Opinion: Books Represent Education, Statues Represent Indoctrination

Walter Rhein

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There have been a lot of discussions lately about keeping indoctrination out of public schools. Unfortunately, what many people fail to realize is that conservative indoctrination is already largely present both in our schools and in our communities.

Conservatives have been making some weird claims about how they don’t want to allow any discussions of gender identity in schools. When I was growing up, it was common to refer to some students as “boys” and some students as “girls.” Under new conservative proposals, that language would no longer be allowed.

We also used to refer to our teachers as either “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Without gender identity, I suppose students will have to refer to their teachers by some gender-neutral prefix. Maybe just “teacher?”

It’s troubling that such poorly thought-out conservative proposals can dominate our media. I find it even more concerning that there are reports of shelves being stripped of books in states like Florida.

I would approve of removing books such as Mein Kampf that contain a right-wing hate ideology. However, some right-wing politicians have gone on record to defend the right of people to make demonstrations that align with this kind of ideology.

Right-wing hate ideology seems to be absent from the books that generally end up on banned lists. Instead, we see books that advocate tolerance and love for all different lifestyles. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird end up on banned lists. These are classic, transformative books that have endured the test of time and helped advance our society.

To me, the idea of book bans seems like yet another effort to rewrite history. We’ve already seen how the “Lost Cause” narrative was effectively deployed. As a result, many Americans wrongly believe that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.

This “Lost Cause” narrative has been effective, in part, because of the utilization of statues. Statues have long been the preferred form of messaging from fascists because they are a form of idol. That’s probably why the Bible specifically prohibits idol worship in the Ten Commandments.

The presence of statues all across the United States is yet another proof that the United States is not a “Christian” nation. Real Christians would demand these statues be removed. Instead, many of them are defending statues, even when they represent men who were guilty of terrible crimes.

It’s easy to see how a statue is a form of indoctrination. Think about it. If you place a statue in a city center, the residents of that city are forced to look at that statue every day. The statue is seen as a celebration of an individual, however, it supplies virtually no information about that individual. Statues are meant to be seen and respected. They are not to be questioned. There’s no room for independent thought.

Many of the Confederate statutes that can be seen in modern America were put up decades after the Civil War. These statues were erected during the Jim Crow era as symbols of white dominance over the black community.

Confederate statues represent a rewriting of history. White supremacists use statues of Confederate leaders to push the fabricated “Lost Cause” into our faces.

It’s revealing that the same people who often defend statues, want to cancel history by removing books and valid academic theories. Today, teachers have to live in fear that anything they teach might subject them to a false accusation of presenting critical race theory.

For the most part, Americans don’t understand what critical race theory is. They don’t recognize that it’s an academic theory that’s not even taught in K-12 schools. Nevertheless, the initials CRT have been effectively deployed by right-wing politicians to incite unreasonable fear for political gain.

Because critical race theory is deliberately misrepresented by dishonest political actors, good teachers are subjected to false accusations even when they teach the simple truth of history. The result is that teachers are fired and books are banned from the classroom.

The American public needs to be smart enough to recognize that people who wish to control them defend statues and denounce books.

Books provide an opportunity for independent thought. They contain a wealth of information. To get anything from a book, you have to engage your mind.

Statues are inflexible symbols without complexity. They are erected in public places so that people can’t escape them. Statues are intended to glorify the individuals they represent, and there is no room for discussion or argument.

Statues represent control. Books represent freedom.

Over the last few years, the United States has been showing signs of a disturbing march toward authoritarianism. Some people mistakenly claim the Jim Crow era ended with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among other things, that act provided protections against voter suppression.

However, the Civil Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. For the last ten years, we’ve essentially been living in a second Jim Crow era. Voters are being oppressed in several ways, and the result is book bans and attacks on true history.

Parents are right to be concerned about the threat of indoctrination in the classroom. However, those parents have to also be smart about where the threat is coming from. Politicians who defend statues but deny your children access to books only want to control you.

Statues only provide an oversimplified representation. It’s only in books that you have a chance of discovering true history. Unfortunately, many textbooks in the United States also feature lies such as the “Lost Cause” narrative.

Avoiding indoctrination is never simple. As a general rule, individuals who want to learn the truth about history need to look to books instead of statues. The simple act of reading will do more to help support your liberty than being forced to stand at respectful attention in front of the statue of some traitor.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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