Ratliff: How Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451 are relevant in CSCOPE battle
July 31, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.
Following is the prepared text of remarks presented this afternoon by Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant to the Region 7 Education Service Center in Kilgore. Ratliff represents District 9 on the State Board of Education.
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Critical thinking: disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence: Example: The questions are intended to develop your critical thinking.
In the book, Animal Farm, right after the animals had taken over the farm, they began to sing the song "Beasts of England" to celebrate their independence and their heritage.
<strong><em>This song became a rallying cry to animals all over England. In response, area farmers began to spread false rumors about the animals that had taken control of their farm. They could not contain their rage when they heard this song. They could not understand how even animals could bring themselves to sing such contemptible rubbish. Any animal caught singing it was given a flogging on the spot. And yet the song was irrepressible. The blackbirds whistled it in the hedges, the pigeons cooed it in the elms, and it got into the tune of the church bells. And when the human beings listened to it, they secretly trembled, hearing in it a prophecy of their future doom.</em></strong>
This is analogous to what is happening today. School districts across the state are telling Senator Patrick that CSCOPE is a valuable tool and we'll keep using it if we think it's what's best for our students and our schools. If Senator Patrick continues to fight this fight, I predict this is a prophecy of his future doom if friends of public education will stand up to this bully. The song of local control is irrepressible and we should sing it at the top of our lungs and drown out the false rumors and accusations of Senator Patrick and his supporters.
Napoleon, the pig that had helped orchestrate the coop against the farmer, got a little power hungry. <strong><em>One day, he announced that from now on the Sunday morning meetings would come to an end. They were unnecessary and wasted time. In the future, all questions related to the working of the farm would be settled by a special committee of pigs, presided over by himself. These would meet in private and afterwards communicate their decision to the others.</em></strong>
Does this sound familiar? Napoleon Senator Patrick threatens, bullies and coerces an agreement from the ESC's to pull down the CSCOPE lessons and then holds a press conference and communicates "their" decision to all of us. I don't think that's how this is supposed to work. I don't blame the ESCs for what they did. They had a bayonet pointed at their throat and had to make a difficult decision to preserve the rest of the good work they do across the state.
<strong><em>Four young porkers in the front row utter shrill squeals of disapproval, and all four of them sprang to their feet and began speaking at once. But suddenly the dogs sitting around Napoleon let out deep menacing growls, and the pigs fell silent and sat down again.</em></strong>
This sounds like the Tea Party sitting at the heels of Senator Patrick growling at anyone who disagrees with him and far too many elected officials sit back down. Well, this young porker won't fall silent and sit back down. They may turn me into bacon before this is all over with, but if we all stand up and utter our shrill squeals of disapproval, we have the numbers to shout THEM back down.
<strong><em>After the meeting, Napoleon's assistant went around to the other animals and said, "I trust that every animal appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labor upon himself. Do not imagine that leadership is a pleasure. On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your own decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where would you be?</em></strong>
This captures Senator Patrick's belief about local control. He says he's for it, but when it comes down to it, he feels he must protect us from ourselves. Pure rubbish.
Now, let's move on to Fahrenheit 451. A book written in 1953. This is a book about "firemen" who formerly helped put out fires, but have become the book burning brigade to ensure that all books are destroyed in the town. Part of the reason for this is an invention that made all homes "fireproof" and therefore there was no longer a need for the firemen, so they created a new role for themselves.
I reference this book because I have equated the CSCOPE controversy as a 21<sup>st</sup> century book burning.
<strong><em>So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won't stomach them for a minute. And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors. That's you Montag, and that's me.</em></strong>
<strong><em>Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs. The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your flight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead, he's on his way to the big flue. Ten minutes after death a man's a speck of black dust. Let's not quibble over individuals with memoriams. Forget them. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean.</em></strong>
<strong><em>If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Cram him full of noncombustible data, chock him so full of facts he'll feel stuffed, but absolutely brilliant with information. Then he'll feel like he's thinking, and then he'll get a sense of motion without moving. And he'll be happy because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give him any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.</em></strong>
<strong><em>Three things are missing. Number one: Do you know why books such as these are so important? They have quality. To me it means they have texture. They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. Number two, leisure. While we have plenty of "off hours", do we have time to think? And I don't mean sitting in some room with the television. The television is real. It has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It MUST be right. It SEEMS so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions that your mind hasn't the time to protest. The TV grows you in any shape it wishes. It is an environment as real as the world. It BECOMES and IS the truth. </em></strong>
<strong><em>So, number one is quality information, number two is leisure time to digest it. Number three: The right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two. </em></strong>
Why did I begin my speech with a definition of critical thinking?
Critical thinking, I believe, is what the author of Fahrenheit 451 is talking about when he talks about the right to "carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of quality information and the time to digest it. The book also references the famous quote from Ecclesiastes, which says, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." But the author goes on to say, "There is a time to break down, a time to build up, and time to keep silent and a time to speak.
I believe the time to speak is now because others are in a time of breaking down and we can't sit quietly and let it happen. For those school districts that don't use CSCOPE, I have a simple message. Just because it's the CSCOPE house that's being burned right now, don't sleep too deeply. If Fire Captain Patrick and his fire brigade find something in your house they don't like, you may be next.
We all need to stand together and stand up to this bully and his fire brigade.