Civics lessons not likely to be fair and balanced

I was reflecting the other day on the passage in the book of Acts where we are given a description of the early church. “The whole body of believers was united in heart and soul. Not a man of them claimed any of his possessions as his own, but everything was held in common … they had never a needy person among them, because all who had property in land or houses sold it, brought the proceeds of the sale, and laid the money at the feet of the apostles; it was then distributed to any who stood in need.”

This isn’t a passage you find in many sermons, unless it would be a televangelist encouraging his listeners to lay their gifts at his feet; not for the needy but for his plane or palace. Especially in U.S. culture, this passage is passed over because it is so problematic and prophetic, and antithetical to materialism and capitalism. Some say it’s an example of communism in the New Testament. It is especially terrifying as a Biblical story, as two persons who don’t turn the fruit of their sales over for the good of all, and lie about, it are struck dead.

Frankly, I was thinking about this passage because of our governor. You may recall, she referred to the “communists” in our government when she spoke to the Republican National Committee some weeks ago. The Federalist has made those remarks available to all of us. She believes we have a unique role historically as a country, having fought communism for several decades. I’m curious if she would call these early believers in the book of Acts “communists.”

Don’t get me wrong, there are several admirable ideas in her speech she believes her party should, and does stand for. For instance, I’m not sure there is anyone in what she calls the “radical left” who would disagree with her, that people should be judged on the basis of their character not the color of their skin. But if she is intent on spending a significant amount of taxpayer money on civics education materials for public schools, she might be more careful about her economic language and name calling. Already, some educators expect her history and economics materials will be more ideological than educational.

There is a difference between communism and democratic socialism, between capitalism and vampire capitalism, all of them distinct from a Biblical and structural emphasis on sharing and the common good. All are ways of approaching economics and one would have difficulty pointing to a pure example of any of them; though I would suggest the U.S. is approaching, if we aren’t already there, the bloodletting of the vampire.

The governor also holds up individual liberty. One can almost hear the echo of Patrick Henry in the strength of her remarks. Of course, this argument has played out in force in the pandemic, as she has refused to wear or encourage mask-wearing in public places. As one customer stormed out of the retail establishment where I work, after I asked him to take a mask, he said, “I don’t believe in dictators.” My response was, “I believe in loving the neighbor.” Sometimes, my liberty and my neighbor’s well being are in conflict, Kristi.

There is a problem with spending $900,000 for educational materials on history, civics, geography and economics to instruct South Dakota students about “why the U.S. is the most special nation in the history of the world.” If the instruction is centered in a political persuasion that doesn’t allow for differing points of view, then it isn’t education but indoctrination. And if our education system doesn’t help our children understand the bad right along with the good, the bad will never be outgrown or corrected.

The U.S. is a special nation. Few would dispute that. But the “most special” nation in the history of the world? Many would dispute that. I’ve had the privilege of being present in many countries. I can’t think of one where people didn’t believe their country was special. I’m not sure any of them would have the arrogance to claim they are the “most special” in the world. Arrogance belies inferiority. How I dislike the boisterous chanting of “USA, USA” in foreign lands. How embarrassing! It also makes it more likely I will always be seen as a dollar sign when walking the streets of India.

My Lakota friends have helped me understand that I’m a settler on stolen lands. Will that understanding be part of the South Dakota history curriculum, or is that an idea propagated by the “radical left?” The idea seems to have some strength in both Treaty law and Supreme Court decisions. And if that is true, how will Mt. Rushmore be treated in the new curriculum? Will Wounded Knee be a massacre or a battle? Will students learn we have three of the poorest counties in the country, all reservation land, and while we spent $900,000 on new curriculum materials, we denied status to reservation schools that would help Native children learn their language and culture?

Truth was God for Gandhi. Truth with a capital T is divisible. History will be reported from many points of view. That’s as it should be. But even small truth can be manipulated by exaggeration and omission. Who is writing these curriculum materials, and who will read and certify them?