Saturday, June 18, 2022

What Really Bothers Politicians and Government Leaders About the Arts and Humanities? It's About Their Power

 “Without symbols of art, in all their many manifestations—painting and music, costume and architecture, poetry and sculpture—man would live culturally in a world of the deaf, dumb, and the blind.” Lewis Mumford, Art and Technics

Anyone notice how those same individuals who are seeking to disenfranchise voters, enact voting laws to increase the odds that their candidates get elected, and gerrymander voting districts to ensure their party's choices get elected, are the same individuals in our state legislatures trying to remodel education to get rid of subjects such as the arts and humanities, or at least sanitize them of anything they deem a danger to their power and ideology? 

The real reason for this is because, as Ruth O'Brien (2010) points out, "The humanities and arts play a central role in the history of democracy..." (p. ix). And that "great educators and nation-builders" of our past "understood how the arts and humanities teach children critical thinking that is necessary for independent action and for intelligent resistance to the power of blind tradition and authority" (p. ix).  If your goal is to remain in power no matter what, then anything, including the arts and humanities, which have the ability to instill within students, the ability and desire to question their government and their government leaders' actions, must be discarded. This political revising of these curriculum areas really explains why our state governments, in the hands of mostly men, whose desire is keep that power, are scrupulously attacking our schools and seeking to rewrite arts and humanities curriculums that promote unquestioning, blind acceptance of a version of the country's arts and history that deifies that country's status in the world.

These politicians know too well, that it has been through art and the humanities that those who are dissident and think differently, have in the past called attention to those who discriminate and enslave others; who promote their own self-interests above all other human beings; and who declare the environment theirs to dominate and exploit for profit. These subjects and their products have the potential to engage students in the learning process of "imagining the situations of others, a capacity essential for a successful democracy, a necessary cultivation of our "inner eyes" (O'Brien, 2010, p. ix).

Some of our current politicians and state government leaders in their efforts to rewrite school curriculum  want to "blind the inner eyes" of our young in order to solidify their power. They are rapidly and stealthily remodeling and revising education. They want a history that allows the inner eyes of children be directed toward only those events that paint an image of our nation as the "City on the Hill" and the "best country in the world," established by God to be a beacon to that world. That's why any historical content that counters this narrative is attacked, and critical theory is so frightening. 

In addition, these politicians and government leaders are demanding educators post lists of the literature read in classrooms so that any novels, poems, plays and essays that might contradict this narrative be challenged and discarded. The same would apply for works of art as well. These are desperate attempts by mostly men in our government, trying to preserve a narrative that is more myth than reality. Their own history they are trying to sanitize to their liking would tell them, if they looked closely enough, there will be resistance to their version of life and the world. The nation has already been built, with flaws of course, but deep in our DNA, and in our arts, literature, drama, and humanities, are the seeds of the resistance that will sprout in opposition to this version of America.

In the end, despite their efforts to control the arts, history, literature, and music in our schools, these government leaders will ultimately fail. There will always be ways for the inner eyes for students to catch glimpses of the situations of others and alternatives to this smothering and controlling version of education. You can try to fashion a world without thoughtful art, literature, music, historical critique, and create citizens that are "deaf, blind, and dumb" as Mumford points out. However, history shows that in such conditions, that very art and critique thrives and blossoms.

Mumford, L. (2000). Art and technics. Columbia University Press; New York, NY

O'Brien, R. (2010). "Foreword." Not for profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

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