Site icon A Piece of My Mind with Shane Phipps

The war on public education is a war of attrition and there will be no winners

“The Battle of Jangsari” is a South Korean film based on a true story about an incident during the Korean War in which ill-trained students were used as soldiers for the South Korean side

I’m back again and I come with more reports from the front lines of the war on public education. I wish I could write about something else—after all, every day there are great stories of wonderful things that happen in public schools—but right now, we are embroiled in battle and fighting for our lives. Being based in Indiana, I write mostly about the proposed legislation that we are constantly besieged by, but I don’t want to give the impression that it’s only happening here. To paraphrase ZZ Top, it’s bad and it’s nationwide. On top of that, it’s relentless. One terrible bill after another, like waves on an angry sea, keep crashing down upon us. Make no mistake, this is intentional. This is a war of attrition. The endgame of these ALEC/Koch Brothers-written and sponsored bill attacks is to wear you down to a state of numbness and apathy, dear reader. Education insiders keep screaming bloody murder about these things. The GOP dominated legislatures in the various states know that if we keep shouting long enough, you’ll stop listening; and then they’ve got us right where they want us. That’s why I’m back again. I’m not going to stop screaming.

I want to keep this article brief, because I’m sure there will be more like this to follow sooner than later. So, today I want to focus on two examples of bills which are coming down the pipelines right now in two places, Indiana, and Oklahoma. I don’t know which one is worse, but I know they are both dreadful. 

As the controversial Indiana House Bill 1134, already passed by the House, is about to be voted on in the Senate, another bill is emerging from the Senate, SB356. Your elected leaders like to come in big with a smokescreen and while your attention is focused on that big scary Tyrannosaurus Rex, they try to slip a whole bunch of vicious Velociraptors by you—and they just keep coming. SB356 would allow a school corporation to issue an adjunct teacher permit to an individual with no education qualifications or training and pay them at rates higher than trained teachers. Add to that the fact that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of language to specify just how these adjunct teachers would be held accountable to the same rigid standards that trained teachers are. This is frightening stuff! This bill is a blatant slap in the face of teachers who have amassed (and often paid for) hundreds and hundreds of hours of specific training in pedagogy, best-practice, learning styles, differentiation, performance rubrics by which we are assessed, rated, and paid, CPR training, IEP/504 special education laws, laws pertaining to child abuse and Child Protective Services, and on and on. It would open up a nightmarish can of worms for school corporations which would suddenly be opened up for multitudes of malpractice lawsuits because untrained adjunct teachers didn’t know how to make sure that little Johnny or Suzie were receiving all the litany of accommodations provided in their IEP or 504 plans. Some untrained adjunct teachers could easily find themselves in a world of legal hurt by not following the strict protocols about how to report suspected abuse or neglect. That stuff is not nearly as simple as it used to be, much more of the accountability is now put directly on teachers and it is very serious business. There is simply no way that someone who hasn’t had the large amount of training in these areas that licensed teachers must have can walk in off the streets and follow all the protocols. But that’s what is being proposed. Good luck with that if SB356 ever passes.

Now on to a current bill in the works in Oklahoma. Hold onto your hats, kids, it’s a doozy! This insane bill would forbid any school employee from presenting information that might be in opposition to a student’s closely held religious beliefs. Now, that’s nothing new. That’s part of the language in most of these bills across the nation, including Indiana’s HB1134. But Oklahoma kicks it up a notch or ten. In its provisions for parents to bring action if a teacher presents information that goes against their religious beliefs, there are the following options…

  1. They can file an injunction to censure the teacher serving to put that teacher on notice.
  2. If the school doesn’t comply with this “immediately,” the parents or guardians can file suit and the individuals named in the suit, including the teachers, can be held liable for a minimum fine of $10,000 in damages (per incident, per individual.) The teacher must pay that fine OUT OF THEIR OWN POCKET. If they receive any financial assistance from any individual or groups, then they “MUST BE FIRED, AND CANNOT BE RE-EMPLOYED WITHIN OKLAHOMA FOR AT LEAST FIVE YEARS.”
  3. If the school fails to comply with steps 1 and 2 any and all “directly or indirectly involved individuals may be fired and permanently barred from working in any public school in Oklahoma.” (Details paraphrased from Forbes, emphasis is mine)

I’m going to virtually pause here for a moment to let you re-read that and let it sink in…

Are you back? Are you trembling with anger and fear? Good, you should be!

Let’s dig into that a bit more, shall we? First let’s start by defining what kinds of things might be in opposition to the closely held religious beliefs of the kinds of people who would be in favor of such a law.

Let me add this tidbit about this $10,000 fine that must be paid completely out of pocket by the teacher. This is Oklahoma we are talking about here. The average teacher salary in that state is only $42,000. That’s got to be a severe breach of the 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Perhaps I’m getting a bit flippant, but I hope you see the point. If a parent wants to shield their kids from anything that might not walk in lock step with their religious views, then public schools probably aren’t the place they should put their kids. Teach them at home or send them to a private religious school of your choosing. But here’s a warning to you, the world will still be out there waiting for them, and they might not have the critical thinking skills needed to navigate it. Remember this: You may have some success in changing public schools, but you’re not going to change the real world. 

Here’s one more thing to consider about this bill in Oklahoma and others like it: Be very careful what you wish for because the Constitution still runs this nation. That means, if you gain the ability to censor any information that might not jive with your closely held religious beliefs, so, too, do other religious groups. That’s why some religious groups exist in the first place. Groups such as the Satanic Temple and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster were founded and exist mostly to hold people accountable to the Establishment Clause and take action to make sure it is enforced in situations just like the one you are trying to set up. So, if you open the door for your brand of censorship in public school classrooms, rest assured, other faiths and churches are ready to walk right in behind you. Are you ok with that? If not, take it up with the United States Constitution.

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