The Galveston Daily News from Galveston, Texas on November 28, 1993 · Page 13
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The Galveston Daily News from Galveston, Texas · Page 13

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Sunday, November 28, 1993
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S-"" 4" COMMENTARY SUNDAY MORNING, NOVEMBER 28, 1993 'IlihDAJLYNhWS 13-A There's a special place in hell for fear mongers /""""\ I I V»X -c Editor's Note: Molly Ivins is on ^vacation. This column originally Appeared in February. n what we trust will be a sunny Sunday in early spring, religion is on my /mind. In particular, what appears to be an increasingly respectable form of i bigotry these days — anti-fundamentalism. William Martin of Rice University, a sociologist of religion and biographer of Billy Graham, points out that what happens as a society becomes more modern and more secular is that those who hew to conservative, traditional values start clinging to them more tenaciously and vociferously. Because they feel more and more threatened by the pace of change in society, their conservatism and traditionalism become more extreme. What begins as a gap between the two groups grows into a chasm. I am no doubt doing damage to Professor Martin's thesis by over-simplifying it, but I believe this is what is happening in our society. The separation, the aggravation of the distance between the modernists and the traditionalists, is, I believe, worsened by that usual suspect — the media. I have been tryirig to think of any recent example — movie, television or book — in which the protagonist is a sympathetically portrayed fundamentalist. I have come up with one — a Quotable The Associated Press "There's no one I'll turn away. It's not always someone who's hungry. A lot of times it's someone who doesn't want to be alone on the holiday." — Ruth Williams Walker of Uniontown, Pa., who invites all comers to Thanksgiving dinner at her home. "After a long, long, hard fight, Jim Brady has won." — Senate Republican leader Bob Dole as Congress passed and sent to President Clinton the Brady handgun control bill. • a • "In my judgment your conduct was both cunning and very wicked." — Judge Michael Morland addressing two 11-year-old boys who were convicted Wednesday of beating a toddler to death in a crime that stunned Britain. Molly Ivins love of a little novel called "Raney" by Clyde Egerton out of North Carolina. (Of course, Egerton was fired from his teaching job at a fundamentalist school after the book came out because there's some mild sex in it, but these things do happen.) Intellectuals in America have traditionally despised fundamentalists — H.L. Mencken on the subject of "wowsers" is still coruscatingly funny. As it happens, I was born and raised amongst foot-washin' Baptists myself, so I have never regarded them as peculiar. I got saved three times before I was 12. It didn't take in the long run, but I hold that it did me no harm. My affection for the fundamentalist Christians of my youth, who to this good day can be found out feeding the hungry and caring for the sick, remains undiminished. My ambivalence about fundamentalist Christians stems from their role in politics. I have always subscribed to the philosophy of Mr. Dooley, the great sage of Chicago, v/ho once inquired, "Is there, in all the history of human folly, a greater fool than a clergyman in politics?" The politicization of fundamentalists, which first showed up in the mid-1970s in the form of the Moral Majority, has proceeded apace until now we are faced with these Shiite Baptists who are simply running amok in politics. Given the state of politics in this country, any reasonable person is entitled to conclude that politics could use an injection of the Good Book. But we are witnessing instead an injection of the very sort of divisive, doctrinal disputation — the insistence that all citizens behave according to the beliefs of some — that led our founding fathers to the doctrine of separation of church and state back at the beginning of this nation. I have recently noticed a number of mis-explanations of separation of church and state being spread by fundamentalists. "If s not in the Constitution," they cry. Actually, it is, even though the words "separation of church and state" do not appear therein. The Establishment clause of the First Amendment is what separates church and state. The founders were perfectly clear about what they were doing: It was put best by James Madison, in that magnificent 18th- century prose of which we are no longer capable. The purpose, he wrote, of the separation of church and state, "is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries." And still does. In Bosnia, a considerable amount of that blood reportedly comes from Moslem virgins who are being raped as a matter of policy by their Serb Christian neighbors. To understand the fears of fundamentalists is to understand their foolishness. But they get precious little understanding, not to mention empathy or sympathy, from those who pride themselves on their compassion. Fear is the most dangerous emotion in politics. People do terrible things to one another out of fear. In my opinion, anyone who can look at the raunchier frontiers of American culture without at least some trepidation hasn't got a lick of sense. But we are now looking at a form of fundamentalism in which fear is being deliberately fanned for political purposes. The bogeymen are everywhere: Sex education will lead directly to promiscuity, AIDS and Chinese communism. Failure to discriminate against gay people will lead to Sodom and Gomorrah. Failure to have official prayers in the schools means the End Is Nigh. I have no claim to expertise on eternal rewards and punishments. But personally, I suspect there is a special place in hell for the fear mongers. Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. ©1993 Creators Syndicate Inc. Rise to the task of improving public education B ill Clinton never promised to be "the education president," as his predecessor did. But there was every reason from his history to expect that education would be a keystone of his program. It had been his passion and almost his obsession during the decade he was governor of Arkansas. It's turned out that other things have pre-empted his attention this first year — the budget, Bosnia, NAF- TA, health care, etc. Clinton has launched several school initiatives, but probably the best thing the president has done for education is to pick his old friend, former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley, as the secretary of education. Riley is one of the most decent and honorable people in public life. He has little of the showmanship of his predecessor in the job, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. But Riley's sincerity and commitment to schools made a difference in his home state — where he led the fight to keep schools open during the battles over busing and launched the drive to improve their quality. He will make a difference here as well. The other morning, I went out to see Secretary Riley at Hine Junior High School, seven blocks from the Capitol, where he met with students and teachers and made a talk about a newly released report on America's young people. Hine Junior High has been a shining example of excellence in a generally beleaguered school system. David Broder Between the time Riley's visit was scheduled and his actual appearance, Hine became even more famous locally for its outspoken principal, Princess Whitfield. Angry because the slowpoke District of Columbia school bureaucracy would not assign the four extra teachers needed to meet the increased enrollment in her magnet school, Whitfield went on the warpath and took her demands to the public. By the time Riley got there, two of the extra teachers were at work — and Whitfield was telling anyone who would listen that "no one is going to stop me. One way or another, I'm going to get this done." With its palpable school pride and its pushy, no-compromise-with-quality principal, Hine proved to be the perfect setting for Riley to tell the country about a "revolution of rising expectations" that has not been widely noted. Among the scores of social trends — many of them negative — reported in the study he was releasing, "Youth Indicators 1993," the most hopeful, he said, is that "the educa- tion aspirations of our young people have jumped enormously in the last 10 years." In 1980, a Department of Education survey showed more high school sophomores planned to end their schooling with a high school diploma — or less — than were aiming at a bachelor's degree. A similar question in 1990 showed more than three times as many said their goal was a bachelor's degree than said completing high school was their aim. The evidence in the report suggests this is not just talk. Many more are enrolled in academic or college preparatory tracks than a decade earlier. More are participating in after-school academic clubs; fewer, in cheerleading, athletics and similar activities. The upward shift was particularly dramatic among black students surveyed, and that was certainly true of many of the youngsters in Riley's audience at Hine. Eighth-grader Gregory Stevens said he would "most definitely go to college" to pursue his interest in art and music. Classmate Angela Bennett was even more specific: "I plan to go to UDC (the University of the District of Columbia) and then to law school. I want to be a criminal lawyer, so I can help people and see that they get their rights." That such students should be stuck in classrooms with 35 or more pupils, because the District school bureaucracy cannot get teachers to the schools where they are needed, is almost criminal. But the larger point that Riley made is that now that large majorities of our young people understand that they need more education in order to earn decent wages and lead good lives, this society simply cannot fail them. The PTA mothers who met with Riley put the demand hi specific terms, telling Riley what Hine needs to make it "stand out even more," as one of them put it. He responded in general terms, talking about the legislative agenda that next year will be full of bills to improve federal school aid to needy children, to set national standards for education performance and to ease the transition from school to work — all projects he has helped launch this year. And then he spoke about the faith that he and President Clinton share with millions of other Americans. "Public education," Riley said, "is the bedrock of our free enterprise system and our democratic rights. It is the one American institution that has done more than any other to give each generation, and new immigrants as well, the leg up in life they need to get ahead." With principals as uncompromising as Princess Whitfield and an education secretary as committed as Dick Riley, the public schools have a chance to meet the rising expectations of this latest generation of Americans. Nothing is more important than their success. Nat Hentoff " 1AR JfrCKSOH. IT SEEMS,WOULD UK£ To OOlN TWE PRIESTHOOD.' P.C. purge grips the Smithsonian P olitical correctness has not yet subsided on American college campuses. Indeed, it is getting worse. Professors, as well as students, are being brought up on charges of "insensitive" language, ideas and curriculum material. At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Term., a professor has been conducting a popular art history class for years. Suddenly, however, a student filed charges of sexual harassment against him. He did not know her. It was a very large class. But she claimed that the reproduction of a painting he had shown sexually harassed her. The university instituted a probe of the professor, questioning present and past students to see if any of them had felt sexually harassed by any art he had shown. After four months, he was cleared. His pleasure in — and enthusiasm for — teaching have gone. Political correctness has spread far beyond institutions of alleged higher learning. Consider how the Library of Congress, of all places, has betrayed the integrity of its film division so as not to be "insensitive." The Library of Congress has been showing a 54-film festival of the most significant early American movies. The most significant and by far the most influential film — D.W. Griffith's 1915 "Birth of a Nation" — has been censored out of the series. "Birth of a Nation" is a profoundly racist movie, with a view of the Reconstruction period that reduces blacks to degrading stereotypes. However the history of American movies would have been greatly diminished had it not been for what Griffith showed of the potential of films. As Ken Ringle has pointed out in the Washington Post, "Birth of a Nation" for the first time "integrated into its narrative technique such cinematic devices as close-ups, flashbacks, multiple camera angles and parallel story lines. It shaped to a monumental degree the very concept of the motion picture." Yet William Gibson, chairman of the NAACFs board, says the film is "an insult to 30 million African-Americans. To honor this film and its filmmaker is to pay tribute to America's shameful racial history and to encourage a repeat of that history." A ringing dissent to this attempt to hide history came from black director John Singleton, whose movie, "Boyz N the Hood," got much deeper into the reality of black urban life than anything Spike Lee has done. "Birth of a Nation," says Singleton, "is a history lesson. Blacks should see the film today," he told the Hollywood Reporter, "and make an analogy between the nation then and the nation that exists now.... It's like the Holocaust. We should never forget." The NAACP has done so much, amid many dangers, to change the history of blacks in America that its call for censorship of this film is a denial of its role in making the attitudes ex- pressed in "Birth of a Nation" so contemptible among many, though certainly not all, Americans. Another classic film is David Lean's "Oliver Twist." Fagin is in it. Does the Library of Congress dare show that film? David Broder is a nationally syndicated columnist. ©1993, Washington Post Writers Group Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights.

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