Some politicians can’t help talking out of both sides of their mouths. In Wyoming, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow is just the latest.
But the worst part is either she doesn’t realize she’s doing it or her political ambitions outweigh her duty as the top K-12 education leader to ensure the integrity of the state’s academic processes.
Yet there she was, one of the many longtime proponents of “local control,” recently standing at a podium in the hallway outside her state Capitol office, promoting a bill that would take that control away from local school districts and their staff.
Not only that, she and the bill’s two sponsors – Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton – have the nerve to call the bill the Civics Transparency Act. The only transparent thing about this waste of seven pieces of paper is the obvious fact that it’s yet another attempt by certain politicians in The Equality State to tell teachers how to do their jobs.
Once again, the popular phrase “stay in your lane” comes to mind.
At least they admitted their true motivations in the news release promoting this latest example of attempted legislative overreach. It begins with “Wyoming Senator Ogden Driskill will introduce state legislation to fight back against critical race theory in Wyoming; with Senate President Dan Dockstader co-sponsoring the bill.” It goes on to say Mr. Driskill’s efforts “will establish Wyoming as a leader among states in keeping critical race theory out of classrooms.”
Superintendent Balow says in the release, “K-12 classrooms are not an appropriate forum for radical political theory such as CRT.” Sorry, but once again, we disagree. Even if you take the far-right stance that CRT is somehow trying to indoctrinate our kids into believing the “white race” is inferior because of our ancestors’ discriminatory actions (it is not), isn’t a high school history class the perfect place to discuss the pros and cons of the theory?
What are these folks so afraid of? Do they really believe that “in America, the human race is just as the U.S. Constitution says – equal,” as Mr. Driskill says in the release? Or are they afraid to let the next generation learn that many aspects of our society – including our legal system and the very educational system they’re trying to manipulate with this bill – continue to show favoritism to Caucasian people over people with darker skin?
Of course, those who support the bill say we should spend more time reading it. Not that it takes that long, but we have. And yes, on the surface, many of the ideals it contains seem perfectly appropriate. We believe parents do have the right to know what’s being taught by their child’s teachers. We believe they do have the right to object to curriculum or activities they disagree with, defined as “assemblies, guest lectures or other educational events facilitated by the school district or school.”
But the thing is, they already do. It’s called having a conversation with a teacher, principal or superintendent. If you really think it’s “indoctrination” and your child can’t handle hearing such perspectives, you can choose to have them opt out, and you can take your objection to the school board (as some already have here in Cheyenne in recent weeks).
Which means this bill is, at best, unnecessary. But if it only reinforced existing practices, it wouldn’t deserve our attention. Unfortunately, it actually makes things worse in at least two ways.
First, it would add a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy onto local school districts by requiring them to publish lists of “learning materials and activities” used in all classrooms on their websites and to leave them there for at least a year after the school year ends. Who’s going to pay these educators for the extra time it takes to meet this requirement (no one, of course, which makes it one of those dreaded “unfunded mandates”), and who’s going to police it?
Second, it specifies that “all schools and colleges in this state that are supported in any manner by public funds shall give instruction in the essentials of the United States Constitution and the constitution of the state of Wyoming, including the study of and devotion to American institution(s) and ideals.” Who gets to decide which parts of these documents are “essential,” and who will define those “ideals?”
Well, apparently these guys are, since the bill specifies that students be taught “the principles set forth in the first and second paragraphs and the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence, and in Article 1, Sections 2 and 3, and Article 6, Section 1 of the Wyoming Constitution.”
Sorry, but that’s not for certain lawmakers to decide. As Grady Hutcherson, the president of the Wyoming Education Association, said this week, “all students deserve honesty in education, and it is educators – not pundits or politicians – who know how to best develop age-appropriate lessons for students.”
Superintendent Balow knows how this works. In fact, she spent more than half an hour recently educating us about the fact the state’s social studies standards haven’t been updated since 2014, which means they will be up for review in 2023. During that two-year process, the State Board of Education will take input from a variety of stakeholders, including parents, business leaders and, yes, those pesky teachers who get the privilege of shaping our next generation of leaders.
The Civic Transparency Act is nothing but a slap in face of those educators. It says, “We don’t trust you to tell our kids only what we want them to hear.” It says, “We don’t want you to challenge our kids to think for themselves.” Worst of all, it says, “We don’t want you teaching them something they might use to come home and challenge our beliefs.”
Clearly, the bill’s sponsors and its supporters want kids to believe not just that discrimination is wrong, but that discrimination no longer exists.
Like many that have come before it (including one proposed earlier this summer by Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper) this bill deserves to be sent to the legislative shredder. And the educated voters of Wyoming should remember that Mrs. Balow supported it the next time she stands up and preaches the need for “local control.”