PHOENIX — Republican lawmakers voted Friday to require that students be exposed to stories of people who fled communism, as part of a curriculum to prepare them to be “civically responsible and knowledgeable adults.’’
The language was inserted by Rep. Judy Burges, R-Skull Valley, into a 232-page bill of changes in laws governing K-12 education.
It says there must be comparative discussion of political ideologies like communism and totalitarianism and how they “conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States.’’
It also would mandate that the state Department of Education come up with new civic education standards including the expectation that citizens will be responsible for preserving and defending “the blessings of liberty.’’
And it would require the department to create a list of oral histories “that provide portraits in patriotism based on first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.’’
Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said it’s clear to him what that means.
“The reality is one of the greatest threats facing the globe today is communism and totalitarianism,’’ he said. “We have governments like the Communist Chinese government, that their stated goal is to be the world’s sole and only superpower, and that they will achieve that goal through any means possible.’’
The legislation contains a lot more.
For example, there’s a prohibition against teaching that someone’s race, ethnic group or sex determines their moral character or makes them responsible for actions committed by the same group.
Violations could lead to a $5,000 fine for the school district and the instructor losing a teaching certificate.
Also, school boards would not be able to mandate the use of masks by students or staff on school campuses.
Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle also used this measure to debate whether the state is doing enough to pay for K-12 education, even though that funding is in a separate budget measure.
But the discussion became most heated over the question of a new mandated teaching of civics with an emphasis of teaching patriotism and that our form of government is better than any other.
“The threat of communism, and honestly, even here within our own borders, the threat of Marxism is on our front porch,’’ Hoffman said.
He said there are people “within school systems’’ who are socialists.
His poster child for that is Noah Karvelis, a former Phoenix teacher he called “an avowed socialist.’’
Karvelis, who no longer lives in Arizona, was an organizer of the group Arizona Educators United that mobilized Arizona’s historic 2018 teachers’ strike. He spoke at the Socialism Conference 2018 in Chicago about the strike and Arizona’s Invest in Ed act. But Karvelis said at the time he was there to network with other teacher organizations.
“To teach our children about the evils of communism and totalitarianism is right,’’ Hoffman said. “It is our duty and our responsibility to do that.’’
That means having students hear “real testimony from people who escaped those types of governments and now live here and enjoy the blessings of this country,’’ he said.
Jan. 6 riot brought up
Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, countered: “You know what’s a bigger threat? White nationalism.’’
Hernandez placed the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol into the same category.
“So, yes, let’s talk about communism,’’ he said. “But let’s talk about making sure we are not letting people get away with the kinds of things that happened on Jan. 6 and teaching our kids it’s OK to try to overthrow a democratically elected government.’’
That provoked a response from Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, who was born in Vietnam in 1962 and emigrated to the United States after the Vietnam War.
“White nationalism didn’t drown 250,000 Vietnamese in the South China Sea,’’ he told colleagues. “The communists did.’’
Ditto, he said, of the execution of 86,000 Vietnamese at the fall of Saigon. And Nguyen said it was communism that caused him to be in the United States.
“So don’t take it lightly, don’t mock me, don’t mock what I go through in life,’’ he said, saying he lost most of his family members due to communism. “If we don’t stand up to teach communism to our children, we’ll lose this country.’’
The language added by Burges also requires instruction on “the civic-minded expectations of an upright and desirable citizenry.’’
Conflicts with Senate version
While the bill passed on a 31-25 party line vote, the future of the provisions on the civics teaching may not remain.
That language is not in a parallel bill that Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, already has pushed through the Senate. And Boyer told Capitol Media Services he does not support the provision.
“We shouldn’t be dictating curriculum from on high, even if it’s well-intentioned,’’ he said.
The differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee.
There’s another key difference.
The Senate version contains language that would allow far more parents to use vouchers of public money to send their children to private and parochial schools.
But efforts to add that to the House version faltered after Republican Reps. Michelle Udall of Mesa and Joel John of Arlington voted with Democrats to keep that out of the legislation.