PHOENIX — A first-term Arizona lawmaker wants to require that students have to study what he says is the “brutality” of communism before they can graduate.
Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, said that many Americans do not understand — and seem not to fear — the idea.
“We always think, ‘Well, the United States maybe can do communism better than most people,’” he told Capitol Media Services. That, Nguyen contends, is not true.
“I lived it,” he said.
“I was shot at as a child,” Nguyen continued. “When you think about it, who would ever shoot a child on purpose?”
And the result is that communists — and Communists — are not condemned.
Consider, he said, that the Communist Party USA even felt comfortable putting out a statement after Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty in the Wisconsin shootings, calling the verdict “racist and unjust.”
“When you see that kind of language reaching into our society, it makes me more motivated to introduce legislation to make sure that we hear the truth of communism playing around quite a bit,” Nguyen said.
But the measure is likely to face opposition from Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale.
It’s not a question of his feelings about communism or, for that matter, any economic or political system. What it is, Boyer said, is whether state lawmakers should be dabbling in curriculum.
“We have an entity that is responsible for that, which is the state Board of Education,” he said. In fact, Boyer said the board adopted new social study standards just four years ago.
“They like for them to be in place for 10 years or so because, as you can imagine, it’s a very lengthy process” to amend them, said Boyer who chairs the Senate Education Committee.
There is statutory precedent of sorts for warning Arizonans about communism, with measures statutes on the books condemning the Communist Party of the US and barring the party from state recognition
What Nguyen proposes is not as far-reaching.
He wants to mandate that schools have a “comparative discussion of political ideologies … that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy that are essential to the founding principles of the United States.”
Strictly speaking, nothing in HB 2008 would require that students be taught — or told — that communism or totalitarianism is inherently evil. But Nguyen said that’s what he believes. And the intent of his measure is clear.
It first would require the state board of education to work with some outside groups to help “prepare students to be civically responsible adults.” And that specifically includes the expectations that an “upright and desirable citizenry” that recognizes and accepts responsibility “for preserving and defending the blessings of liberty.”
And it requires the creation of a list of oral history resources of first-person accounts “of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies.”
Nguyen said it’s one thing to have academic discussions of communism or Marxism as an economic concept.
“We can talk about everyone being equal, there’s no social class whatsoever,” he said. But he said that ignores “the brutality of 100 million people being killed over 100 years.”
“I’d like to share that,” Nguyen said. “I’d like to share the truth of what communism is all about.”
He does not dispute that there are other repressive non-communist regimes throughout the world, some with prior and even bloody histories. But Nguyen said that’s not his focus.
“I did it because I experienced it,” he said. And Nguyen said he wants to dispel any ideas that there is an acceptable or humane form of communism despite what appears to be a relatively stable situation in some places.
“If you just open your mouth today in Cuba and speak against the government, you just may be disappearing at midnight,” Nguyen said.
“One of the reasons why you don’t see people killed any more is because people don’t dare speak against the government,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said he’s the perfect person to push such a plan.
“If you look at the legislature, I’m the only guy that actually survived a brutal Vietnam war,” he said, even being shot at while still a child.
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have attempted to insert warnings about communism into the public school curriculum. House Republicans attached similar language to a K-12 budget bill earlier this year.
“The threat of communism, and honestly, even here within our own borders, the threat of Marxism is on our front porch,” said Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, saying there are people “within school systems” who are socialists.
“To teach our children about the evils of communism and totalitarianism is right,” he said. “It is our duty and our responsibility to do that.”
That provoked a reaction from some House Democrats.
“You know what’s a bigger threat?” asked Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson. “White nationalism.”
Hernandez also placed the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol into the same category.
“So, yes, let’s talk about communism,” he said. “But let’s talk about making sure we are not letting people get away with the kinds of things that happened on Jan. 6 and teaching our kids it’s OK to try to overthrow a democratically elected government.”
Nguyen refused to let that pass.
“White nationalism didn’t drown 250,000 Vietnamese in the South China Sea,” he told colleagues at the time. “The communists did.”
Ditto, he said, of the execution of 86,000 Vietnamese at the fall of Saigon. And Nguyen said it was communism that caused him to be in the United States.
“So don’t take it lightly, don’t mock me, don’t mock what I go through in life,” he said, saying he lost most of his family members due to communism. “If we don’t stand up to teach communism to our children, we’ll lose this country.”