Photo: AP

The conservative movement has long been deeply obsessed with the education system, from spending big on school board races to whining about just how hard it is to be a conservative in schools. One of the biggest fronts in this war: Editing school curricula to suit their worldview, usually by straight-up erasing things they don’t like.

The latest example of this trend, reported by Bridge magazine, may be the most purely dumb example yet: A Michigan conservative has successfully removed references to “democratic values” from the state’s proposed social studies standards, arguing the phrase is “partisan.”

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Democratic values. As in, the concepts held as valuable by democracy—you know, like voting, civil liberties, cool shit like that. Not the values of the Democratic Party. Thirteen-year-olds understand this distinction. Pretty sure my cat could take a good stab at it. But not Michigan state Senator Patrick Colbeck, who also happens to be running for governor (in which capacity he accused Democratic candidate Abdul El-Sayed of being part of the Muslim Brotherhood). Colbeck was very disturbed indeed to see the D Word appear in the curriculum. From Bridge:

“They had this term in there called ‘core democratic values,’” Colbeck said. “I said, ‘Whatever we come up with has to be politically neutral, and it has to be accurate.’ I said, ‘First of all, core democratic values (is) not politically neutral.’ I’m not proposing core republican values, either.”

The d-word in “core democratic values” pertains to America’s system of democracy, not to the Democratic Party. Core democratic values generally include fundamental beliefs and constitutional principles, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Still, at Colbeck’s urging, 13 references to “core democratic values” were deleted or changed to “core values.”

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I’ve always said that good education starts with replacing a term that accurately describes the concept you’re explaining with one that doesn’t.

Colbeck was invited to join a group tasked with reviewing changes to the social studies standards, and promptly invited other conservatives to join without the department’s knowledge. Other changes to the curriculum reported by Bridge are less head-smackingly dumb but more generally disturbing:

  • The one reference in the current standards to the Ku Klux Klan is cut, with the KKK relegated to a single mention in a list of optional examples high school history teachers can consider using when teaching about social issues between 1890 and 1930.
  • Five existing references to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have been cut, with a lone reference remaining in a section on the 1920s on its “legal strategy to attack segregation.”
  • The two references to gays and lesbians in the current standards, in sections dealing with the fight for rights for minority groups, have been deleted.

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In 2017, Colbeck recommended to the state Board of Education that references to the KKK should be downplayed, arguing that the “KKK was founded as an anti-Republican organization, not an anti-black organization.”

The proposed revisions are now being reviewed, and the public comment period ends June 30, should you live in Michigan and want to register your dismay.

The goal of removing elements of history that make it harder to be a conservative if you know about them has been pursued across the country by Republicans on school boards for years. In 2010, Christian conservatives on the Texas Board of Education voted to “soften” the role of slavery in the Civil War, while not mentioning Jim Crow or the KKK at all. At the same time, as Think Progress reported, conservatives successfully added “causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association,” plus “documents that supported Cold War-era Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his contention that the U.S. government was infiltrated with Communists in the 1950s.”

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With this approach, it’s no wonder America is so thoroughly mediocre compared to other countries in educational achievement. Better make sure the kids don’t learn about that, either. We’re number one, baby!