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Rep. Agema and proposed legislation on teaching US History

January 16, 2012

On Saturday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a brief article about State Representative Dave Agema’s latest legislative proposal.

Agema, the term limited State Representative from Grandville, wants the State of Michigan to pass legislation that would require what Agema refers to as the core government documents – US Constitution, Federalist Papers, Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

In addition, Agema wants in mandatory that the Pledge of Allegiance be recited in public schools daily. The Press reporter cites only Agema who comments that he hopes Tea Party members would put pressure on the State government to make such legislation official.

Press reporter Jim Harger doesn’t verify if Michigan public schools already teach such documents nor does he provide any response from a different perspective.

The Press reporter also doesn’t mention that this legislation is just one more example of Agema’s extremist proposals. Agema over the years has proposed numerous pieces of legislation that demonizes and criminalizes immigrants. The Grandville legislator has also supported Governor Snyder’s austerity measures that attack unionized public sector workers and working families in general. Agema is a proponent of making Michigan a Right to Work state and has proposed legislation that promotes Islamophobia. Agema’s most recent attack on working people was to eliminated domestic partner benefits for those who are state employees, an action that is widely understood to be an attack against the LGBT community in Michigan.

Having said that I would support the teaching of US government documents that Agema mentions. We all should be familiar with this history and we should be educated to take a critical look at the significance of documents such as the Bill of Rights. Michigan schools should also expose students to the writings of Thomas Paine and other dissidents who challenged the failure of the founding fathers to take such documents seriously.

For instance, it should be known to children in Michigan public schools that the only people who could vote after the country was founded were White men who owned property. In addition, it should be taught that many of the founding fathers owned slaves and would not support efforts to abolish chattel slavery in the early years of this nation.

Michigan children should be taught about the Sedition Act of 1798. The Sedition Act fundamentally made it illegal to publicly oppose any measure of the federal government, legislation that was targeted at dissidents.

One additional part of Michigan’s education could be the statement inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, which was written by Emma Lazarus is 1883:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame. With conquering limbs astride from land to land; 
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand 
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand 
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command 
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” 
cries she 
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your 
poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Such a statement flies in the face of the position that Representative Agema takes towards immigrants.

Then there is the matter of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The original pledge was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In 1924 the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution lobbied to change the Pledge’s words, ‘my Flag,’ to ‘the Flag of the United States of America. It wasn’t until 1954, during the height of the McCarthy hearings that the words “under God” were added to the Pledge, a campaign initiated by the Catholic group the Knights of Columbus.

Representative Agema continues to push his far right agenda on the people of Michigan and the news media continues to give him a pass by not asking reasonable questions to challenge his proposed legislation.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. tyler permalink
    January 17, 2012 1:37 pm

    “Having said that I would support the teaching of US government documents that Agema mentions. We all should be familiar with this history and we should be educated to take a critical look at the significance of documents such as the Bill of Rights. Michigan schools should also expose students to the writings of Thomas Paine and other dissidents who challenged the failure of the founding fathers to take such documents seriously.”

    I think the problem is that the “Founding Fathers” did take those documents seriously — that’s why the United States is structured the way it is. They wrote them to specifically exclude the majority of the population (whether they be poor whites, non-landing holding whites, native americans, people of color, etc). I feel like that fact was made pretty clear for me in high school. There was an accompanying narrative of how great the U.S. is because the government can be amended and re-worked (which is stupid), but the essence of it was there.

    That said, I don’t really see the point in talking about folks like Thomas Paine who charged that they didn’t take them seriously because you can’t reform or hold accountable a rotten system. For every part that talked about “liberty” or some other vague principle, there were others that defined and qualified those proclamations.

    I think you are always playing a losing game when you talk about what a particular founding document says or what some inscription on the Statute of Liberty says. The reality is the United States a country has always been hostile to immigrants and always will be because it’s a racist construction based on stealing other folks land.

  2. January 17, 2012 1:43 pm

    Tyler, I don’t disagree with your assessment of how the US was founded, but I bet you came to those conclusions because you read and investigated this history as well and that is the point. US history should be taught and explored so people can come to their own conclusions like you have.

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