Cross-posted at "The Daily Narrative" (http://hlgoodall.com)
When the news broke last week of the request for Professor William Cronon's email after his NY Times op-ed piece suggested that Wisconsin's Republican governor Scott Walker's behavior was contrary to the state's history of "neighborliness, decency and mutual respect," I was reminded of the old line from WWII survivors that begins with the words "first they came for ...." It is a phrase, an analogy, which has been perhaps too often used to decry unjust political conduct by raising the specter of fear of imminent harm, but this time, in Professor Cronon's case, I think it is appropriate. Here's why:
1. First they came for the scientists, the evolutionary biologists, who dared to suggest that the planet was more than 6000 years old and that Adam and Eve did not peacefully coexist with dinosaurs. They were forbidden from teaching evolution without also giving equal time and attention to alternative explanations, including "intelligent design."
2. Then they came for the climatologists who dared to suggest that corporations and complicit governments were poisoning the planet and that unless we cleaned up our carbon addiction, our actions threaten to unleash an ecological Armageddon in the foreseeable future. As Paul Krugman points out in his column today:
"Back in 2009 climate skeptics got hold of more than a thousand e-mails between researchers at the Climate Research Unit at Britain's University of East Anglia. Nothing in the correspondence suggested any kind of scientific impropriety; at most, we learned -- I know this will shock you -- that scientists are human beings, who occasionally say snide things about people they dislike. But that didn't stop the usual suspects from proclaiming that they had uncovered "Climategate,' a scientific scandal that somehow invalidates the vast array of evidence for man-made climate change."
3. Then they came for the K-12 schoolteachers who were blamed for all manner of failure, including the widely circulated and deeply flawed results of the PISA tests (Program for International Student Assessment). These scores do not take into account the populations that some schools serve, nor are the right wingers who point to the results ever likely to admit that comparing the diverse school population of the U.S. to the homogeneous population in Finland is a realistic way to appraise learning. Or teaching. More importantly, I do not now know, nor have I ever known, a teacher who didn't want to improve education or get rid of those few colleagues who don't measure up.
But having students fail when they are from homes that don't stress education or have parents who don't participate in homework or are situated in communities that don't provide resources to enable schools to do their jobs is not all of the alleged harm that teachers do. As all good Christian right wingers know, what really goes on in public schools from sea to shining sea is the open promotion of homosexuality and the required reading of all those leftist novels, including those dangerous Harry Potter books.
4. Then they came for college professors in general for being well-known liberals. As Jonathan Knight, President of the AAUP puts it: It's hard to see that these liberal views cut very deeply into the education of students. In fact, a number of studies show the core values that students bring into the university are not very much altered by being in college." So although there is no evidence whatsoever of college professors affecting students' core values, the right is convinced that just being in the same classroom with a liberal is likely to inflict harm. If you read your holocaust history, you'll find exactly the same sentiments expressed by Nazis about good German students being in the same classroom with Jews.
5. Then they came for Professor Cronon for speaking out against behavior that he sees as contrary to the values of the majority of the population and the political history of the state of Wisconsin. Read his response here. Read the American History Association's statement deploring the actions of the Wisconsin Republican Party here.
Who will they come for next? Whose emails will be "requested?" Whose good name will the right try to smear? Look in the mirror, friend. I have.
These actions are not something that we should ignore. We have ignored them for too long. Believe me, I know the excuses we in the academic life make when it comes to speaking out. We say we are too busy. Our work comes first. We don't involve ourselves in politics. We're scholars; we don't pay attention to such things.
I have been guilty of saying those things, too. But I can no longer remain quiet. That is why I published Counter-Narrative last year and why I created the blog called "The Daily Narrative."
For me, the issue of speaking out against injustice is all about communication, from First Amendment freedoms to the right to political dissent, and I have a professional commitment to study, to teach, and to write about communication. But so do you. It is part of our democratic heritage as American citizens because we believe in the freedom of speech, the liberty of giving voice to our opinions, and the necessity of using reason and evidence to combat the right wing propaganda campaign that is based on ignorance, fear, and lies.
So this is what it all comes down to, my friends. Either we volunteer for service to our country's best interests in this ongoing "Battle of Narratives" that dominates our political landscape, or we stay home, remain silent, and content ourselves with our own cowardice. As my wife puts it, academics are notorious wussies in the face of conflict, which, by the way, is something the right counts on.
But sooner or later the knock on your door, or the request for your email, or the summons to account for your teaching and writing won't be one you can ignore. Because when that happens, they will have come for you.