A conservative Alabama state senator who may attempt a jump up to Congress used a newspaper interview this weekend to hail McCarthyism and assail a bevy of popular books and authors that he thinks are too subversive to teach to children.
Scott Beason has kept himself busy in recent years backing draconian anti-immigrant measures and a law that forces employers to let workers keep guns in their cars at the office. But now, buttressed by Tea Partiers and local GOP leaders, he's declaring war on Toni Morrison, Tim O'Brien, Arthur Miller, and even Southern icons Harper Lee and William Faulkner.
At issue are the federal "Common Core" standards for grade-school education, developed in part by the nation's governors and used by the Department of Education to dole out performance-based awards to public school districts. While the standards have met with substantive criticism from many on the left and right about their effectiveness across disparate districts, they've also been targeted by far-right fringemeisters as anti-Murka gubmint socialism.
That seems to be the tack that Beason and his Alabama allies have taken. "I want a conservative, honest, traditional, American values worldview, yes," he told an interviewer two months ago. "Education has always been about worldview. I don't think anyone can disagree with that. Always has been. I think the left understands the power of education far more than the right."
In a new interview with the Anniston Star, he showed a reporter his copy of a literature anthology approved for use in the state's schools under its Common Core standards. He'd used sticky notes to flag all the content he and his Tea Party ilk found objectionable, including:
- "[A]n essay by 19th century naturalist John Muir, which decries 'those who are wealthy and steal timber wholesale.'"
- "[T]he poet Randall Jarrell, who documented the savagery of the air war over Europe in World War II."
- A story by Vietnam vet and acclaimed The Things They Carried author Tim O'Brien. "What is the message that's being put across?" Beason says. "Is it that we were the bad guys in Vietnam, or was it that we were the good guys in Vietnam? I think we're the good guys. But I don't get that out of this argument, I mean, of this story."
- "[A]n excerpt from John Hersey's Hiroshima, a story of the atomic bomb 'told from the Japanese view,' he said. There's a lack of balance, he said, that undermines American values. 'It doesn't sound like we're being very good folks, does it?' Beason said."
- "The Crucible, Arthur Miller's play about the Salem witch trials. The senator thinks it's unfair that the textbook attached a sidebar asking students about parallels between the witch trials and Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare of the early 1950s, in which numerous writers and others — including Arthur Miller — were accused of having communist sympathies... 'So we're comparing the McCarthy investigations of the 1950s, in which he turned out to be right, with the Salem witch hunts,' Beason said."
- Also, the Toni Morrison novel The Bluest Eye, which a Tea Party leader recently decried as smut to a state Senate committee.
Beason is apparently supported in his efforts by local GOP leaders. The website for the Talladega Republican Party lists dirty works it thinks inappropriate for Alabama's schoolchildren because of their smutty content. That list includes To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, The Grapes of Wrath, and As I Lay Dying, according to the Anniston Star. ("Please help us defeat Common Core in Alabama and save our children and grand children from the Federal propaganda machine of deception, control and dumbing down of our children," the site says elsewhere.)
Beason recently announced he would not seek re-election to the state Senate. Last election cycle, he challenged Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) for a congressional seat and was face-smashed. But Bachus is retiring, and Beason has hemmed and hawed on whether he'll run for the open seat again. "I really am in one-decision-at-a-time-mode here," he's said. Presumably, he'll take stock of his political prospects as soon as he's done making Alabama textbooks safe for impressionable young minds.
[Photo credit: AP]