Tuesday, March 29, 2022

WV Legislature Made Progress Destroying Public Education in 2022

Teachers in 2018: It may be time to walk out again. Certainly must VOTE!

Teachers (and anyone who cares about public education in WV), listen up! In one case, four minutes was all that stood between you this legislative session and the unreasonable demands of Republican lawmakers. I’m talking about their so-called “Anti-Racism Act” (SB 498–it passed, but too late to become law). But they managed to pass at least two other disturbing education bills or resolutions. SB 704, which passed and is headed to the governor for signing, requires teachers to make all course materials available by the first day of class for parents/guardians to preview. They can demand that you “demonstrate how the supplementary instructional material relates to the content standards...” If you fail to do so in a manner that satisfies, they can file a complaint to your Superintendent, which, if not “resolved,” goes to the state Superintendent. You could get in trouble, for example if you introduced something from a current newspaper that hadn’t been made available for parents to preview by the first day of class! So current events are now not acceptable? What about the internet?
The “Anti-Racism Act” claimed to prevent teachers/schools from requiring students or employees to “state or believe in the superiority of one race or biological sex over another.” It states students/employees can’t be obligated to feel guilt or in any way responsible for what a member of their race or biological sex did in the past. But, for example, if you introduced the fact that white plantation owners enslaved blacks and sometimes beat or lynched them, and a child goes home and says their teacher made them feel “discomfort” or guilt, that parent can file a complaint against you with your principal that can end up on the Superintendent’s desk.
How should a teacher respond if a student or a colleague said, “If poor people of color just worked harder, they would be equal economically and socially to other (white) Americans?” I would want to point out that many are already working 2 and 3 jobs and that bias or discrimination may prevent advancement in some cases. But the Anti-Racism bill would have made it illegal for you to explain that the concepts of “meritocracy” or “a hard work ethic” are sometimes, to paraphrase the bill’s language, used by racists and sexists to deny that discrimination oppresses another group. Confused yet? If I were still teaching, I’d be afraid to even bring up or respond to a student on the topic of racism or sexism. I guess that’s the point.
It should not need to be stated that not every person of color is or was disadvantaged by discriminatory systems that existed and may still exist: slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, immigration laws, bank loan and credit policy, unfair policiing, etc. It also goes without saying that not every white person was or is directly advantaged by those systems. But most white Americans, even in West Virginia, had or have access to better schools, nicer neighborhoods, higher paying jobs, the ability to elect those in government who would improve their roads, etc. Of course those advantages shouldn’t leave children with any sense of guilt and doesn’t make them responsible for the problems such inequities have created in our society. That’s common sense–something sorely lacking in the minds of many at the Capitol.
Incompetence saved teachers this time. SB 498, the “Anti-Racism Act” was passed four minutes after midnight on the last night of the session, so it will not become law….yet.
But do you think they’ll stop trying to make it or something like it law?
WV Republicans also passed a Constitutional amendment for the November ballot that would take control of school curriculum and policies out of the hands of professionals and citizen boards. “Decisions affecting daily classroom life would be placed in the hands of a partisan Legislature,” the WV Board of Education declared in a letter opposing the Constitutional amendment.
Teachers and school staff, supported by the public, stood 55 counties strong in unity for affordable health care and better pay for all public employees in 2018. Now all West Virginians need to stand strong and vote out the legislators responsible for bad legislation this session.
Help organize voters to vote down the Constitutional amendment that gives the legislature final authority for all public education policies and curriculum while letting homeschools and “learning pods” of unlimited size free to ignore all state board educational policies and curriculum.
Teachers and service personnel, if you haven’t joined WVEA, AFT-WV, or WVSSPA it’s time to do so, because you will need the protection of professional organizations. They can represent you in hearings and investigations if angry, close minded parents influenced by right wing media make unfounded complaints. You should be allowed to teach in a way that will inspire students to work for a more equitable and fair West Virginia. If you are forced to avoid tough subjects and good teachers continue leaving the profession, young people will continue moving out of state to live in places where all people are treated with respect under the law.
Paul Epstein is a retired elementary school teacher and musician living in Charleston