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The Plot Against Knowledge

The MAGA efforts to ban from school libraries all books that might deal with “gay themes” or African-American history has come down to this: Some school libraries have stopped buying any new books for students, lest they run afoul of deliberately vague but menacing guidelines imposed by MAGA state legislatures like those of Texas and Florida, or even worse, local vigilante bands set up with the express purpose of controlling what students may read. This is not an unfortunate and unintended side effect for the censors, it is a big step toward achieving their entire goal.

Public education in America has long been in a parlous state, with even “blue state” legislatures and wealthy counties pinching pennies, especially when it comes to helping students with any kind of “special needs,” whether that means kids with disabilities on the one hand or those considered “gifted and talented” on the other. New York City tried to do away with all programs for the latter, under the late unlamented mayoralty of so-called progressive Bill De Blasio, and as for the former, a small story will suffice: In deep-blue Montgomery County, Maryland, where we live, our immigrant youngest child was effectively denied the English instruction he so desperately needed for his last three years in high school, because the state Department of Education had decided, in its wisdom, that there would be no more English as a Second Language classes for any juniors or seniors, in the name of what used to be called “mainstreaming” but actually, one suspects, for the sake of saving money on the backs of a group of vulnerable students whose overworked parents don’t know how to go about protesting. The situation was made worse for our child because the school he was attending only offered “honors English” classes, so he effectively checked out of classes that were much too hard for him.

In short, if a public school student is a square peg that doesn’t fit into their round holes, he, she, or they is out of luck. But that has long been true. The difference these days is the entire public schooling system is under systematic attack and ongoing sabotage from the MAGA right, which, as its Dear Leader once said, loves the poorly educated, and would like nothing more than to ensure they remain that way.

It’s not difficult to see the end game here. A know-nothing populace will easily be misled into supporting a tyrannical government based on “libertarian” principles that liberate only the wealthiest, mingled with a fraudulent form of Christianity tailor-made to support their interests. This game will not have many years to run, because the “resource base” it depends on, which is to say, the living world we are all a part of, even people like Elon Musk, is crumbling before our eyes. But it may not matter to Musk or his competitors, who are deep in delusions that they can flee the planet and leave the rest of us to die while they set up a post-modern Pharaonic paradise… on Mars, which is as hospitable to their plutocratic fantasies as would be camping out on the mile-thick ice in the center of Antarctica, with all the air removed. By the time they understand that, their own privileged lives will be over and they will never be held to account for what they have done to the rest of us and to the planet, so what do they care? If the public schools were allowed to teach real science instead of “metrics” and “benchmarks,” including, crucially, the scientific method, we might not be in a position where half or more of the voting populace sticks its fingers in its ears, jumps up and down, and hollers, “La, la, la, pandemic? Huge swaths of the nation alternately baked, flash frozen, flooded and wind-blasted and water-starved? Fake news, fake news, WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

We need bold and innovative ideas to escape this trap, like the one I once proposed, of sending bookmobiles stocked with Forbidden Books to every city and town and village in states like Texas, because there is nothing more effective to entice the young (and older folks, too) to try something, than to erect prohibitions against it. And not just Texas, either. In today’s America of rampant and proud ignorance, New York and California and Massachusetts need help, too.


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