On Monday a Senate education committee considered a bill from Republican State Sen. Jim Honeyford that would force students to learn "the history and negative effects of communism, including the number of deaths under communist leaders" in order to graduate high school.
To give you a little hint about the kind of person who would propose such a bill, I'll note that the legislation would also allow the Heritage Foundation's course on the Constitution to satisfy a statewide mandate requiring all students to study the country's founding document.
(In case you're not current on your Koch-funded, radical right-wing think tanks, the Heritage Foundation is the same group that brought you Trump's entire administration, plus his little list of Supreme Court nominees. The think tank's Constitutional study guide promotes "originalism," an interpretive framework that conservatives developed in the 1970s in reaction to the civil rights movement as it was expressed through the Warren Court.)
I know calling out Republican hypocrisy is useless, and I know Republicans in Washington have been reduced to glorified shitposters whose only hope for relevancy lies in their ability to stir up a culture war every now and then, but in a political moment where Republicans insist on the importance of everyone listening to their totally valid "ideas," the least they could do is offer a little ideological consistency.
As State Sen. Jim McCune demonstrated so sleepily last week, Republicans have long fought tooth and nail for "local control" of schools in order to prevent federal and state governments from doing stuff like desegregating schools and requiring sexual health education courses. And I'm old enough to remember Republicans freaking out about "liberal indoctrination" when a group of kids in New Jersey sang a pro-Obama song in 2009. And yet here's Honeyford harnessing the power of the state from his throne in Olympia to dictate what teachers in our Socialist Hellhole can and can't teach their students about history!
You'd think their strongly held belief in local control might have prompted Republicans on the committee to speak up and remind their colleague that this tyrannical proposal might "kill liberty as we know it today," to borrow McCune's language. But, alas, they stayed silent—for the most part. But we'll get to that later.
During the committee's discussion, Honeyford admitted he "generally doesn't like" issuing mandates to local school districts, but a couple "man-on-the-street" interviews he'd recently heard convinced him that "people don't know much about communism."
Honeyford added that he's pushing for Washington students to learn only the Heritage Foundation's interpretation of the Constitution because—I swear to God—a few anecdotal responses to the images on his necktie convinced him that "people really lack knowledge of our founding documents."
The Senator said he has "often" asked people to read his necktie (pictured above), which features a brick pattern of license plates with text on them. When the respondent says the text on those plates comes from the Declaration of Independence, duty forces Honeyford to issue a correction, since the language on the plates on his necktie actually comes from the preamble to the Constitution. Fucking kill me.
In any event, you won't be surprised to learn that Honeyford didn't appear to have given the substance of his legislation much thought. Sen. Lisa Wellman, who chairs the committee, pointed out that Honeyford's bill conflates communism as an economic system with communism as a political system, and noted that both capitalism and communism can and have existed under authoritarian regimes. Honeyford said he didn't know how Wellman could make the distinction between communism as a political regime or as an economic regime, and basically left it at that. Genius. What a great discussion.
Lucinda Young, a lobbyist for the teachers union, more or less argued that Honeyford's legislation was extreme, given the fact that Washington's learning standards rarely if ever dictate that students learn "one specific item with an equally specific learning outcome." The state already requires that students learn about ten major social structures, including monarchies, oligarchies, theocracies, communism, capitalism, totalitarianism, etc. The state also requires all high school students take a civics course "to ensure that students have basic knowledge about national, state, tribal, and local governments, and that they develop the skills and dispositions needed to become informed and engaged citizens."
A concerned citizen named Al Hernandez argued that the bill was "quite clearly an attempt to have red-scare indoctrination front-loaded into law," while another concerned citizen demonstrated his proficiency in that subject by highlighting the "breath-taking sacrifices our American forces have made" purportedly to stop the spread of communism.
Kendrick Washington with the ACLU argued that teachers who teach the number of people killed under communist regimes might also focus on the number of people killed during slavery under capitalist systems, during American imperialism, as a result of drone strikes, and in other wars. He further and rightly dismissed the bill as an attempt to waste valuable time by trying to stir up McCarthy-era fear about a danger "that is not on our doorstep."
"Right now, Americans are upset about America and how we got here," he added, noting the insurrection attempt from self-described patriots that kicked off the year.
Lest Honeyford look like the only dummy in the room, Republican State Senator Perry Dozier expressed his surprise that people would take issue with this anti-communist bill and not a bill that would require students to learn about local Native American history, as there were no difference between trying to turn communism into a boogeyman again and telling kids about the history of a people who have lived here since time immemorial and who have survived genocide.
In any event, this bill will likely go nowhere, but it's worth highlighting Washington's point. Sen. Wellman should never have wasted time holding a hearing on this proposal in the first place. In committee she justified shining a light on the bill because she "lives in a bubble" and thinks "there are a lot of opinions out there that need to be revealed." She also wanted the supporters of this to "show themselves." Translation: she wanted them to show their ass. Which they did! And maybe Honeyford traded a hearing on this bill in exchange for a promise not to slow down some other piece of legislation, but we'll never know because Wellman didn't get back to her comms person before press time.
But right now the Legislature faces the biggest challenges it has ever faced, and the constraints of the remote session drastically reduces its ability to adequately meet those challenges. We don't have time to entertain these dorm room convos designed only to prevent the majority from implementing the agenda the voters put them into office to implement.