Bill requires all Idaho kids to read ‘Atlas Shrugged’
BOISE – Coeur d’Alene Sen. John Goedde, chairman of the Idaho Senate’s Education Committee, introduced legislation Tuesday to require every Idaho high school student to read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and pass a test on it to graduate from high school.
When Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked Goedde why he chose that particular book, Goedde said to laughter, “That book made my son a Republican.”
Goedde said he doesn’t plan to press forward with the bill, but it was formally introduced in his committee Tuesday on a voice vote. He said he was sending a message to the State Board of Education, because he’s unhappy with its recent move to repeal a rule requiring two online courses to graduate from high school, and with its decision to back off on another planned rule regarding principal evaluations.
“It was a shot over their bow just to let them know that there’s another way to adopt high school graduation requirements,” Goedde said after the meeting. “I don’t intend to schedule a hearing on it.”
The 1957 novel has been embraced by libertarians and the tea party movement, in part for its opposition to “statism” and embrace of capitalism, as Rand expressed her philosophy of “objectivism,” focusing on “the morality of rational self-interest.” In recent years, the novel has been touted by conservative commentators including Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
“When I read Atlas Shrugged, and it’s been probably 30 years since I read it, but it certainly gives one a sense of personal responsibility,” Goedde said.
Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, questioned the choice of the book for a graduation requirement. “We have a wide variety of children who will be trying to graduate and reading and grasping some of these things, and their cultural context may be different,” she said.
Goedde responded, “I don’t plan on moving this forward – it was a statement.”
Nevertheless, as a formally introduced bill, the measure will be read across the desk in the Senate Wednesday morning and will receive a bill number; it will be among the bills posted on the Legislature’s website for the session and preserved in its records.
Before voting to introduce the measure, other Senate Education Committee members joked that they’d like to put forth their own favorite books for consideration.
The bill’s introduction marks a contrast, as Idaho Senate committees have sometimes refused to introduce serious legislation because they felt it wouldn’t pass. An example is last year’s bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation; despite a statewide outpouring of support for the measure, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted along party lines against introducing it.
The State Board of Education repealed the online-class graduation requirement Nov. 19 on a 7-1 vote; state schools Superintendent Tom Luna made the motion, saying, “Proposition 3 was overturned by the voters.”
Proposition 3 called for a laptop computer for every high school student and a new focus on online learning, among other changes. Goedde was the lead Senate sponsor of that legislation, which implemented a major portion of Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform laws.
Those laws, which also included rolling back collective bargaining rights for teachers and imposing a new merit pay system, all were overturned by Idaho voters in November.
Asked about his comment that the Ayn Rand book made his son a Republican, Goedde said after the meeting, “Well, he’s not a practicing Republican. But it certainly made him a conservative.”