Of all the social calamities caused by the last thirty years of right-wing education “reforms,” historical detachment may be one of the worst. As an increasing number of schools have been forced to cut their curricular offerings in order to handle an ever-growing host of problems, from budget cuts to mandatory standardized tests on math and reading, fewer students have had the opportunity to learn about our shared past, and to gain the critical thinking skills necessary to understand how that past shapes our present and future. The historical parallels between our current situation and the horrors of humanity’s worst episodes may be head-slappingly obvious to many of us, but that understanding eludes far too many who know little, if anything, of that history. (It is no coincidence that those students who still get taught a deep knowledge of history are those who come from families most likely to profit — literally as well as figuratively — from that knowledge being inaccessible to a broader swath of the public at large.)
Perhaps my situation is a little too unique. Not only am I a 90’s hippie who’s the child of 60’s hippies, and not only have I spent about 95% of my life in Ohio, but one of my English professors was a student at Kent State University the day that National Guard troops opened fire and killed four students. Even though this happened almost six years before I was born, I gained a healthy appreciation of the Kent State Massacre from a very young age, thanks to the music my parents listened to and the early Doonesbury anthologies around our house. Maybe I just have more invested in maintaining the importance and significance of that day, but the Kent State Massacre is so emblematic of the problems of entrenched power in America — past and present — that I don’t think its importance can be overstated.
To be sure, conservatives have long fought to make their twisted narrative of that day’s events the dominant one. Then as now, “the [expletive] deserved to die” is a nauseatingly common refrain in all their rhetoric, and no source of information that conforms to their prejudices is specious enough for them to call into question. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre, I can only assume that right-wingers will launch yet another assault on those students who were gunned down that day, and once again try to erase our actual history so they can rewrite it with their lies. (As super-charged as atmospheres on college campuses across the country are likely to be that close to the next presidential election, I don’t think I can even imagine how tense that anniversary will be in Kent.)
Make no mistake about it: Dinesh D’Souza mentioning National Guard troops on college campuses to invoke the spectre of the Kent State Massacre is a deliberate, dastardly move on his part. Those of us who have learned the history of America at that time, and the effect of the massacre on the country as a whole, will always feel a deep revulsion at the mere thought of America enduring such a tragedy ever again. As horrible as every school shooting is, there is something especially vile about American troops opening fire and killing the very citizens they’re purportedly supposed to be protecting.
A lot of changes have come to our K-12 schools in this post-Columbine era, but the presence of armed police officers (to hell with the euphemisms used to describe them) has had the chilling effect of normalizing that kind of authoritarian presence in education. National Guard troops patrolling college campuses, as deeply wrong as it was at the time, was at least seen as an anomaly as it was happening. If President Trump were to order National Guard troops onto college campuses right now to “police” students, I fear that most of those students would just see it as an extension of the regimes they’ve already endured in schools for the thirteen years it took them to get to college. That is beyond disturbing.
Worse yet, not only is all of this happening as our college campuses are coming under repeated assault by the president and his lackeys, but also as they push us further and further towards another war so much like the last one that divided this country so deeply. The frequency and intensity of political protests on college campuses is almost assuredly going to ramp up over the next few months, simply because of the increasing number of reasons to protest as we get closer to the next election, and the thought of National Guard troops being deployed to campuses in this current atmosphere should be enough to chill anyone who has the slightest understanding of the Kent State Massacre. Even the mere presence of troops on campuses would be nothing short of an attack on the very principles of education and freedom of thought that are so central to the American college experience. In light of all the recent examples of unarmed Americans being gunned down by people who never get held legally accountable for their actions, the possibility of even more students being gunned down on college campuses seems like it’s becoming more and more likely, and for the sake of every student on every college campus across this country, that cannot be allowed to happen.
In light of all the recent threats being made to our college campuses, the time for widespread protest may already be upon us. The sight of National Guard troops marching on our campuses is one that America cannot afford to endure again, especially at such a pivotal time in our history. For those of us who understand the meaning of the Kent State Massacre, for those who lived through it, and especially for those who perished at the hands of those National Guard troops, we cannot allow the atrocities of the past to be lost in the historical detachment of the present, or else none of us will have any real future.