Day three at the Wild Goose Festival and I have already observed almost every issue on the liberal side of the political spectrum represented in a workshop or lecture (except abortion advocacy – no need to alienate young Evangelicals that festival organizers hope to co-opt). Sometimes liberal themes were sandwiched within otherwise benign presentations, like Faith and Sustainability Network Founder Pamela Wilhelms’ “Soul of the Next Economy” talk, in which she cheerily declared “we [the United States] are the biggest problem on the Earth when it comes to everything.” Wilhelms also assured her workshop that “all the businesses who want to do good are desperate for regulation.”
By Saturday afternoon, I had finished yet another session on pacifism (more on that in another posting) and sauntered over to the “Exodus” tent for a presentation on public education by historian Tim Tyson of United Methodist Duke Divinity School. I hoped for a good discussion, knowing that many political liberals are interested in education reform and no longer unquestioningly accept the teachers’ unions’ insistence that what is good for their self-preservation is simultaneously what is best for America’s children.
Tyson quickly disabused me of any hopes that his presentation might in some way divert from the Wild Goose liberal issue silo.
“Undoing public education is a dangerous idea,” Tyson warned, declaring the recent education reform documentary “Waiting for Superman” as “right up there with [Nazi propagandist] Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.”
Whenever an opponent immediately associates your side with Hitler, you’ve almost assuredly already won, so I knew Tyson was more interested in offloading on opponents than persuading them. Tyson had plenty more vitriol to disperse with a dismissive wave of his down turned hand.
Charter schools, voucher programs, all were part of a “well funded plot to undo public schools.”
“When you get down to this, people who are funding this have a libertarian philosophy and want to privatize school,” Tyson sniffed. The Duke educator labeled this a “larger sin than most private sins because it affects the well-being of the whole.”
“If we sacrifice the public schools, and we all go to the school we can afford, how will we encounter, love and respect another?” Tyson wondered aloud, apparently assessing the District of Columbia’s disastrously failing public classrooms as the only source of love and respect for the overwhelmingly minority student populace trapped there.
Glancing around the large tent, I saw the usual white-out that had come to characterize much of the Wild Goose Festival – that wasn’t a surprise. What did hit me was that almost everyone was middle aged or nearing retirement. At a festival that is predominantly attended by young, liberal Christians, it stood out that so few of them had come to this session. Granted, they might have been lured away by the electric-sounding “Interfaith Talk on Death and Dying” that took place at the same time.
A lone young teenager waited patiently in line to speak at the microphone as three individuals in their 50s and 60s offered comments ahead of him. A public school teacher fretted at the outcome of the recent failed gubernatorial recall in Wisconsin, blasting that “The Koch brothers bought themselves a governor” and that Wisconsin’s public school system was being dismantled. Questions were cut off as the teenager at last reached the microphone. He returned to his seat, unheard.
If organizers couldn’t attract politically engaged young people to a public education workshop here at Wild Goose, it could indicate that the next generation of liberal activists has already demoted the teachers’ unions far down their list of concerns.