November 25, 1996

November 25, 1996 | Commentary on Taxes

ED112596b: A Celebration of Indoctrination

Okay Sherman, set the Way Back Machine for 1984. President Reagan is running for re-election against Walter Mondale, and he's way ahead in the polls. Sort of like Clinton v. Dole, only the other way around politically.

So one day, one of Reagan's chief economists -- David Stockman, let's say -- represents the White House at a ceremony honoring a couple of teachers from Sacramento, Calif., where Reagan served as governor. What have the teachers done to merit this recognition?

They have taught their elementary school pupils the wonders of supply-side economics! Public school children are enrolled in a program where they learn the story of "Boom Town" where taxes are low enough so people can invest in the economy. The economy booms, bringing more revenue into government coffers than ever could have come in had taxes been raised. The program is run by the public schools. As Mr. Stockman beams and the network cameras roll, the school kids recite such ditties as "Taxes Are Bad, Taxes Hurt, Don't Let the Feds Take Our Shirts."

Of course, we know how the headlines will read the next day. Front page, full scream in the Washington Post: "REAGAN ADMINISTRATION APPLAUDS INDOCTRINATION OF KIDS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS," with a sub-head: "Children Recite Supply-Side Dogma For OMB Director."

Is this fictitious scenario hard to believe? Not at all. Just move that dial Sherman, up to 1996 and the Clinton administration, and switch the politics around. Almost everything else is the same: On the 21st of October, Joseph Stiglitz, President Clinton's chief economist, represented the White House at an awards ceremony honoring two elementary school teachers, Deborah Shearer and Geanie Davis, from Little Rock, Ark. What had the teachers done to merit this recognition?

They had taught their pupils to spout a message the current administration would love to hear from school children -- and parents -- across the land: Don't cut taxes. Using the taxpayers' money, the teachers had taken it upon themselves to teach children the story of "Ginger Town," "using cookies to drive home the concepts of scarcity and wants," as one account put it. The children had learned ditties like "Oh Scarcity, Oh Scarcity! We Cannot Have It All. We Really Want A Lot Of Stuff, But Sometimes There's Just Not Enough." "We have unlimited wants for goods and services," explained little Kelsie Brown, who learned the term "wants" -- along with other economic jargon -- in kindergarten last year!

"The main message of the program, funded by the school, was that taxes aren't so bad," one report said. "They learned that there are many things that are important that are publicly provided," said Ms. Shearer, who seems to have no idea that government funding is not something ordained by God in the scheme of things.

Nor does she seem to bat an eye at the idea of using public funds to teach one side of an issue to students whose parents may totally disagree with her position. Ms. Shearer, of course, would be outraged -- and justifiably so -- were the situation reversed.

"I wish you teachers had been more active 50 years ago, because then we would not now be faced with the Dole economic plan," Mr. Stiglitz beamed as reporters scribbled at the pre-election ceremony. No kidding!

And speaking of reporters, there is, of course, one thing different about the two scenarios presented above: If President Reagan's White House had been party to such a stunt, the news media would never have let them hear the end of it.

The media reaction to Mr. Stiglitz's celebration of indoctrination? You guessed it.

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

Related Issues: Taxes