OK Senate Bill 650 - Brecheen the Ice

OKC Capital Bldg

I confess to some uncertainty regarding how things ‘work’ in the Oklahoma legislature, but if I’m reading the shorthand correctly, both of the bills regarding APUSH I’ve recently discussed – one in the House, one in the Senate – were officially presented tomorrow, February 2nd, 2015. 

So, time travel?

Senate Version

House Version

Let’s see if we can decipher any of this, shall we? I’m only citing excerpts – the full text is available here or here.

SENATE BILL 650 By:Brecheen  AS INTRODUCED 

An Act relating to schools; prohibiting state funds from being used to support - 

Well, that already pretty much sums up MOST of what our legislature does in regards to public ed, isn’t it? “prohibit state funds from being used to support”? 

An Act relating to schools; prohibiting state funds from being used to support certain U.S. history courses; prohibiting the State Board of Education from awarding certain grants until certain course framework reverts to framework in place at certain time; directing the State Board of Education by certain date to adopt certain history program; establishing criteria for program; allowing display of certain grade-level documents; providing for codification; providing an effective date; and declaring an EMERGENCY. 

I assume this is just standard legal speak, but how convoluted is that? It’s like certain legislators want to take certain steps to make certain that certain average constituents are unable to decipher certain things about what they’re certainly talking about because of certain potential reactions to what certain bullsh*it it is.

Pardon me – what certain EMERGENCY bullsh*t it is. 

This would be a good time to revisit Orwell’s thoughts on political-speak. I’ll wait. 

Ready to continue? OK. 

A.  No state funds shall be used to support advanced placement U.S. history courses in Oklahoma schools as the courses are designed as of the effective date of this act. 

B.  Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, the State Board of Education shall not award any grants to school districts or make any expenditure of state funds, as authorized by Section 1210.703 of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes, for equipment, instructional materials, course development, professional development or training, examination awards or examination scholarships for advanced placement U.S. history courses until the framework for the course is changed and reverts back to the course framework and examination that were used prior to the 2014-2015 school year. 

When all you have is an ideological hammer, every issue is a conspiratorial nail. I don’t know how many nickels we’re throwing into APUSH currently, but it can’t be substantial. Maybe someone can officially look that up for us and post it in the Comments below.

Hacksaw Jim MericanIn plain English, they want to kill AP U.S. History across the state until the College Board reverts back to the prior course outline. We’re counting on national reverence for Oklahoma’s leadership in intellectual development and our fiscal commitment to public education to do what Texas could not – blackmail and extort a multi-national organization for whom Oklahomans make up approximately .0043% of users. 

Okla-who-ma? 

This is delusional to the point of pathetic. Once again the question is begged – are they that ignorant, or do they assume we are? Are they incompetent, or merely exploiting the fact that those who elect them are easily manipulated? 

There is no scenario in which this bill is both reasonable AND well-intentioned. Its author is either knowingly pushing nonsense legislation (what we in the old country call ‘lying’), or so out of touch with reality that for his own safety he should not be left unattended.

I can’t find another way to interpret this, whether one agrees with its goals or not. 

HulksterThis isn’t a political ideology thing, like should we adjust food stamps or the minimum wage. This is like proposing legislation that unless Egypt becomes a full-fledged Christian democracy speaking only English, Oklahoma will refuse to let little children study the pyramids in school.

C.  Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, the State Board of Education shall identify and adopt an advanced placement U.S. history program and corresponding assessment that:

1.  Are not in contradiction with the subject matter standards for U.S. history adopted by the State Board of Education; and

2.  Include the following foundational and historical documents as part of the primary instruction in any U.S. history, honors U.S. history, and advanced placement U.S. history course offered in Oklahoma public schools: 

…and then a list of 4837 essential American documents.

This is getting to be a running joke in Oklahoma – the “We’ll make our OWN test! It’ll be gooder and bigger and purdier!” theme. 

How many sets of standards has Oklahoma written or planned to write just in the last decade or two? Which of them turned out so well we’re ready to flaunt them? 

My Flying Machine

That silly lil’ College Board – love them or hate them – has been doing this for about 60 years now, and spends ungodly amounts of time and money and research and field testing and data analysis and pretty much lives for this stuff because it’s WHAT THEY DO with a staff of hundreds and a budget of zillions. 

The APUSH rewrite alone took more man hours than going to the moon the first time. (I just made that up to support my point; I think it’s important to speak the language of those with whom you disagree.) 

But we need an issue, so we’ll plan on gathering up a few locals from the districts we like, maybe Stan from bowling league, a few reps from the major corporations, and book the Holiday Inn conference room for a day and a half – that oughta knock out something comparable. Heck, to show we’re serious we may allocate for a few two-liters of store-brand soda if the committee members want to take up a collection to order Subway for lunch.

You can like APUSH or hate it. You can lean as far left or right as you wish. But this bill makes no sense. It’s worth questioning why it’s being pushed, if what it proposes is neither sincere nor plausible. 

Now, those documents… 

a. organic documents from the pre-Colonial, Colonial, Revolutionary, Federalist, and post-Federalist eras of the United States, 

I dare anyone involved in this legislation to tell me what this means. I’d LOVE 3-4 examples of WHICH documents this would include, and why they’re not listed by name. 

b. major principles in the Federalist Papers, 

This is a semester’s worth of study all by itself. If you’re not familiar with the Federalist Papers, Google them for some good times. Great stuff, but I make the same dare to those pushing this law. What ARE the major principles of the Federalist Papers, according to you? No checking Wikipedia – if you feel strongly enough to legislate them, you should know what they say.

c. the writings, speeches, documents, and proclamations of the founders and presidents of the United States, 

Marinate in that for a moment. Every speech, letter, diary, order, or other word or action of every significant founder and every President ever. That’s better than the pre-Colonial and post-Federalist thing. I can’t believe they left out blood and urine samples – you know, just to bring history to life.

EagleWarriorI suppose he might only mean that he’d like to see more documents used in the study of history – that we learn to navigate primary sources, analyze them, question them, evaluate them, and synthesize them into meaningful interpretations and arguments. If so, that’s unfortunate because (a) that’s not what this bill actually says, and the point of written laws is that they’re written, and (b) that’s what the new APUSH course framework is trying to do so that teachers and students don’t have to be tied to long lists of specifics in order to learn how to ‘do’ history. 

Hey Senator, I heard the point dropped by – sorry you missed it.

d. America's founding documents that contributed to the foundation or maintenance of America's representative form of limited government, free-market economic system, and American exceptionalism, 

Whoot There It Is

Look at those magic words – “limited government”, “free-market economic system”, and “American exceptionalism.”  And only three letters and thousands of vaguely defined documents into the list!

All three of these are defensible elements of America’s founding ideals. All three are relevant and important, although surely even the Senator recognizes the negative connotations permanently latched onto the third.

But they are elements, not delineators. And – like “States’ Rights”, “Don’t Tread on Me”, or "But He Was Resisting Arrest" – they are currently all buzzwords for the furthest right wing of the Republican Party.

That’s fine – believe what you believe. But let’s not dance around the linguistics – we want a more pro-American, less nuanced version of U.S. History. We want overt indoctrination, not critical thinking or multiple viewpointed education.

e. objects of historical significance that have formed and influenced the United States' legal or governmental system and that exemplify the development of the rule of law, including but not limited to the Magna Carta, the Mecklenburg Declaration, the Ten Commandments, and the Justinian Code, 

I must confess I regret a life devoid of the Mecklenburg Declaration and the Justinian Code. It’s left my classroom a sad and intellectually desolate place. All that time spent wasted trying to help them read or understand common themes running throughout our brief democracy. Oh, what could have been… *sigh*

f. U.S. Supreme Court decisions,

All of them? Ever? Could we at least narrow it down to your Top 100? I’ve labored annually to narrow my list of must-cover cases and still have a list that’s both too long and woefully inadequate. It just can’t be done in the current structure. 

Plus, who cares? How many Supreme Court cases can you name and explain? How are YOU doing in the so-called ‘real world’?

Miss PatrioticBefore considering this bill, could we at least identify which specific districts and teachers are teaching U.S. History – especially AP – without any founding documents, presidential speeches, Federalist Papers, or Supreme Court decisions? Is that happening anywhere in the state by anyone?

Thank god the Senator hates books so much or the next law would be for English class mandating students read every great book ever written (well, at least the ones without any dirty parts) or we’ll yank AP Literature, too.

Let’s skip down the list and see what awaits us. Are you scared? Me too!

Willy Wonka (HD) "Crazed Boat Ride"

 

(18) at least a complete overview of the book entitled "Democracy in America" by Alexis de Tocqueville, 

Hey, Senator – or anyone educated in favor of this bill – what’s THIS book about? It’s on your list. None of you have read this - come on, admit it!

GOW CoverAnd what exactly is a ‘complete overview’? Do you mean 'watch the movie'?

(19) the document known as "Declaration of Sentiments" by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 

To his credit, the Senator has included a document calling for the equality of women. Now I KNOW he hasn’t read his own list. 

(34) portions of the book entitled "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, 

Ha! “Portions.” What do you bet other “portions” will be specifically banned? 

(45) "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., 

(46) "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech by Malcolm X, 

Interesting choices out of all of the options for these two, but I’ll let that go for now. Besides, I’m genuinely surprised and impressed Brother Malcolm made this list at all. 

School districts shall permit teachers to display grade-level appropriate excerpts from or copies of the documents, writings, speeches, proclamations or records listed in this subsection in school classrooms and school building common areas as appropriate. 

Shall permit? There’s currently a ban on this? Or are we writing legislation to solve problems which don't exist? Oh, right... 

SECTION 3.  It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval. 

Let’s assume for a moment you disagree with everything else I’ve said. You think the College Board is out to eat our young and that the only worthwhile function of public schools is to indoctrinate kids in good old fashioned Old Testament and ‘Merican values. 

Can you honestly say with a straight face that long-announced and relatively minor adjustments in an AP course outline create an immediate threat to public peace, health, and safety? That there is, in fact, an EMERGENCY along those lines? 

Emergencies

Here’s a different definition of ‘emergency’ I’d suggest instead: Oklahoma begins undermining Advanced Placement across the state, making it harder for our students to get into college or to be prepared for college when they do. On the outside chance we create some sort of off-brand faux-AP course, no one not required by state law to do so would acknowledge it as legit. Believe what you like about the College Board – they get kids ready for college and help get them in, whether through test scores or by simply having taken the courses.

Oklahoma is at the bottom of every educational scale – funding, outcomes, reputation. I get that no one in political leadership gives the tiniest fake damn about me or my kids or what any of us are trying to accomplish. I long ago gave up asking for improvement or support. But are we really going to try so very hard to find bizarre new ways to make it even worse? 

The House version of the bill is even longer and weirder. I’ll get to it soon, I hope.

OkEd, get well soon – this is too much for me to ‘shoulder.’ 

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