Buried in a regulation produced under the No Child Left Behind Act by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education is an odd and apparently little-enforced requirement that every public school student in the United States be taught literacy in the art of satire.
When questioned about the matter on Tuesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defended the regulation with some fervor. “Satire,” he said, “is at least as critical to success in a competitive world as poetry and probably more critical than civics.”
Pressed to explain the remark, Duncan offered what he called evidence of a dangerous shortfall in satire literacy.
“Let’s say someone writes an account, for example, of how Bill O’Reilly lies every day about having had to fight off Iranian intruders who were trying to steal his cornflakes at breakfast. A few people will understand that he doesn’t really tell that lie every day, that saying he does is an exaggeration for humorous effect. But those few people all work for Bill O’Reilly and the rest of us know better.”
“Now what if you’re at a meeting with clients you’re trying to impress and one of them uses satire but you miss it? Or you’re in a big conference where either your boss is coming up with a genius way to generate income or those Yes Men protesters are making fun of you for your acceptance of slavery and child labor. How are American students going to compete if they can’t recognize the difference?”
“Did you know that 18% of U.S. divorces and 2% of U.S. wars can be traced to the failure to recognize satire?
“Well, you would if the free market were given free rein to educate in the manner desired and with the content demanded by the uneducated. Who knows better what education is needed and what it’s worth than the people who don’t have it yet?
“Now, I recognize the argument that Washington, D.C., has passed the point of being satirizable. My answer to that is, just wait till I show you the letters I receive about these comments.”