Every year, school buses loaded with children of all ages take class field trips to the Ronald Reagan Foundation & Library in Simi Valley, California, which is located about forty miles outside Los Angeles. There, in the Air Force One Discovery Center, library staff lead students through an interactive history lesson. Children take on the role of Washington staff, members of the press corp, and even Reagan himself and replay the events of leading to the 1983 invasion of Granada. In the provocative episode “Kid Politics” from the radio show This American Life, Starlee Kine records one such field trip in which a class of fifth graders joyfully reenact a troubling moment in American history.
The children are shepherded towards the vilification of the press and deification of Ronald Reagan. Loud buzzers and flashing lights punish students for making decisions that err from history and reward them for correctly mimicking Reagan’s actions. At one point, the class lets out a unanimous and resounding “No!” when asked “Just because [the press] have their freedoms, does that mean they should use them?” (“Kid Politics”, This American Life, 14 January 2011). The entire session comes off as frighteningly Orwellian. One individual, discussing the episode, describes the event as a form of indoctrination, stating: “It can be argued that the library’s bias is obvious in the very name of the building. It’s just that they pass these conclusions off as products of the students’ own critical thinking that is misleading and so very Reaganite.” (Paul Steele, ”This American Life - Kid Politics”, Dogmas of the Quiet Past, 14 March 2011).