serves as an introduction to the "liberal arts criticism" perspective. That sounds horrifying, I know, but while Berube may claim that he's only an average professor, he handles this material with a deftness that's really something to see. I think it's probably one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time, and I recommend it highly.
Apparently I don't think it's good enough to brave dog vomit for a decent review. But to be fair, there are very few things for which I would confront the contents of Wallace's stomach. There's no shame in that.
I tell you. Take a few weeks off the news and the net in general and the world reveals itself as the strange place it really is. I'm feeling the strong desire to stick my nose back in a book and pretend I don't notice.
I respond, in comments:
As someone pointed out, the point of a library is the democratization of the written word, so that people who can't afford to spend $12-$25 on a new book can still read and keep up with the cultural zeitgeist. Miller claims that book chains bombard customers with "inexpensive choices" including mp3 audiobooks, which are words spoken by someone who has never known the financial crunch where a $7 paperback--much less a trade or a hardback, whether it be pulp or fine literature. I spend $10-$50 on books every week nowadays, but at one point I had to scratch for change in order to afford reading material. It's not a cheap habit. If someone wants to read the classics, there are several used bookstores around Fairfax Co. where they can pick up a copy for a buck fifty, or Amazon will sell used books at about that price.
John J. Miller is the same guy who wrote the "top 50 conservative rock songs" that was roundly ridiculed a few months back. In that light, I'm particularly drawn to where he writes: "There's a fine line between an institution that aims to edify the public and one that merely uses tax dollars to subsidize the recreational habits of bookworms." (emphasis mine) In other words, Miller feels like he (and conservative pundits like him) stand at the bulwark of determining where good and bad culture lie--particularly when it comes to those who can't afford books on a regular basis. How dare those layabouts read a "Mitch Albom tearjerker" or "whatever fickle taste" they might have, instead of dedicating themselves to the manly prose of Hemingway?
Maybe it's my librarian father rubbing off on me, but I think we (and by we, I particularly mean the culture warriors at Opinion Journal) should be less concerned about what people are reading, and more encouraging toward the development of a reading habit in the first place. ...and, sweet mother of mercy, this probably should have been a blog post and not a comment.