Live Free, Die Dumb: War on Education in New Hampshire, Salon, 1/7/12

posted Jan 7, 2012, 2:03 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Jan 9, 2012, 5:53 AM ]
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Live Free, Die Dumb: War on Education in New Hampshire

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The 2012 legislative season is barely out of the gate, but New Hampshire has sprinted to the lead in crazy, potentially destructive lawmaking.

On Wednesday, the state's Tea Party-dominated House voted 255-112 and the Senate 17-5 to override Governor John Lynch's July veto of H.B. 542, a law which allows parents to demand alternative school curriculum for anything they find objectionable. Called the "Parental Conscience Act" by supporters, it throws down the welcome mat to every right-wing, anti-evolution, Holocaust-denying, New World Order conspiracy nutbag-with-child the Granite State.

Under H.B. 542, parents can reject everything from methodology to the topics and assigned readings covered in individual classes and direct their school district to provide their preferred system or text or belief. 

"Even though the law requires the parent to pay the cost of alternative, the school district will still have to bear the burden of helping develop and approve the alternative," Gov. Lynch noted in his statement on his veto last summer. "Classrooms will be disrupted by students coming and going, and lacking shared knowledge."

Matthew Chingas, an educational fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells the International Business Times that Lynch and the bill's opponents may be over-estimating the bill's impact, saying that it all depends how the law in interpreted and it will really only be damaging if it's used by parents who have "squabbles" with specific subjects, like evolution or sex education. 

But, of course, this bill was tailor-made for parents who want to engage in "squabbles" over evolution, sex education, and anything else that challenges their religious or political worldview. 

The original bill arose out of a "squabble" between a student and his parentsagainst his high school for making him read Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America," for his personal finance course. 

The family objected to her language and particularly to a passage where she writes: "It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth."

When the school refused to ban the book, the family ultimately pulled their son out and are now homeschooling.

HB 542 essentially forces the self-designed curriculum of homeschooling to the public school system...and that's only part of the wider agenda of conservatives in New Hampshire. They are attempting to systematically gut one of the oldest public school systems in the United States. 

For example, HB 542 originally contained a provision that would lift compulsory attendance regulations. That provision will be introduced as its own bill later this session. A failed bill last session would have let parents reduce their property taxes by taking their children out of the public school system; another would have lowered the age at which a child could legally drop out. 

Pending bills seek to pull New Hampshire out of Federal funding for schools and to give businesses tax credits for establishing scholarships at private schools. A truly bizarre bill seeks to amend the state constitution to permit the state to stop funding the public schools and shunt funds to religious schools. 

On the curriculum level, the multiple bills demanding the teaching of Creationism that failed last year will be back on the agenda for this year. Just yesterday, representatives unveiled HB 1148, requiring that the teaching of evolution include "the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism."  

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jerry Bergevin, told the Concord Monitor that he wants "the full portrait of evolution and the people who come up with the ideas to be presented. It's a worldview, and it's godless." He managed to tie the teaching of evolution to the Communist menace, the Nazis, modern China, and the Columbine massacre.

Meanwhile, HB 1457 would require teachers to "instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes." Which is true as a general scientific principle, but in this case is code for "intelligent design."

There will always be conflicts between parents and school districts over curriculum and philosophy and quality of education. But what's happening in New Hampshire is nothing less than a form of child abuse, pure and simple. 

These are attempts to create an educational system where children are never exposed to ideas that challenge their thinking about what it means to be a citizen, or a churchgoer, or to have a sexual identity, or a link in an amazing chain of development that made us into beings that can argue about sex and politics and religion. It locks them from birth in a singular mindset that brooks no argument and allows no real intellectual growth. It doesn't just stop the teaching of evolution. It stops their evolution.