California legislators, with all of the foresight of a newspaper columnist, have scanned the news pages in search of new monsters to destroy. With the shock of Donald Trump’s election, they’ve alighted upon “fake news” and “the Russian hackers.”
Assemblyman Marc Levine of San Rafael plans to introduce legislation that would require the state adopt a history curriculum teaching about Russian interference in the late election. He calls it the “Pravda Act of 2017” and says students need to “understand how Trump’s policies are colored by the way he rose to power.”
Earlier, Los Angeles Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez and Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa introduced a pair of bills to develop curriculum to spot “fake news.”
Levine’s “Pravda” is about as Soviet as it gets – partisan propaganda pure and simple. Here’s a fact Levine may not like: While the exact provenance of the WikiLeaks documents is controversial, nobody disputed their veracity. To the extent Leon Panetta’s hacked emails and Hillary Clinton’s leaked speech transcripts moved voters, they were moved by the truth.
As for teaching kids to distinguish fake news from the real stuff, well, good luck even settling on a proper definition.
Some “fake news” can be “true,” depending on whose agenda it serves. The New York Times in 2004 described CBS News’ “exclusive” Texas National Guard memos allegedly proving former President George W. Bush’s shirked active duty during the Vietnam War as “fake but accurate.” In other words: fake.
For what it’s worth, a new study by the Poynter Institute looked at the effect of fake news on the 2016 election and concluded it wasn’t a very big deal after all. Most Americans still looked to television for their political news. Just 14 percent of the voters that Poynter surveyed said social media – including the fetid fake news feverswamps of Facebook and Twitter – served as their primary source of election news and information.
Would that make it into Gomez and Dodd’s curriculum? Would it even matter if it did?
The curriculum is already shot through with politically correct pabulum. California’s Education Code requires extensive lessons on the contributions of a host of special interest groups, from the transgendered to victims of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Instructors make a priority of the sins – slavery, oppression of Native Americans, segregation – and identity politics.
Everyone is represented in theory. In practice, students get a mishmash of no-namers and third-raters whose contributions wouldn’t make the cut as a Trivial Pursuit question.
The result isn’t good history but rather a deepening ignorance. So your high school junior is likely to spend weeks learning about obscure suffragettes and long-forgotten labor organizers while major figures and events get short shrift.
A friend the other day related a story from her daughter’s high school U.S. history class. The teacher announced they would not be spending much time on World War I because “you covered that in world history and it’s not very important anyway.”
The Great War only led to the disintegration of the Romanov, Ottoman and Hapsburg empires, the rise of Russian Bolshevism, the emergence of the League of Nations and the German Weimar Republic, and the partitioning of the Middle East into the troublesome nation-states they are today. Oh, and World War II. Other than that, no big deal.
And yet a gaggle of Democratic legislators want that guy to explain how the Russians supposedly threw the election to Trump while instructing students how to guard against the perils of fake news? Come on.
Gov. Jerry Brown in the past has exercised some skepticism about faddish legislation that pads the curriculum and overburdens instructors. Let’s hope that in his zeal to lead “the Resistance” against Trump, he manages to remain clear-eyed enough to veto these petty, partisan, short-sighted bills should they land on his desk.
Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness (www.amgreatness.com). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @benboychuk.