BOISE — Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s education indoctrination task force held its third meeting of the summer Thursday at the Idaho Statehouse but still has yet to allow any public testimony.
But task force members did receive their first challenge and some pushback for surrounding themselves with people they agree with.
Nafees Alam, a professor of social work at Boise State University who stressed he was speaking only for himself and not the university, spoke to the committee about confirmation bias and the trouble with not seeking out objective facts or challenging the beliefs and opinions they already have.
“If we’re only confined to say things we all agree on, then are we really thinking or are we just regurgitating what it is that we are asked to speak on?” Alam asked.
During the task force’s first two meetings, held in May and June, McGeachin and co-chairwoman Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, stacked the agendas with conservative speakers and political candidates who agreed with the task force’s premise that it needs to root out critical race theory and indoctrination they say is infiltrating Idaho’s education system.
Alam then discussed his point/counterpoint teaching philosophy of presenting multiple sides to difficult or controversial topics.
“I try not to push my values on anybody else; that is not my job as an educator,” Alam said.
“Creating an environment where it is a safe space to have discussions and disagreements I think actually makes for a more fun environment,” Alam added. “I do think that controversial topics like critical race theory, as long as they are taught in conjunction with other theories that may be conflicting with that particular theory, I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Alam said.
Several task force members thanked Alam for his presentation but others challenged him and asked him how he would react if a student told him they felt like they identified as an artichoke one day.
“I mean it to be funny, because it’s ludicrous,” task force member Laura Van Voorhees told Alam during the meeting. “But that seems to me what is going on out there in academia is total ludicrousness.”
Throughout the afternoon, the tension and rhetoric escalated.
Trevor Loudon, a self-published author and self-described expert on Marxism spoke to the committee at length. He claimed Black Lives Matter was a front for a pro-Chinese Communist group and claimed that the Chinese government is influencing education at every level in the United States.
On Wednesday, Idaho Education News reported the Southern Poverty Law Center describes Loudon as a “far-right conspiracy theorist” known for seeing Communist infiltrators everywhere.
“Pedophilia right now is now being pushed as almost acceptable in the name of inclusion and diversity,” Loudon told the task force without offering examples or evidence for his claims.
Loudon urged Idaho to return to a “classic” education that focuses on real math, real penmanship, real science and getting rid of indoctrination.
“America has done more good on this planet than any other nation by a country mile,” said Loudon, a New Zealander who moved to the United States as an adult.
Several task force members, including Mark Hand and Ryan Spoon, suggested or asked whether they could eliminate the Idaho State Board of Education, which has not sent a member to participate in the task force meetings.
“No, heads have to roll,” Loudon said. “Now, I’m not going to be partisan here, but I guarantee a lot of people here would think President’s Trump’s biggest mistake in his term of office was not firing a whole bunch of people.”
The Idaho Constitution created the State Board of Education and empowered it with “general supervision of the state educational institutions and public school system of the state of Idaho.”
So McGeachin, even if elected governor, couldn’t disband the board. But if she is elected, she could appoint or fire State Board of Education members. McGeachin announced she is running for the position in May.
At two different points during the meeting, she invited Loudon to stay in Idaho and suggested she could appoint him to the State Board of Education.
Loudon went on to add that he doesn’t believe in the federal Department of Education “to be honest.”
When Loudon took questions, task force member Michael Nelson quoted the late Chinese military general and philosopher Sun Tsu and used terms of war to describe what he views as happening in Idaho schools with critical race theory.
“They are subduing our children without even us picking up a gun or a bullet,” Nelson said.
When Loudon was done taking questions, he received a loud standing ovation from most of the 100 or so members in the audience.
The next task force meeting is expected to take place Aug. 26 at the Statehouse. McGeachin said much of that meeting will be devoted to public comment and discussing possible recommendations the task force could issue.