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A new Arizona bill would tie high school graduation to studying 'the evils of communism'

Arizona high school students wouldn’t be able to graduate unless they are taught how communism and totalitarianism conflict with the American “principles of freedom and democracy” under a proposal backed by Republicans Tuesday.

The bill also creates an oral history library to be used for civic education called “portraits in patriotism” in the bill that would be “based on first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.”

The bill’s sponsor, Prescott Valley Republican Rep. Quang Nguyen, fled communist Vietnam as a child, and he told the House Education Committee about a relative of his who was executed for trying to escape a re-education camp

His House Bill 2008 is similar in language to a bill passed in Florida last year that was among a litany of other bills targeting socialism, communism and civic literacy. Nguyen pushed similar legislation last year, as well. 

High school students in Arizona are already required to pass a civic test in order to graduate, and Nguyen’s proposal would require that the standards created by the State Board of Education also include “a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy that are essential to the founding principles of the United States.” 

Nguyen said that he drew on his own personal experiences for the bill; he fled from Vietnam when he was 12 years old after the Fall of Saigon. 

The bill would not go into effect until the state’s new standards go into effect, meaning that parents and the public would have an opportunity to weigh in on the standards created. Nguyen said he has been speaking with the State Board of Education about the bill and how it could be implemented, though he admitted he had not looked at what the current social studies standards currently are. 

“I would encourage you to look at our standards as they are written now,” Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, said to Nguyen. “I think you’d be pleasantly surprised at what they are teaching now.”

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Some educators spoke in support of the bill, including Darcy Mentone, the director of public affairs for the Vail School District. 

“We learn lessons from all of those things to move us forward,” she said of tragedies of the past and the issues the bill addresses. “I think that this bill speaks to that fact.” 

Others said they felt that parts of the bill were helpful while others were not. 

Tara Bartlett, a doctoral student at Arizona State University who has done research in K-12 civics education, said the oral repository would be beneficial for schools and education in general. However, the section on political ideologies already exists in state law, and she said letting lawmakers begin to decide curriculum sets a “dangerous precedent,” something that was echoed by Democratic lawmakers. 

“I want to make sure we are not legislating curriculum here,” Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, a former teacher, said. “I’m concerned about this superseding that process.”

Committee Chair Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, said she believed the existing standards lacked a “comparative look” at governments to help students understand the “inherent evils” of communism, something Nguyen’s bill would remedy.

The bill passed along party lines out of the committee and will head to the floor next for consideration by the full House of Representatives.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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A statue of Vladimir Lenin near Weimar, Germany, is covered in graffiti in this 2009 picture.

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