The New “Obama Youth”?

There is a thin line between education and indoctrination. For zealots, the divide is simple: getting out their message is education, by whatever means necessary, and any who disagree are quickly marginalized, ridiculed and ostracized as wrong headed obstructionists who need to get out of the way or face being run down by the progressive train.

As is true of all political discourse, adults can draw their own conclusions and argue the merits/wisdom/need of managing information in order to impact public opinion in the service of the public good. I have no problem with that. As a university professor, I have never shied from controversial topics and have always endeavored to engender honest discussion about issues of public interest in class. When I have a strong opinion on the wisdom of a specific law or public policy, I briefly share it for the sake of full disclosure with my class; they have a right to know the filter through which I view the world. I never try to convince any of my students that my point of view is the correct one or to marginalize dissenting views. If I can’t draw out an opposing viewpoint from the class, I do my best to articulate one in a clear and fair manner so that students can draw their own conclusions. I love to play the devil’s advocate, borrowing a page from the Jesuits who have always done so in the name of knowledge and have historically drawn much fire for their refusal to blindly embrace dogma in the pursuit of knowledge.

My own teachers and college professors in the late 60s through the early 1980s  were not quite so open minded or tolerant of dissent, actively promoting a leftist agenda directly and indirectly in too many of my classes. As someone who has never been easily swayed by the current direction of the prevailing societal winds, this made little difference to me. I was more than capable of separating the grain from the chaff by the fourth grade, and shrugged off the sometimes heavy-handed editorializing for what it was. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that then and now the constant drumbeat from the left has a significant influence on the  malleable minds of children through high school and young adults beyond, as it takes an intellectually mature person with a healthy sense of self to avoid marching in lockstep to a constant, consistent drumbeat throughout K-12 and beyond.

I was neither greatly affected nor scarred by my left leaning professors and teachers for most of whom I had and still have a great deal of respect and gratitude. Nor did the very few right-leaning professors I encountered have any greater impact. For good or ill, I am not someone who is easy to indoctrinate and reject the strict dogma of both extremes and always have. My own politics are right of center but I will not pass a right-wing litmus test any more than I would one from the left. I believe in freedom of expression and hate attempts to undermine it for any reason with very few exceptions–and I strongly oppose any effort from the government to quash dissent or regulate free speech beyond the proscription against obscenity or the instigating of violence.

I offer the above for the purpose of placing what I am about to write in proper context. I am outraged by a report today about efforts in California to have public school students “trained to be messengers to family members.”

According to The Heartland Institute, a spokeswoman for Covered California said the group has “confidence” the Los Angeles program “will be successful in reaching our target population, which includes family members of students.” Teens will be trained in this “pilot program” to provide “outreach and limited education to family and friends in and around their homes, . . . educating adults that they already know (e.g., family or friends) and not other adults.”

I have not searched the web for reaction, but I know I will not be the only one to rightfully see the troubling parallels to the “Hitler youth” in this. With $990,000 reportedly earmarked by a grant for this particular purpose, can a Minister or Propaganda be far behind? If successful, will this “pilot” be extended to having students explain to their family and friends the President’s interpretation of the Constitution and why he is justified in circumventing Congress by legislating by presidential fiat (a/k/a Executive Order) whenever Congress refuses to adopt his agenda?

Even avoiding the Hitler Youth elephant in the room (and please spare me the, “No, no, you stupid troglodyte this is not Hitler but O-B-A-M-A, get it?” feces of male bovine, it seems to me that with U.S. students’ performance lagging behind the world’s industrialized nations and making us an appropriate laughing stock in our penchant for spending more money than anyone on the planet on education per capita without being able to teach our children to read, write, or do math,  is this an appropriate change to the curriculum or wise use of limited funds?  Is there a single rational person out there who can answer “yes” with a straight face outside of Congress or the state legislature in California? If so, please send your photo to Wikipedia so that your picture can be added to the definition of Chutzpah.

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