The history of dissident thought

It’s embarrassing and shocking that Michele Bachmann can be a serious candidate for president. The same goes for Rick Perry; the same goes for Mitt Romney; the same goes for Sarah Palin. Susan Jacoby thinks Americans’ ignorance of our history of secularism is part of the problem.

 I am less concerned about whether the American public is unacquainted with secular philosophy than I am about its vast ignorance of the founders’ determination not to establish a Christian government. College courses cannot fill the empty space left by public elementary and secondary schooling in which secularism is considered a dirty word instead of an honorable part of American history.

If Americans were not in dire need of remedial education on this subject, Texas Gov. Rick Perry would be automatically disqualified as a presidential candidate because of his unabashed contempt for the constitutional prohibitions against any government favoritism toward religion.

…One of the great victories of the religious right since 1980 has been its ability to convince a significant proportion of Americans that public education is dominated by secular values and a secular interpretation of history, when the truth is that many local school officials and teachers are terrified of saying or teaching anything that contradicts conventional wisdom about religion as the foundation and essence of the American nation.

Almost everyone who does any kind of talking-in-public is terrified of saying anything that contradicts conventional wisdom about religion as the best thing evah. Teachers and school officials of course are triply or quadruply so, because they’re public servants, because they have power over the vulnerable young, because they have parents to deal with. The result is a vast rustling forest of taboos, and the result of that is ignorance and distortion.

What is needed is integration of knowledge about freethought and secularism at every level of public schooling, so that American students may begin, not end, their college education with a basic grounding in the history of dissident thought that has always been the engine of human progress.

It’s odd the way Americans combine a certain respect or affection for dissident thought with a passion for the most obedient kind of thought there is.