As the Kansas Legislature meddles with public education, words from Great Uncle George resonate today

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The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policies impact the daily lives of people in our state. David Norlin is a retired teacher from Cloud County Community College, where he was the communications/English department head with a media specialization.

One of my first rules of debate: never compare anyone to Hitler.

There is far too much emotional cargo and the story is complicated. Oversimplified analogies, social media memes, and cartoonish simplifications all lead to overreactions. And overreacting is rarely good for us.

“Come on, let’s think about it together,” says Brother Isaiah.

The imperative is urgent, especially in a capital-ruled Kansas Capitol. When the legislature meets, reason reigns supreme – and is largely ignored.

The arcane mechanisms by which our laws are put in place are poorly understood by the general public, and dare I say by many lawmakers who vote on them, but really bad bills still climb the parapets and cry out to be enacted and enshrined will. Among the worst and greatest threats to education, freedom and sanity are household bills 2662 and 2550.

The Republican vanguard calls 2662 a “Parents’ Rights Act and an Academic Transparency Act.” Who can disagree, right? But wake up! Smoke is blown and only winds of sanity can sweep it away.

Parents already have rights and school content is already transparent. However, the bill would require an entire year’s lessons and materials to be posted on a “portal,” a website accessible not just to parents but to the general public. Paranoid parents – or anyone else – could flood it with complaints, making teachers’ lives even more miserable than during the pandemic.

Such labels incite a propagandized public to hold ax over the heads of teachers, administrators, and school boards.

That’s bad enough. But 2550 would essentially devalue public schools.

Again, 2550 sounds benign. An “educational savings account” for at-risk or low-income students attending private schools would deprive public school districts of basic student services. The dollars would go to parents applying for private school tuition and fees or other expenses.

freedom of choice, right?

But the bill would effectively bleed districts already stressed by teacher shortages (half of whom are now considering leaving) and COVID-related pressures, including insufficient funding. Among other knife-in-the-heart measures, this one goes deepest, in the most vital arteries. Public school parents would have few options.

The arcane mechanisms by which our laws are put in place are poorly understood by the general public, and dare I say by many lawmakers who vote on them, but really bad bills still climb the parapets and cry out to be enacted and enshrined will.

The public will not accept disappointing the police. But public schools? Your Republican lawmakers are like ducks on Junebugs.

Seeing all of this play out is even more harrowing after reading mine Great Uncle George Norlin‘s 1934 lecture, delivered during his 22-year tenure as President of the University of Colorado. Before and after Hitler’s rise, he was a “guest professor” at the University of Berlin.

However, my family pride and position of prestige are secondary to power his account first hand:

“Hitlerism has an inexorable logic. It’s nothing if not thorough. It is not enough that Germany is a huge unit politically, economically and racially. It must also be a cultural entity. It must be regulated under a single worldview — a shared emotion, purpose and philosophy of life. This resulted in “the grand gesture [of book-burning] the 10th of May last year.’

“Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, last November set up a sophisticated government agency to control and direct all public and enlightenment resources that help shape the national spirit—books, newspapers, periodicals, magazines, radio, music, theater , especially cinema and art in general, with the aim of bringing all people into unity of heart and mind.

“Moreover, schools and universities have lost any semblance of academic freedom. … On May 6 last year, the nationalization of truth was officially inaugurated at the university assembly in Berlin. Or as the Nazis call it, the “nationalization of truth”. There, the Minister of Education, Doctor Rust, passed the law: … ‘An unprejudiced, objective, scientific teaching that is blind to the intellectual changes within the nation will no longer be tolerated.’

“Reason and intellect are dethroned; and emotion, intuition, impulse reign in their place. Indeed, intellectualism is despised as something pale and unhealthy. It is a matter for pedants and professors, not for nobles. … It is part of a Nazi program to build a “truth” native to German soil and befitting German blood, not intellectual, not academic, but emotional and dynamic – a creed Germans must have been made to believe in order to to believe as nation and race be saved.”

No, no legislator or local propagandist is Hitler or Goebbels himself. But contemporary groupthink in Kansas makes critical thinking more critical than ever.

Our children – and teachers – need us.

Through its voice section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information here, including how to submit your own comment.

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