A little more than a decade ago, my family and I were heavily involved in the local public school system in one county in Mississippi. The school district was monumentally corrupt in many ways, from the fact that one could place a majority of the teachers in one school on the same three family trees, to the blatant insertion of political agendas into class lectures, to the county superintendent of education’s inclination toward vicious revenge and abuse of power. We fought many well-intentioned but extremely bad ideas that probably actually originated in the bowels of a state-level office. Of course, every now and then something would crop up to which we could not even give the benefit of a doubt. One example that immediately springs to mind is that the district handbook allowed administrators to let certain students take foreign language in the eighth grade “at their discretion,” but because my family and I had already tied up with the school district, my school principal vindictively abused this “discretion” and refused to let me, the top student in my grade and recently coming out of Washington, DC as a National Spelling Bee finalist, into the class.
We were active in the process. We took our grievances first to the administrators, then to the school board. We helped manage a campaign to unseat the superintendent of education, which failed. We wrote letters to the local newspaper, including one that I wrote as a freshman about ridiculous “security” policies instituted in the wake of the Columbine school shooting. By all measures, we did the activism part right.
However, we were up against a strongly apathetic populace and a small group of people who were very committed to their agenda, and that agenda was not just ill-conceived educational policy. Over the course of my high school education, I was informed in a history class that, in the teacher’s opinion, “Nixon was innocent in Watergate and the Democrats just set it all up because that’s the kind of thing they would do.” This was after the Nixon tapes had begun to trickle out. In a social studies class, I was told that a single president could undermine years of legal precedent by changing the Supreme Court makeup “like the current president (Clinton) has done.” Never mind that Roe v. Wade, the case that was almost certainly on this teacher’s mind, had been settled law for 25 years. I was “taught” evolution in one of my science classes by being told to outline the chapter as a single night’s homework assignment. I don’t recall learning anything in school about the Big Bang, though in private reading I had long moved on to articles about the theorized heat death of the universe.
Our efforts to fix that particular school district ended in complete, total failure, and my three sisters and I all withdrew from school long before graduation. (Read more…)
Today a magnitude 6.0 earthquake occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, causing residents of the Gulf Coast to feel tremors. It didn’t cause tsunami warnings, but it is a bit unsettling for a quake this strong to occur relatively close to the New Madrid fault.
Earthquakes often trigger other earthquakes in relatively short spaces of time, because the Earth’s tectonic plates share edges with each other. In fact, another relatively strong earthquake–5.2–occurred in February of this year in the same general area. The Gulf of Mexico is on the same tectonic plate as the New Madrid fault–the North American Plate. The recent seismic activity in the Gulf is somewhat disturbing.
Neoconservatism Meets Ingsoc in Schools
Judging from their policies and proposals, as well as their own behavior, one would have good reason to believe that most members of the Religious Right dislike public schools and think them secular, "liberally slanted," ungodly institutions that corrupt their children and turn them against their parents and their religion. After all, it is this group that most strongly advocates private and parochial school vouchers. It is this group that initiates the "put prayer back in school" drives and raises the most fuss when any blatant school-sponsored religious–often denominational–display is sanctioned by the courts. It is this group that controls many home-school organizations, at least in the South. (Full disclosure: While I was never home-schooled, my parents do home-school my younger siblings, but not because they are "Religious Right" or think that there isn’t enough religious indoctrination in the public schools.) However, their raging against public schools is really quite ironic, since–in the South at the very least–many public schools would be thought to be religious private schools by an observer who knew no better.It’s a sign of extreme cognitive dissonance that the Religious Right whines about the teaching of scientific theories that conflict with a literalist’s interpretation of the Bible, especially in the South, where most of this activity appears to take place. Of course, I speak primarily of the theory of natural selection, discussions of the geological history of the Earth, and mentions of the Big Bang theory. These scientific ideas are the Religious Right’s most common boogeymen, since they conflict with their dear-to-their-heart notion of a 6000-year-old Earth. However, more recently, the Neoconservative political agenda has made its way into ecology classes, where global warming and environmentally responsible consumerism–if discussed at all–are treated dismissively as "unproven theories." This, in public schools, the institutions of the devil.
All of the following anecdotes are true, unembellished, and occurred in public schools in the Southeast. (Read more…)
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