Speak No Evil: Education by Ideologues

We all did it when we were little. No place to hide? Just cover your eyes and pretend they can’t see you if you can’t see them. Don’t like what you’re hearing? Put your fingers in your ears and yell, “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.” But children outgrow that kind of thing.

Some of them, anyway. Others live that way all their lives and unfortunately, a number of them seem to have gone into politics. Worse yet, we’ve actually elected them, and they are implementing the it’s-not-real-if-I-don’t-look-at-it theory.

A Republican bill in Charleston recently blocked the implementation of a national science curriculum because the curriculum “mention[s] climate change.” So in forty-nine states around the country, kids will learn about that, but in West Virginia, it will be against the law to mention it, because, as Delegate Jim Butler pointed out, we are “in an energy producing state.” Science is just different here. Another Republican, Frank Deem, said the curriculum “upset” him. Cover your eyes, honey.

Almost 100 years ago, the state of Tennessee put John Scopes on trial for teaching evolution. The jury convicted him, but we got the play, and film, Inherit the Wind out of it, so the $100 fine he paid was well worth it. My favorite part of the movie was the protester outside the courthouse, holding a sign that said “you can’t make a monkey out of me!”

That protester was really on to something. Monkeys are good at politics but terrible at science. People are supposed to be able to do both. So we should know that we can’t teach “our own science” for political reasons. It’s the same with other subjects. Last session, the majority wanted to dictate what parts of history students could be taught. Some politicians think they would be better served by an electorate that only knows what they want us to know.

Delegate Mike Azinger — who wants to become a Senator so he can impose religious government in West Virginia, goes even further. Not satisfied with letting us know only what he wants us to know, he’s gunning for government that prescribes what we believe. So first we cannot say what certain politicians don’t want to hear. Soon after, we have to say what they do want to hear.

The constant monkeying with our curriculum by ideologically-motivated legislators holds our students back and displays disrespect for our teachers. Re-writing our textbooks to suit the politics of an election year won’t improve our schools, or brighten the futures of our children. Success in school starts with respecting the teachers, not tying their hands with a politically-motivated curricula. Politicians should get out of our classrooms (unless they are actual, trained teachers).

One job our lawmakers are supposed to do in the education arena is pay the bills. West Virginia has tens of thousands of teachers, among other public servants, in the PEIA program that provides for their health benefits and retirement. But there is a major shortfall in the program’s finances, and it’s been another case of “speak no evil.” The legislature seems to have time to do everything but its job. There have been bills this year to allow youngsters to carry concealed pistols without a permit, bills to make English the “official language” of West Virginia, bills to authorize workplace and housing  discrimination, and loads of other nonsense.

But fixing the PEIA problem has been ignored. Raising our teachers’ pay above last place in the country hasn’t been addressed. The legislature is too busy telling teachers what to do to bother about, you know, paying them. A West Virginia teacher can get a five-to-ten-thousand-dollar raise by moving across the border into Maryland or Virginia. What’s next? A law to prevent the teaching of math, so our next generation of teachers won’t know how badly they are being treated?

One particularly nasty politician, Eric Householder of Berkeley County, told a schoolteacher facing the gutting of her retirement plans to cancel her internet service and take a second job. She already had a second job. Maybe manners and common decency need to become part of the curriculum in Charleston.

The time has come to face our real problems, and find new ways to solve them. Refusing to join the modern world, or even to learn about it, sets us back when we can least afford it. West Virginians are hurting. Meanwhile, Tim Armstead, Eric Nelson, Paul Espinosa, Butler, Deem, and the rest of the new Republican majority are proving that protester from Inherit the Wind wrong — they are making monkeys out of all of us.