Don’t learn…

As thoughts drift to Washington D.C. this weekend, I’m reminded of a conversation I had there while attending a National Science Foundation meeting. This was shortly after the rather memorable episode in which the new Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings – after only two days on the job – issued a stern warning letter because an 11 year old girl named Emma interviewed for a public television show was naive enough to tell an animated character named Buster Bunny about “my mom and Gillian, who I love a lot.”

Silly sillly Emma. How could she not realize that the two grownups who had loved her and taken care of her all her life – including her own mommy – were part of an evil anti-American agenda? Even though this was just a passing remark made to an cartoon rabbit in a 30 minute TV special about making maple syrup and cheese in Vermont, the warning from the new Secretary of Education was enough to get the Public Broadcasting Service to pull the broadcast in most parts of the country.

Think how effective something like this is: Now Emma knows to be ashamed of who she is, of the people she loves, of her very life and those she holds most precious. In a way it was quite brilliant and bold for our Education Secretary (now in her last two days on the job) to use this little girl as a public example to hold up for shame and ridicule, as her very first official act. It sent a message to all little kids everywhere that they had better have the good sense to come from the right sort of family. And if they don’t, the little brats should be prepared for our government to turn them into figures of public shame in front of an entire nation.

I would be surprised if the incoming Arne Duncan will be able to come up with anything so splendidly dramatic right off the bat. You’ve got to hand it to Secretary Spellings – she set the bar very high indeed.

Anyway, back to my tale of visiting the NSF. At a reception before the meeting I got into a pleasant chat with two women. After a few minutes they mentioned that they both worked for the U.S. Department of Education. Ad libbing like a true New Yorker, I asked them how they liked the Secretary’s new education policy. “What policy?” they asked. “You know,” I continued, “Don’t learn, don’t teach.”

At which point they both got very frightened looks on their faces, peered around furtively to see whether anybody had witnessed them talking to me, and quickly excused themselves.

So much for New York humor…

10 Responses to “Don’t learn…”

  1. Lisa says:

    Took some googling, but I finally worked out that Gillian was Emma’s mother’s lesbian lover/wife. 😉

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Lisa!

    I sometimes forget that not everybody currently outside the U.S. is familiar with the strange ways of Bush appointees. 😉

    Also, folks outside the U.S. may not get that “Don’t learn, don’t teach” is a play on “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (a very interesting phrase to Google).

  3. troy says:

    Really, what did you expect? In essence, you overtly attacked the organization that they were a part of. You can’t just assume that it’s all doom and gloom for them.

    As a stranger, it is likely that they didn’t know that you were joking, and most likely assumed that you were attacking. If you really wanted to know how they felt about the policies of their organization, it would have been better to ask it in a more neutral manner.

    I personally, know nothing about what the Department of Education’s policies are, but, do believe that the vast majority of the people in that department believe in what they are doing.

    I also, never heard about the “Emma has two Mommies” incident, but, would assume that if she was talking to a cartoon, that there would be the likelihood of a large child audience. And, independant of what you think about having two mommies, the vast majority of people do not think this is a topic that should be brought up outside of the home. Just as if she would have said “I like to touch my pee pee”, I’d argue that there’s nothing wrong with that, but, it’s not approriate to broadcast on national television while talking to a cartoon rabbit…

  4. admin says:

    Yes, I was indeed attacking. I don’t think there was any doubt about that. I never said I was trying to find out what they thought about the policies of their organization. I was intending to send a message.

    Troy, the “vast majority” segment of your comment is not only false, but it is hate speech, pure and simple. I realize you know that, and you’re just speaking in such monstrous hateful terms in order to be provocative.

    But following along with your line of reasoning, it could have been worse, right? Emma could have a mommy and daddy of two different races. I’m sorry if I’m upsetting you by suggestion such an obscenity as a mixed marriage.

    Again, following your line of reasoning, maybe the Department of Education should lock up our incoming president.

  5. troy says:

    It’s not hate speach, and, I disagree with you.

    My statement was that the vast majority would prefer to teach their children about ANY kind of sexuality at home. And, since this is not the norm, (not a judgement, just a statement of fact), most parents would prefer to broach the subject when and if they thought it was appropriate. I would guess that the reaction to remove this segment was politically motivated and would have had the same result from ANY person running that department.

    Look at the results with the Prop 8 propaganda in California, one of the biggest soundbites in the pre-election campaign was putting fear that gay marriage would be taught in school if Prop 8 was defeated. So, the success of that would give some validity to my assumption that most parents would choose to teach their children about these types of issues.

    Your response is puzzling. Perhaps a more effective method to “send your message” would have been to tell the women you mentioned “what and why” you disagreed with the department’s policy. Rational thought is usually given more credence than reactionary attacks.

    Again, I strongly disagree that my speach is either “monstrous” or “hateful”. I don’t see the “pure and simple” nature of this.

  6. admin says:

    Hey Troy, I’m a Jew. I’m not talking about my beliefs, but about what I am labeled just by virtue of having been born who I am.

    So I’m very familiar with this kind of slippery slope about being labeled an obscenity simply for what you are, rather than for what you believe. That gives me a low tolerance for hate (ie: attacks on people simply for existing), even when it rationalizes itself as something other than hate.

    Being a victim of this kind of attack may just not be something you could ever experience on a visceral level. You might simply not know what I’m talking about when we get onto this kind of turf.

  7. troy says:

    So, am I being discounted simply because I am not a Jew? You are making a statement that I can’t understand hate simply because I was born who I am. Are we supposed to simply throw out all ideals, and not voice what’s important to us simply for fear of someone being hated by another?

    I don’t agree. Actually, I STRONGLY disagree. Your argument here is the same as Sally’s discounting males from having opinions that she believes only affect females.

    I have not made a statement of HATE here yet. Statements of opinion only. I don’t hate homosexuals, blacks, jews, or anyone simply because of who they were born as. But, I do HATE people making decisions for me on how and what I must teach my children.

    The fear of political correctness… Of offending someone simply because you have an opinion, is dangerous. We should all just agree to be able to discuss what we do or don’t believe in. We should be able to discuss why, in an honest and candid way without the HEAVY burden of worrying about offending someone. Otherwise, it becomes impossible to ever really understand anyone and what they may or may not believe.

    I just re-read my comment above… I still can’t see anything hateful in it. Please, educate me in a manner that doesn’t simply discount me because I wasn’t born Black, Jewish, Moslem, etc… and simply can’t understand what your experience is/was.

  8. admin says:

    No, I’m not talking about your not being a Jew. I’m talking about nobody having ever tried to erase all evidence of existence of “people like you”. It’s not that you’re wrong to not care so much about that, it’s just that I can’t help being sensitive to it when I see it being done. Not really an option for me.

    Sure, go ahead and offend people – that’s your right. I haven’t been censoring your blog comments, you will notice. But don’t be surprised when people are offended.

    Go ahead and teach your children whatever you want. But when you say to your children: “There are these bad people who are bad because they have dark skin, or because their grandparents wore yarmulkas, or whatever, and so mommy and daddy don’t want you to even know that they exist,” that builds up a sense of shame and fear in your children about some good, decent hard working people who have never hurt you. So don’t be all that surprised if it might offend people. But I totally agree that’s not your problem.

    Hey, if you want to tell your children to feel some sort of fear and shame about blacks, Jews, gays, Hindus, or whatever, that is entirely up to you. You don’t even need to acknowledge that you are spreading a form of hate to a new generation. After all, it’s a free country.

    Please note, though, that there is a huge difference between you personally making decisions about your own children, and a nation’s government trying to squash acknowledging the very existence of jews or blacks or gays as a matter of policy.

  9. troy says:

    Perhaps we should also fight for all of the pedophiles that our government is so senslessly trying to irradicate…

  10. admin says:

    Explain to me the connection between acts of pedophilia and either jews, blacks or gays, or any other group we’ve been talking about.

    You’ve suddenly jumped topic to physical assaults upon children. I realize you are trying to be provocative, but that one is quite a stretch even for you.

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