Things are Getting Weird in South Carolina

Things here are getting weird. And they could get even weirder. As in, the opportunity for weirdness is expanding. Take politics for example. Well, actually you could take politics writ large, or insert any geographical context you like, but I’m going to tell you a story I know.

It all starts with an unobvious government office. The South Carolina Superintendent of Education. That seems like a fairly vanilla post. If your mission was to overthrow democracy, your port of entry would probably not be supreme ruler of public school teachers. Which is to say, people don’t exactly flock to the primaries to ensure their candidate is on the ballot, for the sake of all democracy. That’s a shame. Because a decent Republican candidate was primaried out. On the ballot in November we have a decent Democratic candidate and a candidate identifying as Republican, but who possesses a disconcerting lack of insight when it comes to education, or knowledge in general.

At this point, you might be asking yourself why the Superintendent of Education is a partisan elected office. That is a great question for which I do not have an answer. As things are, the Democratic candidate, Lisa Ellis, is a public school teacher who wants to increase teacher pay, increase student mental health services, improve academic access and equity. These are issues I care about. Check.

Her so-called Republican opponent, Ellen Weaver, has some pretty interesting views. This isn’t her fault really. She has no idea how education works. She went to this echo-chamber for University, called Bob Jones. It’s not so much a hallowed hall of higher learning, as it is a brainwashing factory. Since then, she hasn’t been a teacher or worked directly with a school district. One of two qualifications for running for this particular office. The other being that the candidate is required to hold a master’s degree as a minimum level of education. Because, otherwise, she would be less qualified than her subordinates, who actually have to be hired for their job, rather than win a popularity contest. She is overcoming both political hurdles by purchasing a master’s degree in education from her friend, Bob Jones. Slay.

Typically, investing in higher education suggests an exchange of services for money. What are those services a college student is usually purchasing? The opportunity to deepen knowledge, broaden horizons, gain fresh perspectives, and think in new ways. In brief, become the next generation of knowledge bearers. Continue mankind’s thirst for knowledge and pass down the wisdom of our collective experiences, our multiple narratives. But Ellen Weaver is atypical for many reasons. Over the summer, she announced she would be a viable candidate for office by November because magically she would be the proud owner of a piece of paper that conferred a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from her friend, Bobby. Now how is she going to fit all that learning in, two years worth by Bob’s own admission, in only a few months? The answer is that she cannot compress her learning time frame without also compressing her learning opportunities. She will still be the candidate who has only ever been a member of the conservative think-tank community and is taking stabs in the dark, guessing how education works. Cringe. I mean, it’s hard to watch.

Where to begin? How about her vision of returning Christian faith and values to our public schools, just like our forebears never intended. That’s the blessing and curse of ignorance. On the one hand, you can just imagine how things used to be without getting bogged down in the facts. On the other hand, you might be dead wrong. We can’t go back to the days when public schools instilled Christian faith and values in our children because those days never existed (in theory). One of the founding beliefs of our nation is that we maintain separation of church and state. It was sort of our beef with England, and the Revolutionary War and stuff. I don’t know if Bob covered that in his curriculum. That’s the problem with cherry picking history. You make your students look stupid.

Public schools are for the public. We are not a monotheistic society. Indeed, we are prone to calling monotheistic societies bad and inferior. We are a democracy that espouses religious freedom. I live in Charleston. It’s called the ‘Holy City’ not because it’s extra Christian, but because it was once widely regarded as the place where you could practice any religion, free from threat of persecution. Back in the day, the Jewish population in Charleston was more robust than that of NYC. So, it’s silly to run on a platform that undermines the unifying value undergirding your (supposed) own political party: Freedom. But, you can’t know that if you aren’t educated.

Speaking of essential gaps in knowledge, Ellen is also hoping to remove large swaths of American History from the curriculum. Apparently, she is suffering from some delusion that the state’s public schools have been infiltrated by an extremist scourge disguised as teachers. In her own words, Ellen intends to “Stand against the Left’s woke agenda in our schools.” She seems to be offering parents the right and authority to dictate what their children learn if elected. That’s a bold move. It takes balls to propose to fight against the very teachers you will be elected to represent and lead. But it also pokes some holes in her accelerated learning experience with her buddy Bobby. Somebody needs to tell her that neither teachers, nor parents, have the authority to decide what gets taught and what goes left unsaid. Those decisions have been made and can be found in our state’s publicly available education standards and curriculum guidelines. By law, teachers are required to teach predetermined learning objectives with impartiality and objectivity. They can’t possibly accommodate parent wishes for bans on knowledge without also demonstrating professional negligence. Speaking of which, professional standards prohibit teachers from favoring a particular political agenda or religion or other narrow view of the world. As our culture’s knowledge bearers, teachers have a responsibility to impart the wisdom of our shared human experiences. Curating a narrow selection of human experiences negates the wisdom part entirely and comes full circle so that one finds oneself right back where they started: in ignorance, despite having gone through the effort of learning some things.

So what are all the ‘woke’ goings-on in South Carolina Public Schools? Well, for starters, there’s science. Evolution. Ick. And remember that time our schools opened back up for business during a global pandemic and administrators required teachers and students to wear masks? How rude! Administrators shouldn’t be such slaves to the man. Who needs medicine and health care anyways, am I right? I’m being glib. I understand that masks are code for anti-government sentiment. But, it’s a weird hill to die on. And sort of past-trend. Another clue Ellen might not really be a Republican. Last time I checked, Republicans were pretty patriotic. I’m not sure instilling distrust in government institutions has a lot of overlap with patriotism. Speaking of undermining government institutions, she wants people who send their children to private school to be immune from paying taxes. That’s not really how democracies work. You don’t get to exempt yourself from being a contributing member of society just because you are rich. That’s more how oligarchies work, but good try.

The most wokest of all grievances, according to Ellen, is a comprehensive view of American history. She’s all hot under the collar because in South Carolina, we include a history of slavery in the state curriculum. Aside from religious tolerance, you want to know what else Charleston was famous for? Selling slaves: we were the top commodity exchange market in all of North America. The slavery industry was fire around here until a mere 159 years ago. When our country engaged in a Civil War that sought to tear down racist institutions. The social and economic transition has been bumpy. Nonetheless we’ve made progress we can be proud of at the same time as striving to continuously improve. It would be really hard to teach an accurate history of South Carolina where teachers are prohibited from talking about race.

In her own words, Ellen’s campaign platform is to “Protect children from political indoctrination in every form.” Okay, on the face of things, it sounds like I could be down with that value. It seems pretty basic and foundational–a little off-theme for the job description. Not offensive per se, just a weird thing to bring up. It’s sort of like spontaneously announcing that when you were in the bathroom earlier, you were only peeing. Okay. Nobody else was wondering what you were doing in the bathroom just like nobody else is really talking about the dangers of brainwashing children in public schools. But for the record, I’d also be on Team No Brainwashing. That assumes we are operating in the same reality with the same sets of facts. Being an educator, I’d interpret that mission statement by teaching the next generation our whole history, not bits and pieces.

Here is how Ellen interprets her own goal, vowing to protect the innocent children from political indoctrination:

Ideologies like Critical Race Theory, under any name or guise are wrong. These political philosophies form a worldview that attempts to indoctrinate students in a biased version of reality, usurp parental authority and values, and distract from the real purpose of education.

It’s like 1984, but in real life. What is the purpose of education if the practice is to withhold information? Her ranting about critical race theory indicates one of two things. First, there is the possibility that she has no idea what critical race theory is. It is not even an educational or political theory, but rather a legal one. It posits that although individuals may not be racist, larger systems or organizations within our society may still be haunted with echoes of racism because that shit is hard to rinse out. I think most of us can agree that racism sucks and that there is nonetheless still some pretty racist bullshittery going on. The worst thing we can do is suppress talking about it. The best thing we can do is learn from our forebears. Many of them fought really hard to get us where we are today. Don’t let their hard work be for naught just because Ellen accidentally went to a false prophet for her learning. She might not know any better. But we do.

The second possibility is that Ellen actually understands what she is saying. That she is running for an office she wants to implode. Her job would literally be to implement curricular standards with fidelity across the state and represent the interests of teachers and students. Her plan is to allow parents a-choose-your-own learning adventure for their children. Aside from the ban on discussing race, and the requirement of a christian education, and the lack of regard for public health guidelines and institutions. And then there’s her obsession with those teachers she is meant to lead and inspire. She is going to root them out like the gestapo if they even try to teach an accurate history of our state and nation. Like what if she really understands that she intends to do the opposite of what she has promised. Why then, I’d have to wonder, was that a Freudian slip? To promise the exact opposite of what you intend. Or is it brilliant think-tankery? I can’t tell.

What I can say is that it is weird. No matter how you slice it, it’s weird. There is no angle from which I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense.’

What’s also weird is that I live in a predominantly red state, where voting for your home team down the ballot is the extent to which many voters prepare for election day. It’s weird to think this woman might be in charge of my children’s educational future. You know what else is weird? Other Republican pretenders have been up to an unscrupulous amount of shenaniganry across the lands. I admire their ambition. But attempting to undermine democracy at the same time as making a comeback on racist, sexist, classist, and xenophobic fronts? Ambitious, but a bit too on the nose. A bit too cocky. That’s because they were counting on us to carry on with our lackluster voter turnout. That’s because our individual vote feels insignificant in a sea of apathy. And it is. But if we all really voted. Like even though we have work that day, or even if the kids are sick, or you don’t know where to go, or it’s raining or traffic is gridlocked, or you don’t know what to make for dinner. If we all voted, we could restore civil discourse and common sense. Like right away — well in a few weeks. Not some distant future that is out of reach and hard to imagine. Just several days away. Well, several dozens of days until our election results become tangible. But you get the gist.

Soon enough that you can almost reach out and touch it. We could all go vote, and nominate a teacher (Lisa Ellis) who understands how schools operate. Since we’ve already taken the time to go through the effort of voting, we might as well shore up women’s reproductive rights by voting for Annie Andrews (House) and Krystle Matthews (Senate). We are operating under a six-week abortion ban round these parts, which was surely concocted by somebody who has never menstruated or attempted to schedule an appointment with their gynecologist. I mean that is an ambitious time horizon no matter how organized you think you are. My point being, just voting down party lines doesn’t secure a future in which your party’s values manifest. In fact, the so-called Republican incumbent for Governor lists no values, priorities, or goals whatsoever. He just lists all his friends and cronies on his election website, some of whom seem to stand for nothing at all. Just like his platform. By contrast, the Democratic challenger (Joe Cunningham) is offering a decidedly moderate Republican platform (eliminate taxes, reduce government oversight). That he has a political platform shouldn’t be what sets him apart from his opponent, but such is life.

Like I said, things are getting weird around these parts. Follow me on the socials for more weirdness, in extemporaneous essay format. Or subscribe to receive the next soliloquy via email.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Thank you for reading this post. You may enjoy reading Lady Garland Tames Her Dragons available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

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