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Requirement to teach ‘negative effects of communism’ sparks debate in state Senate

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 1, 2021

OLYMPIA – Washington students would be required to learn about “the negative effects of communism” as part of their study of civics and history, under a bill that sparked some heated discussion in a Senate committee hearing Monday.

Such a requirement would educate the average person who doesn’t know much about communism because that knowledge has been “nullified somewhat by the end of the Soviet Union,” Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, said.

“I generally don’t like to mandate to schools what they should do,” Honeyford said, adding it was an idea brought to him by a constituent.

But that seems to be exactly what the bill would do, Lucinda Young of the Washington Education Association suggested.

Civics is now a required course in high school, and requiring teaching about communism, as the bill proposes, would “limit the academic freedom educators have.”

It’s important, Young said, to understand many different economic and political systems: democracy, socialism, monarchies, aristocracies, oligarchies and military dictatorships, as well as communism.

Marissa Gaston of the Washington Policy Center said students need to be exposed to a greater range of economic and political systems. Studying the effects of communism, which include 100 million deaths in the 20th century, “would make young Washingtonians more aware and informed of the issues … and perhaps more aware of the work you all do,” she told the Senate Early Education and K-12 Education Committee.

Leif Matson of Auburn said ignorance of communism and its various forms like Stalinism, Leninism and Marxism has left citizens “exposed to the seemingly sweet nectar of socialist thinking.” Students should know of the killing fields of Cambodia, Soviet gulags, Chinese deaths under Mao Tse-tung and “the horrific genocide of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.”

The Holocaust was conducted by Nazi Germany, which was not a communist government.

Critics of the bill called it a throwback to “Red Scare” indoctrination from the Cold War.

Al Hernandez, who called himself a concerned citizen when he signed up for virtual testimony, asked about the effects of American imperialism, the rise of white supremacists and fascists in the United States, and how free-market capitalism justifies half a million homeless.

“It wasn’t communists that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6th,” he said. “Those were self-described patriots, waving the American flag.”

Kendrick Washington, of the ACLU of Washington, said the state’s schools have enough issues without a new mandate on communism to the school districts.

“Right now, Americans are upset about America, and how we got here,” Washington said. “Communists are not on our doorsteps.”

Sen. Perry Dozier, R-Waitsburg, likened the bill to a law that requires schools to teach Native American history.

Committee Chairwoman Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, said that mandate is very localized, and doesn’t require schools to teach about programs that separated children from parents to send them to boarding schools, or moving tribes onto reservations and taking away sacred lands.

Wellman said the hearing proved there were “a lot of other opinions out there” on the bill.

The committee will have to determine in the coming weeks whether to send it to the full Senate for further consideration.

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