This Week in the Laboratories of Democracy (Esquire)

By Charles P. Pierce

Being our semi-regular weekly survey of what’s goin’ down in the several states where, as we know, the real work of governmentin’ gets done, and where, for certain, you will truly be a’hurtin’.

Things are revved up to a fine pitch around state houses across this great land of ours. Let’s begin, at random, in West Virginia, where there’s been a controversy around the possibility that a fundamental blasphemy may be taught to the state’s schoolchildren. There might be an assault on every child’s faith in coal.

The move comes after the school board and the department caught national attention and considerable criticism from residents and academics about the changes, which were made to new K-12 science teaching requirements based off the National Next Generation Science Standards blueprint. If passed, the standards will be the first time Mountain State students will be required, in non-elective courses, to learn about evidence for human-driven climate change. At the request of school board member Wade Linger, who has said he doesn’t believe human-influenced climate change is a “foregone conclusion,” the teaching requirements concerning climate change were altered before the board placed them in a public comment period in October and voted to adopt them last month.

Caught in the middle is an intriguing surname, especially to regular visitors to this shebeen.

Last week, school board President Gayle Manchin – who said she trusted the Department of Education staff’s earlier assertion that the standards changes were sound – said the board would discuss the changes this week in response to the concerns raised. Manchin was the only member besides Linger who told the Gazette she knew about the changes before adopting them. On Saturday, the West Virginia Science Teachers Association – part of the group of West Virginia stakeholders that critiqued the national Next Generation Science Standards blueprint, of which West Virginia was one of 26 lead state partners in creating – told the Gazette it opposed the changes. The association had endorsed the full set of standards before the school board adopted them but said the board had made the climate change alterations without consulting it.

Wait? Who again?

Gayle Conelly Manchin was appointed to the state Board of Education in 2007 to serve a nine-year term ending 2015. She was elected president in 2013. She attended West Virginia University, where she attained her bachelor’s degree in language arts and education and a master’s in reading. She also holds a second master’s in educational technology leadership from Salem International University.

So the wife of Senator Joe Manchin (D-Occasionally) knew that the educational standards were going to soft-pedal the involvement of coal in the burning of the planet, and the board made this move without consulting the people who know the most about the science? Interesting. Also, very distressing.

Remaining on the education beat, we skip on down to where-the-fk-else? Arizona, wherethe state has decided that there will be none of this hippety-hoppety noise in the classroom, and there will be no filming of Mr. Holland’s Opus starring Ice Cube no matter how much Paramount wants to make one.

Superintendent John Huppenthal announced Friday — his last day in office — that he was seeking sanctions against the school if it does not correct course by March 4. He cited an introductory course on hip-hop from the African-American perspective and lyrics from the rock band Rage Against the Machine as violations. School district Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said in a statement that he had requested a meeting with Huppenthal last month, but it was not scheduled. He said the district is reviewing Huppenthal’s report. “I look forward to sitting down with incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas when she takes office later this month. During the election, Ms. Douglas emphasized local control for curriculum decisions, and we are eager to work with her as we continue to satisfy both state and federal law,” Sanchez said.

But the backlash is encouraging.

“I’ve gone on record saying that teaching from an African-American or a Mexican-American point of view doesn’t equate to teaching hatred of any group,” he says. “What it does is talk about how a certain circumstance – a historical circumstance or literary theme –┬áis seen from another perspective. It goes back to the KRS-One quotation, and the teacher at one of my high schools is using that. I find that very defensible because that’s a perspective, and it’s a very valid perspective.” He also says he had a special affinity for Rage Against the Machine on a personal level since he was a senior in high school when the song came out in 1992. “That’s music that a Generation X teacher is using to reach out to a millennial, to talk about common circumstance and social struggles and to tie it up with what’s happening in Ferguson and New York, where you’ve got NBA stars wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirts…. It’s an ability to connect and music has always been about that.”

I agree, but why do I believe that Dr. Sanchez is digging himself a deeper hole with a steam shovel here? I mean, I admire him, but I think he’s arguing music theory with unusually ambulatory ferns. Especially since they’re going after Mayan poetry, too.

What received less attention is the letter’s citation of a poem penned by Chicano playwright Luis Valdes that aims to instill ideas of empathy and integrity. Teachers of a Mexican-American studies curriculum outlawed by the Arizona legislature used to open their courses with a recitation of the multilingual poem, which Valdes based on philosophical concepts from the ancient Maya.

OK, now I believe that the Mayans did not disappear mysteriously. I believe they actually could see into the future, and they realized what complete dickheads we would all become, and decided to go back to their home planet, where nobody believed them when they told their story.

Further evidence to that effect can be found in Georgia, where the state legislature invited Pastor Bryant Wright to enlighten it on the issues of the day.

“It is just one example of what our culture is going to increasingly see as an issue of erotic liberty versus religious liberty,” Wright said. “We’re liable to see this with our military chaplains in the years ahead if they in good conscience believe they cannot perform same-sex weddings and could be kicked out of the military.”

Erotic Liberty vs. Religious Liberty. This time…it’s personal.

And we conclude, as usual, in the great state of Oklahoma, where Blog Official Schist Stirrer Friedman of The Plains draws our attention to the fact that it’s better to be rich than to be poor.

In Oklahoma, the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers (households earning less than $89,000 a year) are paying between 8.6 percent and 10.5 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes. At the same time, the wealthiest 1 percent of households (those making above $418,000) pay just 4.3 percent.

Luckily, Governor Mary Fallin, who believes only Oklahomans built Oklahoma, has surrounded herself with people who will give her the best advice on this strange situation.

This is your democracy, America. Cherish it.

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