by Christopher Paslay
New Jersey music teacher Marc Weber thinks so.
In a recent Education Week commentary, New Jersey music teacher and Rutgers doctoral candidate Marc Weber put forth a novel idea: Trump won the 2016 presidential election because Americans were bamboozled by Russian trickery. Weber argues that too many Americans are graduating high school without the critical thinking skills to see past political propaganda, and that if we as teachers can show kids how to think for themselves, Russia will never again be able to steal an election.
But Weber might be wise to note the heavy dose of bias in his own article. He begins:
Today, the majority of Americans agree that the Russians attempted to influence the outcome of our 2016 presidential election. Officials from across the U.S. intelligence community have publicly confirmed that this interference took place.
As a teacher, I’m worried that Russia ever thought it could get away with interfering in the first place. According to the information that’s been released to the public (so far), foreign powers weren’t able to actually penetrate our voting systems and change votes. . . .But it ought to give all Americans pause that a foreign government thought it could change the outcome of our presidential election through social-media manipulation—and that, from all appearances, they turned out to be correct. How did we get here?
First of all, there’s zero evidence that social-media manipulation had any impact whatsoever on the election. The center of the Russian “election meddling” controversy are Julian Assange’s Wikileaks—the nearly 50,000 leaked documents that showed that the Democratic National Committee, including Hillary Clinton and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, rigged their party’s primary in favor of Clinton and against Bernie Sanders. This is a fact laid bare in the very emails contained on the server of the DNC, which, interestingly enough, was never turned over to the F.B.I. for forensic analysis.
Clinton, Wasserman Schultz, and other DNC officials actively conspired against Sanders, targeting his Jewish heritage and slandering Jeff Weaver, his Campaign Manager. The leaked emails also showed that Clinton’s campaign colluded with CNN political commentator Donna Brazile, who amazingly went on to become interim DNC Chair when Wasserman Schultz was forced to step down. So here you have irrefutable documented collusion and election rigging of the highest degree, not between Russia and Trump, but between Hillary Clinton, CNN, and the DNC.
Yet somehow Weber’s thrown all this down the Memory Hole. And in its place, in spectacular Orwellian fashion, comes the narrative that Trump’s illegitimate—that Americans were bamboozled by Putin’s agents. “Are the beliefs and values of Americans so pliable that they can be shifted by a few fake news stories on Facebook, planted items in the press, and rogue Twitter bots?” Weber asks.
Is Weber serious? Fake news stories on Facebook and rogue Twitter bots? Russia meddled (reportedly) by exposing the rigged DNC primary, which ended up turning the Democratic National Convention on its ear. Remember how badly Bernie Sanders’ supporters were treated? Remember how the Clinton people basically bullied them into silence? Remember when Wasserman Shultz was booed off the stage at the Florida delegation breakfast for being a cheat? Or when Donna Brazile was booed at the opening of the Democratic National Convention?
That’s not a rogue Twitter bot.
But it’s clear Weber’s commentary is disingenuous from the start (or tragically uninformed). He not only suggests making citizenship as important as college and work readiness (a good idea if it doesn’t include political indoctrination, which it appears Weber’s version of “citizenship” does), but he also feels students should be taught to question authority—as if teenagers need more instruction on how to rebel. Weber states:
Well, sorry to be contrary, but citizenship often requires us to be contrary. The American workplace, for better or worse, is mostly hierarchical. Yes, employees can create and debate inside the parameters given to them. But most American workers ultimately must submit to an authority: the boss, the customer, or the governing power. A democracy, however, requires its citizens to challenge authority. Democratic institutions should be where citizens act, not where they are acted upon. We, as educators, need to teach our students how to exercise their powers as citizens responsibly, which means teaching them to question those in authority and the arguments made on behalf of that authority.
No, actually, we need to teach students cooperation and how to respect authority; again, there’s no shortage of resistance from American young people.
But let’s take Weber up on his premise that students should be taught that a democracy “requires its citizens to challenge authority.” Why don’t we start by questioning the objectivity of Jim Rutenberg, the New York Times columnist who wrote in 2016 that the biased news coverage of Donald Trump was justified, because Trump was so “dangerous”? Or how about analyzing the fact that the mainstream media’s coverage of Trump has been over 90 percent negative for the past two years and counting? That no one, outside of conservative news outlets, has a single good thing to say about the man and his family?
“Unfortunately,” Weber states, “it appears that Russia, and likely many of our other rivals (and allies) in the world, believe that many Americans are incapable of the level of critical thought necessary to question what they are being told by authorities in the media, business, or government. As a matter of national security, we need to assess what we are doing in our schools to promote this type of thinking.”
In other words, we must teach student how to think, not what to think. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for over 20 years. Perhaps Weber will follow suit.