Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is the World Flat or Round

A Serious Discussion about our Hamilton School District

"There are 15,700 local school boards in this country. It is our intent to take them over one by one. All we need is majority...and then we will determine what is taught, we will determine who is hired and who is fired.”

“We can and WILL continue to take back control of our local school boards and eventually the entire system. We will fight to the end to stop any atheism, values clarification psychology, hypnotism, necromancy, immorality, homosexuality, or denial of students' or parents' free speech and free exercise of our faith in our schools.”

"We need strong board members who know right from wrong. The Bible, being the only true source on right and wrong, should be the guide of board members. Only godly Christians can truly qualify for this critically important position.”

“We will be the stealth candidates, and you must carry out our mission in such a way that the public won't know what we're about until we've won control. I'm a fundamentalist Christian, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the only kind of Christian there is."

“When we get our Christian agenda operating inside the schools, we can control all those things much easier, because our agenda leaves NO time for those kind of things.”

"I believe they are realizing they really have little or NO choice but to cooperate. So far, the Lord's leading has been working beautifully."

Hamilton School Board member Nancy Ballance is a self-identified member of the amazingly-candid Ravalli County Tea Party Patriots. She also identifies herself as an active member of Montana Citizens for Excellence in Education (CEE). CEE is in turn, the innocuous-sounding division of the National Association of Christian Educators (NACE), whose founder and president, Robert L. Simonds, made the amazingly candid statements above to describe the mission of NACE/CEE.

NACE/CEE was founded in 1983, after Simonds served on President Reagan's Taskforce to Implement the National Commission on Excellence in Education Report, 'A Nation at Risk’. The group claims 1,668 chapters, 878 church-based Public School Awareness Committees, and about 250,000 members. In the past, NACE/CEE has received financial support from the Coors beer family through the Coors Foundation.

Notwithstanding that NACE/CEE has effectively banned a wide range of books from our schools, including Little Red Riding Hood, Simonds characterizes any criticism of the NACE/CEE’s agenda as "specifically meant to persecute Christians". "It now appears,” he states, “that Christians in America are beginning to share the same treatment Jews received in Nazi Germany."

Homo sapiens (1) have a natural inclination to ignore truly important things that are also boring. It’s in our genes. A mastodon charging our village is one thing, and definitely not boring. School boards are quite another thing, although potentially just as destructive to our village as an angry elephant the size of a school bus. The anthropological jury’s still out as to whether mastodons actually got angry, but let’s go with this. It’s the only rational explanation I can come up with. We simply haven’t evolved fast enough to recognize modern dangers when we see them coming. Our technology has outstripped our wisdom. We get sucker-punched by the religious-right when we’re not looking.
All that said, the Hamilton School Board is currently revising its District Policy Manual, which to most people is about as exciting as watching a snail race on a wet sidewalk in a city you don’t like when you forgot your raincoat.

Hardly anyone pays attention to local school board politics, which is why organizations like National Association of Christian Educators and its division, Citizens for Excellence in Education (NACE/CEE) specifically target local school boards for takeover in order to advance their bizarre agendas. It’s cheaper than winning a seat in the Senate and, cumulatively speaking, is arguably as impactive as actually having a senator in your pocket. And usually no one’s paying attention.

So here’s what happened. Last November, Hamilton School Board Chair Dave Bedey submitted a draft Vision Statement that some staff and community members thought looked more like a recipe for a Christian military prep school than the preamble of the district’s new Policy Manual, which was what it was supposed to be.

To put the following drama in context, Mr. Bedey is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army, a former instructor at West Point and a mid-level neoconservative Talking Head on T.V. shows such as Anderson Cooper for “issues” such as our national security being at risk if gays are allowed to serve openly in the military. He is a contributing editor to Family Security Matters, which is an offshoot for the DC neocon think tank, Center for Security Policy (CPS). CPS, in turn, is a member-organization of the Cooler Heads Coalition (2) which seeks to "dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed scientific, economic, and risk analysis." Bedey also has written for a publication along the same vein, Patriots and Liberty (3) .

In Bedey’s draft Vision Statement, he exhorted school officials to prepare students to “participate in self-government”. Now let’s be fair and start at the beginning. The term “self-government” used to be a phrase you could use without too much baggage. That was in The Old Days, three years ago, before our local gun-toting tea party outfit, Celebrating Conservative (4) , equated the term “self-government” with armed rebellion against the 99%. The term is locked and loaded now. Read on.

Under “local control”, Bedey clarified. ”Local control of the Hamilton schools,” he stated, “is central for achievement of the District’s mission.” Therefore “…The Board of Trustees shall strive…to oppose further encroachments into the management of the District’s schools by the state and federal government and to restore those elements of local control that have been lost over the past several decades.” This is an extremely interesting statement to make in a school board draft document, at least to us homo sapiens (1) who have been paying attention to Ravalli County craziness these last couple of years. Remember the “Ravalli County Questionnaire” (5) that Celebrating Conservatism threatened our local officials with two years ago? That singular document included a demand that all “federalized employees” get permission from the sheriff before “approaching a Citizen (sic)” or face criminal charges and trial by a “citizens’ grand jury”. In militia-jargon, “federalized employees” includes any local school employees “attempting to enforce a federal agenda (sic)” and “citizens’ grand jury” refers to kangaroo courts officiated by the Good-ol’-Boys-Du-Jour who empower themselves with executing those they—and they alone—define as “traitors”. In other words, “Federalized employees”, with all the implied disloyalty these “Citizens” insist on attaching to the silly phrase, would include all teachers and staff just doing the jobs we pay them for. For added flavor, the amazing “questionnaire” also demanded that the sheriff be required to form a county militia to “protect” citizens from domestic enemies. “All able-bodied Citizens (sic)” will forcibly serve, and women will serve in combat only if “men are in danger of being overrun (sic)”. Remember all this? Ah, Yes…

For a context-break, let’s remember that vision statements can and often do run as short as one or two sentences. Who wants to waste time on wordy dogma, for instance, when you have kids at home who need feeding? Maybe if you’re tapping your brain out to find the exact right words to open a document that calls for armed insurrection against a king, and you want to get it right for history in case the king ends up hanging you. But for a school policy? Do we really need a whole section headed “Preparation to Participate in Self-Government”?

Yes we do, according to Bedey’s draft. And under that rubric he submitted the following “vision”:
“The definition of what it means to be an American is an issue that our graduates will decide.  To make sense of the various positions put forward by ideologues across the political spectrum, our graduates must have a sound grasp of the political principles set forth by our Founders and of the free market system.  Furthermore, increasingly politicized scientific claims and counter-claims confuse the discussion of many crucial issues.  Thus, to prepare our graduates to engage in self-government, it is also essential that they gain an understanding of both the scope and the limits of science.” (See footnotes 2: Cooler Heads Coalition & 3: Patriots and Liberty)

Shortly after the release of Bedey’s draft document, school board member Nancy Ballance (of Montana Citizens for Excellence in Education and Ravalli County Tea Party Patriots) sent an email to Republican Central Committee vice-president Lilya McAllister, who forwarded it to Commissioner Suzie Foss, who passed it on to such a large and indiscriminate list that even I got a copy of it. As did all of our already-concerned teachers and staff. In it she stated that:

· Bedey’s draft is “very encouraging”.
· It has “gone viral throughout the teaching staff and many are not happy about it. I am expecting to see several teachers show up at the next meeting to voice their opinions. It is very important to get supporting opinions represented”.
· “I expect we will have members of the public at every meeting for the next few months….we will need representation from the conservative voices. Feel free to forward this to anyone you think would be interested in coming to support the conservative voice”.

Ironically for someone proclaiming membership in an outfit that demonizes federal subsidies and bank bailouts (Tea Party Patriots), Ms Ballance is a recently-retired vice-president of Farmers Insurance Group, which is 100%-owned by multi-national giant Zurich Financial Group. Farmers, you might remember, bought AIG’s toxic insurance assets after an $80 billion+ taxpayer-funded bailout made their poisonous soup edible for the 1% at the expense of the rest of us. She is a recent arrival in the Bitterroot and is currently running for Gary McClaren’s seat in HD 89. Gary, you might be interested to know, is the Montana State Chairman of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) (6) , a political Creature from the Black Lagoon of the Koch Brothers that brought us Montanans, among many other gifts, crippling power bills through Energy Deregulation (7).

Perhaps injudiciously, Bedey’s draft ended up in every school teacher’s in-box, and representative samples of these public employees charged (by us) with educating our children to do the very best they can with the 21st century have been attending and watching every school board meeting since. This is good news for Us the Taxpayers, but we need to do more than cheer our teachers on. We need to pay attention. We need to show up.

If you’ve ever wondered why public schools are so dissatisfying to more and more parents, wonder no more. The reason’s staring you in your Bitterroot face, and it’s a DNA-proofed child of Voodoo Reaganomics (shrinking government to the size of an unwed, pregnant Hollywood starlet you can drown in a bathtub). Our schools have taken a nose-dive in quality over the last 30 years exactly because of this kind of fundamentalist-reconstructionist assault. Rational people can only last so long on any given school board or teaching staff debating with these denizens of the deep-six as to whether their school ought to teach such radical notions as Science, to impressionable youth who might end up pregnant because they were exposed to too much….science! They get tired. They get disgusted. No one’s paying attention. No one thanks them. They quit, and their seat opens up to the possibilities of the vast beyond, biblically-speaking from a fundamentalist’s perspective, of course.

We Montana progressives have always acknowledged that there are deep divisions of thought and opinion within our communities. We have always accepted those with whom we disagree. Many of us know the same hymns they do. But we also acknowledge and resent that this basic expression of empathy and decency is not necessarily reciprocated by those who constantly try to demonize anyone who wants to teach their kids science and birth control as hounds from the gates of Hell trying to foist Evil Socialism on the unwary citizens of Hobbitville. We accept that a respectful debate is one thing. Teaching our children how to have a respectful debate is another one thing. But teaching our children, on our public dime, that “respectful debate” includes discussing whether the earth is flat or round is quite another thing. We declare that it’s no small stretch, in the face of demonstrable and catastrophic climate change and equally demonstrable and potentially-catastrophic college entrance exams, that this kind of nonsense is the other side of Ignorant and just this side of Criminal. There are plenty of private Christian military acadamies in this world without aiming Hamilton towards that rathole, thank you, and I think if you feel the same way you should let your school board members know. Right now. These kinds of red-herring issues make everyone working for the district defensive, which is not the position from which to be your most productive and creative, which is what our kids so desperately need, and unless you’re really into vast discussions centered around how many angels really can dance on the head of a pin, these kinds of disingenuous slams from the Right can only be seen as intentional squanderings of our valuable public resources on pointless personal dogma. If you feel you need to have these discussions with your kids, have them in your church, or in your home, and let your church or your home pay for them. Leave the rest of us and our kids out of it. Where are all these Constitution-lovers when it comes to…THE CONSTITUTION???!!! What the hell?!
I rest my case (8).

(1) Latin for "wise guy".

(2) Funding for Cooler Heads Foundation comes from Exxon Mobil, Ford Motor Co., Big Pharma heavy-hitter Pfizer, the Scaife Foundation as well as another giant front-group in Big Energy’s kit bag, the Earhart Foundation.

(3) Some of the articles listed on the Patriots and Liberty website include: “Too Many Christians–including Evangelicals—are Socialists”, “Creation vs Darwinism: God and Liberty vs Man and Tyranny”, “Welfare Recipient Lives in Million Dollar Home”,  “Yoga’s Frightening Demonic Experiences”, and of course Col. David F. Bedey: “Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: A Clear and Present Danger “

(4) Reminder: The now-defunct Celebrating Conservative was the spiritual parent of our three incredible new commissioners, district attorney and Planning Office-manager.

(5) The “Ravalli County Questionnaire” was signed by almost 200 people, including three far-right candidates in the last election cycle, one of which shot a neighbor in his run-up for the Sheriff’s race (Wayne Kelly) and our two self-described “moralists”, one of whom accepted $100,000 from Wall-Mart in their corporate attempt to destroy our downtown business section (Dallas Erickson) and one who is alleged to have swindled $150,000 from a fellow believer while simultaneously condemning anyone who doesn’t want righteous people like himself sticking their nose in their bedrooms to Eternal Damnation (Harris Himes).

(6) ALEC is much more powerful than a lobby or front group. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate governing board which meets jointly with the legislative board. The corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the country as their own important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC, which describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization, predates the Supreme Court’s 2010 ‘Citizens’ United’ decision by a significant timeframe.

(7) Ironically, the “father” of Montana Deregulation, Fred Thomas, whose successful 1997 deregulation legislation was written by Goldman-Sachs, is running for SD 45, which HD 89 is within. If consummated, this would be a match made in 1% heaven.

(8) It’s worth noting here that Christian Fundamentalism is not Christianity Whole-Cloth. It is a sect of Christianity, and a particularly peculiar one in this age of science for lack of a better word. Consider that one of the main tenets of Fundamentalism is that every word in the Bible is literally true, that the Earth is in fact only 6,000 years old, etc. Many of these good folks, in turn, believe that this literal belief in the Bible is a required pre-requisite to Constitutional Literalism, which is the Far-Right tenet that the U.S. Constitution—a document written during the European Age of Enlightenment by men who specifically believed in Science with a capital “S” was divinely-inspired AS WRITTEN and all frivolous add-ons to it, such as the last dozen or so amendments and 200 years of case law, are the Devil’s work. Add to this history-as-seen-through-a-literalist-prism that many of these divinely-inspired “founding fathers” specifically refused to self-identify with the Christian Religion at all, were slaveholders, or both. One can only say “ Wow”.

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