Is the California Legislature Failing Public School Students?

In the next few weeks, children throughout the Golden State will bid farewell to the unstructured freedom that summer affords as they head back to rule the corridors and classrooms of their local schools. For public school teachers, the new school year offers a respite from this summer of discontent. The continuing recession has thinned their ranks a bit, leaving many feeling beleaguered by layoffs and budget cuts. Additionally, the effort to identify underperforming teachers by parsing standardized testing data seems to assign all of the blame for failing students on the teachers alone.

Of course, the teachers, who serve on the instructional front line, are the most visible faces in the educational system. But, we should not forget the men (and women) behind the curtain: the members of the state senate and assembly.

When we speak of educational reform, the focus often falls on improving teacher and principal quality through standardized testing. However, Senate Bill 48 reminded me that the California legislature plays in important role in our educational system as well. That bill required “instruction in social sciences to include a study of the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other cultural groups, to the development of California and the United States.” So, besides paying the bills, the legislature also sets the heading for our educational system. What else has the legislature devised for students in school?

The Sky is Not Falling

Armageddon. If you think the Big Bad Wolf terrifies the pre-K crowd, wait until the teacher brings up “the threat of nuclear war and annihilation” during circle time. Cal. Educ. Code § 51736(b). And, why exactly should teachers instruct students on the end time?

Cal. Educ. Code § 51755. The Legislature finds and declares as follows:

(a) The discovery of nuclear power has profound implications for our lives and society.

(b) Current research has demonstrated that many of our children today fear the prospect of nuclear war, and it is now recognized that their frequent lack of motivation, particularly in school, is substantially influenced by further fears that there will be no future for themselves, their families, their communities, and their nation.

(c) Some polls have shown that the majority of high school students believe that nuclear war in the next decade is inevitable.

(d) If left unchecked, this lack of motivation and the feelings of helplessness could prove to be as devastating to American society as war itself.

(e) It is the inherent right of our children to pursue their educational objectives free from the immobilizing threat of nuclear war and their own annihilation.

Thanks to the legislature’s foresight, the next generation was never paralyzed by nuclear nightmares. The republic was saved.

Better Dead (Except by Nuclear War) Than Red

Another relic from the Cold War is the prohibition on teaching communism. Section 51755 prohibits instruction advocating or teaching “communism with the intent to indoctrinate or to inculcate in the mind of any pupil a preference for communism.” Cal. Educ. Code § 51530. And, by communism, the legislature means the “political theory that the presently existing form of government of the United States or of this state should be changed, by force, violence, or other unconstitutional means, to a totalitarian dictatorship which is based on the principles of communism as expounded by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin.”

SB 48 should teach us that the undue focus on Soviet communists is embarrassingly Eurocentric and overlooks the violent ambitions of members of other ethnic and cultural groups, both foreign and domestic.

Some Forms of Faith Healing Are More Equal Than Others

For those who deplore the state of science, math and engineering education in the United States, I suggest that the blame be squarely placed in the hands of the legislature. After all, what is an impressionable student to think when the legislature endorses faith healing. Education Code § 49455 mandates that the school nurse shall periodically evaluate a student’s vision. However, parents can seek an exemption from this requirement.

The provisions of this section shall not apply to any child whose parents or guardian file with the principal of the school in which the child is enrolling, a statement in writing that they adhere to the faith or teachings of any well-recognized religious sect, denomination, or organization and in accordance with its creed, tenets, or principles depend for healing upon prayer in the practice of their religion.

I can understand the legislature allowing parents to opt-out of the procedure. Parents rightfully should have a voice in deciding which health care professionals can evaluate or treat their children. Where the legislature ends up being misguided is when they condition the exemption on the parents adhering to faith healing. More over, not all forms of faith healing will suffice. Instead, the parents must also follow a “well-recognized religious sect, denomination or organization.” So, orthodox faith healing passes the test, but heretical faith healing is taboo? I am not sure what is the difference between the two. And, to think that the legislature is “concerned about science illiteracy within the state’s adult population.” Cal. Educ. Code § 52951. If schools must accept faith healing, then at least embrace faith healers of other ethnic and cultural groups. That’s all the backers of SB 48 would ask.