Doug Livingston's excellent series in the Beacon Journal documenting the rightward ooze of the State Board of Education should be a primer on the private agendas of those overseeing public education in Ohio today. Much of it has occurred during Gov. Kasich's reign, who hastened the Tea Party/evangelical take-over of what should be a non-political non-sectarian approach to preparing students for whatever greets them when they leave the classroom.
Nothing better illustrates the board's political fault lines than its chairman, Debra Terhar, an avowed Tea Party member appointed by Kasich to the current 17 member panel. Her arrival from Montford Heights in Hamilton County was disputed by critics of her right-wing mindset, but to no avail.
Terhar is one of eight appointees added to 11 elected members (currently: 2 vacancies) , which gave the governor a free hand to stack the deck for the ultraconservative Kansas-style direction of the state's education policies, where princely riches can be, and are, earned through Republican fondness for charter schools. It is packaged marketplace education for winners and losers, forever the ethos of the GOP.
Back in August, the governor also appointed David Hansen, whose chief merit badge was that he was a the ex-president of the conservative Buckeye Institute in Circleville to look after the state's Charter School and Voucher programs - some of the very same schools that are getting grades of D or lower. Among the strongest advocates on the board is former Summit County Elections Board chief Brian Williams, a Republican who fared so badly in a challenge to Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. Williams is now a lobbyist for the non-union Associated Builders and Contractors of America. Go ahead, call him the comeback kid.
The BJ quoted Williams on charters: "Choice to me is another word for competition, and competition is another word to me for eventual excellence." Marketplace philsophy in education does prevail down to kindergarten economics.
Race and gender also raise questions. The BJ reported:
- Of the seven appointees seated today, all are white and one is female.
- Eight of nine board committees are chaired by white men, although board gender is is 9-8 male. Seven of the those committees are chaired by appointees.
- The only African American board member, Jeffrey Mims, who was elected, is retiring to return to a job in city government. Almost all appointees are significant Republican donors, organizers or fund-raisers.
This is just a fragment of the stuff you learn about the ABC's of the board's ideological descent, from religious fervor, to potential conflicts of interest to bare-faced servility by the governor to the intrusion by members committed to a medieval agenda.
Item: When Terhar objected to Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye on the school reading list because it described a rape, Terhar was defended by board member Mark Smith, the Ohio Christian University president, who told the Columbus Dispatch: "I see an underlying socialist-communist agenda...that is anti what the nation about."
And, if you didn't already know, Terhar satisfied the juices of gun lobbyists aftter the bloody Connecticut school massacre by displaying a photo of Hitler and asserting that tyrants are the first to come after your guns.
Meantime, Bryan Williams also supports the makeup of the board, telling the BJ that it's good that the members are friendly to the governor.
"That helps," he assured everyone. "That gets possible conflict out of the way."
You bet. Thanks for the teaching moment.