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Monday, March 28, 2011

When ignorance and malice triumph

One of the forces that drove the development of America was a dominant respect for education and learning.  Two of the most published founders made plans for the establishment and maintenance of two of our most revered universities:  Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania.  While there has always been a segment of the population that advocated strongly for ignorance, malicious misinformation, and discrimination and exclusion, that segment has never inspired much more than derision or pity from the vast majority of the country.  Until now.  With the ascension of Sarah Palin as a vice presidential candidate and voice of a major political party, a dreadful but prideful ignorance became a virtue among an alarming portion of the citizenry.  She has compatriots in the likes of Michelle Bachman, the Fox News rant section. 
Below is exchange between a South Professor and a state representative who makes blatantly wrong interpretations of things she has read, imposes her ill will and misunderstanding of political movements onto the state education system.  Following is an example of the most horrendous ignorance and ill will from someone who is a member of the state legislature. 
 Associate Professor of Political Science Timothy Schorn, University of South Daktoa, published the following letter in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader last Saturday.

I recently wrote to South Dakota House of Representatives member Patty Miller regarding her concerns about socialism being taught in South Dakota schools (voiced during a House Education Committee hearing Feb. 14). It resulted in Miller suggesting that I should consider living in another country and that my kind of thinking is the cause of trouble in this country. She also claimed the Founding Fathers would find my way of thinking "disgusting."

I was hoping for a civil conversation about the underpinnings of our educational and governing systems. The tone of her responses, however, calls for a public reply because it raises serious issues regarding the attitude of some elected officials about discourse and our schools.

I am a registered independent, but for more than 20 years, I was a proud Reagan/Bush (the elder) Republican. I have almost 18 years of service in the U.S. Army and South Dakota National Guard and 20 years of service as an educator. I am the son of a Nebraska farmer/mechanic.

It does not matter to Miller who I am or what I have done, only that I disagree with her. I find it disturbing that she feels comfortable deciding who should and should not be living in this country and that she so cavalierly dismisses differing opinions.

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, creating a veritable marketplace where ideas are discussed and debated with the stronger idea prevailing (hopefully). Based on our correspondence, Miller apparently would limit speech to ideas with which she agrees. Curriculum, presumably at all levels, would be ideologically rigid. Those who stray beyond her narrowly defined parameters would be fired, as she suggested in one email.
Implicitly, under her approach, academic freedom and freedom of speech would be secondary to a civics program of approved doctrines and mantras. That certainly does not ensure American greatness. It would be more like the systems she criticizes in our correspondence.

While Miller prided herself in one of her responses on having read "Animal Farm," she fails to appreciate the irony of subsequently advocating the closed and controlled system she does to protect the nation.

I do not wish for Miller to consider living elsewhere. But I do wish that she would be more circumspect when attempting to put forward an agenda that does not measure up to the values of this country. She might pretend to know what the Founding Fathers desired, but I daresay they would not desire the endpoint to which she would lead South Dakota and the United States.
 There are many elected officials from her party who disagree with her; it is time they spoke up. She and those who agree with her could damage this state.
 Prof. Schorn provided copies of the exchange of e-mails between him and Rep. Miller to Ben Nesselhuf who made them available to Democrats through an e-mail list serve.  The exchange follows:

Sent: Mon 2/14/2011 9:45 AM
Dear Representative Miller,

During the morning session of the House Education Committee, one of the committee members voiced concern that colleges are teaching socialism.  Since the concerned representative was not named, I was wondering if you were the concerned representative.

Thank you in advance for responding.

Tim Schorn
Vermillion, SD 

On Mar 6, 2011, at 11:50 PM, <> <> wrote:

Yes!  and to my dismay I had a debate teacher in the Lennox High School tell me that he indeed teaches socialism and is an avid believer in it. (And all while my son is about to serve his 4th tour of duty-this time to Afghanistan) so this individual can teach against what this country stands for.  MY, MY, MY!  Perhaps we should never have quit teaching the Pledge of Allegiance or singing God Bless America in our schools.  He deserves to be be fired.
Rep. Miller 

From: Schorn, Timothy
Sent: Tue 3/8/2011 11:18 PM
Dear Representative Miller, 

Thank you for responding to me.  I do have some concerns however.  I found your generalizations voiced in the House Education Committee hearing to be quite disconcerting.  By painting in such broad strokes you made rather rash assumptions that were unfounded and demeaning.  

First, it seems very undemocratic to demand that a teacher be summarily fired for teaching something with which you disagree.  I see America as standing for the marketplace of ideas, where the first amendment guarantees that all ideas are exposed to the light of day, and that following discussion and debate, the stronger idea wins.  You also diminish the abilities of students to make up their own minds.  As a teacher, I see everyday that students are able to think critically and evaluate ideas based on the merits of those ideas.  

Second, democracy and socialism are not mutually exclusive.  Socialism means primarily the regulation of economic intercourse, and secondarily the provision of socio-economic safety nets to prevent suffering by those who have fallen through the cracks.  So someone who espouses socialism is not opposed to free and open participation in the political process. 

Third, someone who is a "socialist" would certainly not want to go to Russia.  Russia may be a lot of things, but it is certainly not socialist.  During the days of the Soviet Union, which ended in 1991, the system centered in Moscow may have been socialist, but it was its communist nature which negated democratic participation.  

I certainly wish your son well and hope that he is safe, but by including his status you were attempting to unfairly paint others as somehow anti-American, which is quite un-American in itself.  


Timothy J. Schorn

On Mar 9, 2011, at 5:01 PM, <> wrote:

After reading your reply I can see why this country is in trouble .  Our Founding Fathers would find your "philosophy" disgusting and against everything this country stands for and against what they fought for.  This twisting  and rearranging of what our very Constitution and Declaration of Independence was written for was  the reason I asked the "question" in the first place.  Your reply confirms my concerns.
Have you ever been to Russia?  Have you ever read "Animal Farm"?  It was required reading in English Literature class when I was a sophomore in high school, 1969.  It was required reading to teach us how socialism/communism can so easily creep in and destroy a free-enterprise/constitutional republic/aka "The United States of America".
If you truly believe what you are "philosophically" teaching, I would suggest that you are living in the wrong country.

Rep. Miller

From: "Schorn, Timothy" <>
Date: March 9, 2011 17:34:09 CST
Dear Representative Miller, 

Thank you again for your response.  I do appreciate it.  However, I am rather dismayed by your tone.  Apparently we have different attitudes about what America stands for, and about what constitutes the trouble "this country is in".  And yes, I have read "Animal Farm", and much more by Orwell, and apparently we take different messages from that, as well.  

I'm even rather offended that you suggested that I may be living in the wrong country, considering I've been serving this country for nearly 18 years as an active duty soldier and member of the Army National Guard (as have generations of Schorns before me--and I might add, my Republican Catholic farmer/mechanic veteran Father was quite proud of me until his passing).  Perhaps you are correct, perhaps I am living in the wrong country, but it's not because I don't believe in democracy, capitalism, pluralism, inclusiveness, equality, the Constitution, civility, education, the American dream, paying my taxes, helping those in need, serving my community and country, and caring for my family.  It's because of a creeping neo-McCarthyism that threatens to undermine our national values.  


Timothy J. Schorn,

Representative Patty Miller

Picture of Representative Patty Miller Party Republican
Term New Member
District 16
Counties Lincoln, Union
Occupation Small Business Owner


Mike Larson said...

I am the lennox debate teacher and want to make it clear that she distorted my comments abount socialism. I do in fact discuss the ideas of socialism with my debate students, along with free market theory, communism, utitarianism, denotology, and objectivism to name a few ism's. I do not teach it in my general classes since I do not teach government class. We do a unit on McCarthy and how it influenced the play The Crucible.

I also did not say that I am an avid supporter of socialism, but I do support concepts that have jokingly had my students label me as a socialist (ideas like social security, Medicaid, Medicare, and food stamps).

WorldViajante said...

I am a student of Prof. Schorn. I found this exchange very interesting, and if I may say so, hilarious. I always enjoy seeing an exchange between reason, logic, and etiquette and bias, malice, and arrogance. The funniest, most ironic part is how Rep. Miller uses "Animal Farm" to bolster her point of view. She also asked Prof. Schorn if he had ever been to Russia. Apparently she doesn't know that he is married to a wonderful lady from Uzbekistan, a former republic of the USSR. Ha! Well, I wish she would have taken up his offer for a live debate. That would have been great to listen to.

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