As Kansas Legislature meddles in public education, Great Uncle George’s words resonate today
The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. David Norlin is a retired teacher from Cloud County Community College, where he was head of the communications/English department, specializing in media.
Among my first rules of debate: never compare anyone to Hitler.
There’s way too much emotional freight there, and the story just happens to be complicated. Overly easy analogies, social media memes, and comic book oversimplifications all cause an overreaction. And overreactions rarely serve us well.
“Come on, let’s reason together,” said Brother Isaiah.
The imperative is urgent, especially in a Kansas Capitol ruled by capital. When the Legislative Assembly is in session, the reason is paramount – and largely ignored.
The arcane mechanisms by which our laws are introduced are little understood by the general public, and I dare say by many legislators who vote for them, but very bad bills are nonetheless climbing the parapets, clamoring to be enacted and consecrated. Among the worst and greatest threats to education, freedom and reason are internal bills 2662 and 2550.
The Republican vanguard calls 2662 a “parents’ bill of rights and academic transparency law.” Who can argue with that, right? But wake up! The smoke is blown, and only the winds of reason can sweep it away.
Parents already have rights and academic content is already transparent. The bill, however, would require an entire year’s lessons and materials to be posted on a “portal,” a website accessible not just to parents but to the general public. Paranoid parents — or anyone — could shower him with complaints, making teachers’ lives even more miserable than they were during the pandemic.
Such labels incite a propagandized public to raise the ax over the heads of teachers, administrators and school boards.
It’s bad enough. But 2550 would essentially fund public schools.
Again, 2550 seems benign. An “education savings account” for at-risk or low-income students attending private school would suck up basic student aid from public school districts. The dollars would be funneled to parents requesting tuition and private school fees, or other costs.
Freedom of choice, right?
But the bill would effectively bleed districts already stressed by teacher shortages (half of whom are now considering leaving) and COVID-related pressures, including insufficient funding. Among other stabbing measures in the heart, this one dips deepest, at the level of the most vital arteries. Parents in public schools would have little choice.
The arcane mechanisms by which our laws are introduced are little understood by the general public, and I dare say by many legislators who vote for them, but very bad bills are nonetheless climbing the parapets, clamoring to be enacted and consecrated.
The public will not tolerate defunding the police. But public schools? Their Republican legislators are on it like a duck on a June Bug.
Seeing all of this play out is even more shocking after reading my great uncle George Norlinof 1934, delivered during his 22-year tenure as president of the University of Colorado. He was a “visiting professor” at the University of Berlin before and after Hitler’s rise.
My family pride and prestigious position, however, are secondary to the power of his testimony:
“Hitlerism has an inexorable logic. It’s nothing if not thorough. It is not enough that Germany is politically, economically and racially one giant unit. It must also be a cultural unit. It must be regimented under a single Weltanshaung — a common emotion, goal and philosophy of life. This resulted in “the grand gesture [of book-burning] on May 10.
“Last November, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, established an elaborate state corporation for the control and direction of all instruments of publicity and enlightenment which help to shape the national spirit – books, newspapers, periodicals, magazines, radio, music, theatres, especially cinema and art in general, the object being to coordinate everyone in a unity of heart and mind.
“Furthermore, schools and universities have lost any semblance of academic freedom. … On May 6, at the convocation of the University of Berlin, the nationalization of truth was officially inaugurated. Or, as the Nazis call it, the “nationalization of truth.” There, Minister of Education, Herr Doktor Rust, enacted the law: … “Scientific education that is unbiased, objective and blind to spiritual changes within the nation will no longer be tolerated.
“Reason and intellect are dethroned; and emotion, intuition, impulse reign in their place. Indeed, intellectualism is despised as something pale and unhealthy. It’s a matter of pedants and professors, not red-blooded men. … It is part of a Nazi program to set up a body of “truth” originating in German soil and appropriate to German blood, non-intellectual, non-academic, but emotional and dynamic – a creed in which Germans must be made to believe in order to be saved, as a nation and race.
No, no local legislator or propagandist is Hitler or Goebbels personified. But today’s groupthink in Kansas makes critical thinking more critical than ever.
Our children – and our teachers – need us.
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