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Commentary

Auchter's Art: When did we lose the art of thoughtful discussion?

cartoon of three people discussing Michigan's new social studies changes
John Auchter
/
Michigan Radio

To be clear: I'm proud of our nation, our history, and especially our ideals. I am proud to be an American. But some of the things we do just mystify me.

This past week the Michigan Board of Education approved an update to the curriculum for social science studies in Michigan. There was some controversy. Initially, some standards proposed by conservatives hewed too closely to their unique views of the world. Those were cut back, but the standards approved by the Board have been assailed as inaccurate and anti-Christian. It all seems like an excellent prompt for a classroom of young minds to learn civil discourse and critical thinking. But unfortunately it's mostly a crude game for political points.

Honestly, I wouldn't be reacting (overreacting?) to all this in a normal week. But this is the week that The New York Times decided it would no longer run political cartoons. A brief backstory: In April, a Times editor decided to run a syndicated cartoon in its international edition depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog wearing a Star of David collar tag and leading a blind, yarmulke-wearing President Trump. It was widely seen as anti-Semitic. Because it was.

The Times appropriately apologized and promised corrective action. First, they over-corrected by announcing they would no longer use syndicated cartoons. Then this week they WAY over-corrected, sacking their staff cartoonists, the brilliant Patrick Chappatte and Heng Kim Song, to bring the international edition "...into line with the domestic paper by ending daily political cartoons." (The flagship Times paper famously and inexplicably has not had a daily cartoonist for decades.)

There are much deeper weeds for me to get into here, but I don't want to drag you all down into the specifics of my obvious self-interest. Let me just say this: When political points or job safety become more important than thoughtful discussion, we become less American (or at least the kind of American we ought to be).

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