Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Education

A lesson in using fear to fuel politics

With all the education headlines lately, what better time to get educated?

Surely there are lessons to be learned from the teacher strike in Chicago that left 350,000 kids out of school, one on how grownups are supposed to compromise with something as big as education at stake.

Then there's Gov. Rick Scott's "listening tour" of schools across Florida this week in the name of improving education — intriguing, since Scott has not exactly been known as the state's biggest booster of teachers. But the not-so-popular governor has hopes for a second term, so maybe that "listening" tour will include some actual "hearing," too.

And in our own back yard, we have the latest move by that irrepressible group of zealots apparently determined that no Hillsborough County student shall hear the word "Muslim" on school grounds unless it is followed by the word "terrorist."

The Great Hillsborough Muslim Debate might have grown stale by now, except this week group members showed they were willing to exploit one of the most tragic days in our history to push the cause.

Believe it or not, Florida students are required to learn about world religions, and Hassan Shibly of the Council on American-Islamic Relations was invited last year to speak to a high school class. Reports of his talk indicated he was there in the name of education rather than to stealthily indoctrinate young impressionables.

Reaction was formidable anyway. A group packed School Board meeting after meeting demanding CAIR be banned. They claim to have nothing against Muslims, just CAIR and other organizations they see as controversial. Others suspect the group is against Islam in general.

Points to the School Board in the face of pressure. While the rules about guest speakers were restated and clarified, decisions were left largely to teachers and principals. Me, I like the idea of kids knowing about people and religions unfamiliar, and I trust educators to make that call. Particularly over this group.

Activist Terry Kemple does not. This is instructive because Kemple is a candidate for that same School Board, and also because he and his group thought the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would be a fine time to further their cause with a rally.

As the anti-CAIR crowd again made its pitch Tuesday outside the School Board building downtown, it was nice to see counter-protesters show up equally strong. "This Jew Stands With Our Muslim Brothers and Sisters," one young man's sign said. "No Hate Today" said another, and wait, didn't I see some of these same faces occupying Tampa and railing at Republicans two weeks ago? Anyway, there was fervor on both sides and an actual moment when a man yelled into a counter-protester's face: "Who you callin' hateful?"

Candidate Kemple, front and center Tuesday, had previously been quoted as saying: What better way to honor those who died on Sept. 11 than this?

And, really?

How about solemn remembrance of tragedy and sacrifice? How about reaffirmation of all we're supposed to be about, right down to educating kids about the world instead of shrinking from it?

That's a better legacy than pumping up fear to fuel a political future, but maybe there's a lesson there, too.

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