Thursday, March 23, 2006


Kansas: The Next Battlefield

In baseball, you get three strikes and then you have to sit down. That's not true, however, for the right-wing majority of the Kansas School Board. They've swung and missed three times now, and instead of taking the bench, they're still standing wild-eyed at the plate swinging at anything that comes in range.

The first strike came last October when the board appointed anti-tax activist Bob Corkins, a man with no schools experience, as the state's Education Commissioner.

To John Vratil, a Leawood Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee the Corkins' appointment seemed "sort of like making Saddam Hussein president of the United States."

The following month, they swung again, and missed by a country mile, when they voted to re-define science in order to open the door to the supernatural.

At the science curriculum hearings in May, board chair Steve Abrams said it was all about "empirical science — what is observable, measurable, testable, repeatable and falsifiable.”

But, then he gave the game away telling a church group, “At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe,” Abrams said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Last week, the board wiffed again. The wingnut majority made it harder for Kansas students to get objective information about preventing pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease by approving a policy that parents must request in writing that their children attend sex education classes.

Even that was not enough for Kathy Martin, the board's own Madame Defarge, who hinted darkly that we "need to send the correct message." She proposed that schools lose state accreditation if they don't offer at least nine weeks instruction on "abstinence until marriage" between sixth and ninth grade.

There are fresh indications, however, that before the board takes on an abstinence only curriculum, it will turn its attention to the problem of pornography in the Blue Valley school district.

This is of particular interest to Red State Rabble, because both of our daughters attend school in the Blue Valley district, which for years has been ranked one of the best in the nation.

At last week's board meeting, right-winger John Bacon allowed as how he’d read some of the books on the Blue Valley reading list, which includes “Beloved” by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and “Black Boy” by Richard Wright.

“I’m thinking, ‘Who in their right mind would want to force this on a child?’” Bacon said. “To me, it screams sexual harassment. ... I think it’s important that we at least try to see if we can get some more information.”

We'd already had a preview of this coming attraction a couple of months back when Abrams accused the Blue Valley district of “promulgating pornography as ”literature.”

There are other ominious sign of what lies ahead, as well. An article by April Shenandoah in the lunatic fringe publication, Sierra Times, titled "Communist Rules for Revolution in America Include X-rated Education" shows that the right is beginning to mobilize far-right opinion in advance of the impending battle against the Blue Valley reading list – a battle that until now, they’ve lost repeatedly within the district.

Picking up the know-nothing drumbeat, an article on the WorldNetDaily website by Ron Strom titled, " X-rated 'Children's' Books Outrage Students' Parents," claims that the Blue Valley reading list features "books, some of them required reading, that include sexual issues and obscenity many believe are inappropriate for school children."

When you read the distorted right-wing version, which claims that outraged parents have organized to protest the inclusion of obscene books on children's assigned reading lists in the Blue Valley School District there are certain things, things called facts, that you will not learn.

You will not learn, for example, that Janet Harmon the leader of the protests has home-schooled five of her children. Only one of whom attends public schools.

You will not learn that most of those involved in the protests against the Blue Valley reading list are not, in fact, parents, but members of Harmon's church, where she circulated a petition.

For years, educators have been concerned about the under-representation of black and women writers on secondary and post-secondary reading lists. A disproportionate number of the books opposed by these parents are by black and women writers – a fact that lead to protests from the NAACP and the ACLU.

You will not learn from the decency police that the books in question have been defended at countless board meetings by parents, student, teachers, and administrators who consistently outnumber the censors. In fact, a group of Blue Valley students has been active in defending the district's reading list.

Right-wing opponents, authoritarian to the core, respond that students should have no voice at all in district policies.

You will not be told that in the last election all but one of the candidates who ran on a platform of banning these award-winning books were defeated by moderates.

You will also be prevented from learning that the district has a review policy that includes parents, students, teachers, and administrators in the selection of books on the reading list. Harmon and other parents opposed to the reading list have been involved in this process and failed to convince others of their position.

You will not be told that many of these books are for students who are enrolled in advanced placement courses – that is, college level courses.

You will not be able to learn that there is an opt-out policy for parents who want their children to read something else.

None of this will matter of course, as the right-wing fanatics who control the board swing wildly away breaking every piece of china within their reach.

We all like to think we can reason with anyone, but experience has shown there’s no reasoning with these people. The only answer is to vote them out next November.


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