Monthly Archives: August 2012
I’ve been following with great interest your correspondence with UL Lafayette President E. Joseph Savoie, urging him to rescind the university’s new LGBT studies minor.
It’s my hope that Savoie will heed your wise advice and avoid “placating to political pressures.” Not listening to you would be a good start.
For one thing, one does not placate to political pressures; one placates political pressures. Placating is a thing someone does, not something they do to someone else. Perhaps Savoie could bow to or even kowtow to political pressure, but that would just make you sound vicious.
Forgive the vocabulary lesson, but I couldn’t let it slide. Like you, I’m a graduate of UL, having received my communications degree there in 2002 and a master’s degree in English in 2005. I attended at the tail end of the Ray Authement eon, when the school enjoyed major physical and academic upgrades. Savoie is continuing that process and I applaud him for it. Whatever his personal feelings on the LGBT issue, he has decided that our school will keep pace with social progress. It’s a terrific step in a state not exactly known for its progressiveness — and rapidly gaining a national reputation for its hostility to public education.
You surely know all about that hostility, given that your remarks to Savoie exude it. You seem to think that the LGBT minor is something assembled at gunpoint for the express purpose of winning some political pissing match. You imply that “the future of our students and their economic prospects” is somehow threatened by the option (!) of taking courses that highlight the trials our LGBT friends face.
But the lesson that college most impressed on me was that exposure to a variety of viewpoints is absolutely essential to critical thinking. LGBT-centered classes aren’t going to turn students into gay welfare cases any more than listening to conservative poli-sci professors turned me into a Republican, or taking feminist courses made me a woman.
If only university courses had so much power! Imagine if all it took to eradicate bigotry, discrimination and parochial narrow-mindedness was a college minor. Man! Though opposing forces would just as quickly concoct programs to brainwash students right back, so it’s probably for the best. Still, I’ll invest in the value of education any day. It might not automatically change anyone’s beliefs, but it can teach them that love, understanding and friendship aren’t confined to one group, race or sexual orientation.
The weirdest part about your resistance is that the courses comprising the LGBT minor already exist within the UL curriculum; they’re simply being compiled for the sake of the minor. Theoretically, you could leaf through the UL course listings and tie together your own minor if you like — though good luck finding a series of courses that would compose an intolerance curriculum. You might have to dig into the state’s more extremist, voucher-vacuuming private schools for that.
While you’re searching for those courses, Rep. Landry, you also might want to audit one on irony. See, your anti-government and anti-education rhetoric might kill at a tea party rally, but you’re The Man now — an elected official in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is about as Big Government as big government gets. So don’t be surprised if Savoie resists your campaign of pressure; he’ll only be heeding your advice.
Sincerely, Ian McGibboney
Six months ago, when Governor Bobby Jindal began rolling out his education reform initiative, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial praising Jindal’s ambitious agenda, comparing it, earnestly, with then-Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s vision of an American colony on the moon. The paper called Jindal’s proposals on education reform his “moon shot,” providing me with the perfect opportunity to write a post titled “Bobby Jindal Is Mooning Louisiana.” “Bobby Jindal Is Mooning Louisiana” quickly became the most popular post I’ve ever written, and, to me, it was a clear sign that Governor Jindal’s agenda, while praised by his friends on the right and in the conservative media, was likely to become hugely controversial.
At the time, I was concerned that Governor Jindal’s critics were readily playing right into his hands. While Jindal and his hand-selected Superintendent of Education, John White, were attempting to pass the nation’s largest-ever school voucher program, many of his critics were seemingly more concerned with the Governor’s plans for tenure reform, which allowed Jindal to easily deflect the substantive questions about privatization and focus, instead, on counterattacking teachers unions as more concerned with money than school children. It was, without question, an unfair and offensive depiction, and I have to believe that many of his critics, including the leaders of those teachers unions who were suddenly being defined by the Governor and members of his administration as uncaring and self-interested, were caught off-guard by the Governor questioning their integrity. After all, when Bobby Jindal was on the campaign trail, he paid lip-service to the need to increase teacher salaries, which remain among the lowest in the nation.
But as I wrote back in February and as I continue to believe today, with all due respect to our fine teachers, the real threat that Governor Bobby Jindal’s plan poses to public education has very little to do with his efforts to change the teacher-pay matrix and the ways in which we award tenure; the real threat is that Jindal intends on using taxpayer dollars to create a parallel, unaccountable, privately-owned, profit-motivated system of religious schools. And by divesting tens of millions from the public school system and investing these public dollars into religious schools, Governor Jindal’s program will guarantee the firing of hundreds, if not thousands, of Louisiana teachers. Already, Lincoln Parish has announced the layoffs of thirty public school teachers as a direct result of the voucher program.
Importantly, these religious schools are not constrained by the teacher qualification requirements imposed on public schools; that is, teachers in private schools, who are typically paid less than their public school counterparts, aren’t required to be certified or even knowledgeable in their subject matter. Moreover, these religious schools do not have to adhere to the same core curriculum that Louisiana requires for its public schools.
In ostensibly attempting to establish a program that allegedly would provide parents with the opportunity to use public dollars to remove their child from a struggling or “failing” public school, Governor Bobby Jindal and Superintendent John White have actually facilitated the creation of a separate and unequal system of religious schools, schools that are not held to any real accountability, schools that are not required to employ certified teachers, schools that do not have to adhere to the same curriculum standards. And in so doing, Governor Jindal and Superintendent White are ensuring a substantial disinvestment from the public schools most in need and the elimination of hundreds of jobs. Under this scheme, the failure of public schools becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
But that is only one part of the story. Policy and ideological objections to school vouchers aren’t new, and they’ve been debated and litigated all over the country, with mixed results. There’s something strikingly unique about Bobby Jindal’s plan. When it was up for debate in the Louisiana legislature, Governor Jindal and his allies ensured that his critics were all but shut out of the debate; they relied on procedural maneuvers to pass the bulk of his plan in the middle of the night. And once passed and signed into law, Governor Jindal and Superintendent White began implementing this plan in a way that could only be described as embarrassingly incompetent.
They didn’t think it was necessary to enforce standards for the schools they qualified for funding. The process became a free-for-all, with fly-by-night schools applying and then being qualified for millions in taxpayer subsidization, without ever being subjected to any scrutiny whatsoever.
When Superintendent White published the list of the schools that had qualified for voucher funding, the story suddenly began to take shape. My friends at The Daily Kingfish were actually the very first to report on the fact that the overwhelming majority of voucher funding was awarded to schools created by or associated with a church, 92% in total. It took the mainstream media over a month to catch up.
And then, a funny thing happened: We started really investigating the schools on the list. The Monroe News-Star broke the story of the New Living Word School, which received more voucher spots than any other school in the state and which relies on DVDs instead of teachers and is housed in a church gymnasium. John White approved increasing New Living Word’s enrollment by 258%, without ever even stepping foot in its campus. A few days ago, we learned that New Living Word, in order to accommodate the massive influx of new students, will be dividing its chapel into four classrooms.
After the story made national headlines, leaked e-mails revealed that Superintendent White had proposed to his colleagues that they create a news story about the process by which schools qualified for vouchers in order to “muddy up the narrative.” In almost any other state, the explicit acknowledgment by the head of a state agency to manufacture a false story to the public would be grounds for termination, but John White kept his job. And, instead of apologizing, he feigned outrage that his private e-mails had been released to the media.
About a week after the New Living Word story broke, The Town Talk reported that another school that Superintendent White had qualified for $400,000 in vouchers was led, in part, by a woman who previously pled guilty to extorting thousands of dollars from the school. That school, thankfully, has subsequently been disqualified.
The slow drip of the news about the merits of these voucher schools piqued my interest, and it also piqued the interest of my friend Zack Kopplin, the Baton Rouge native who is currently a sophomore at my alma mater (and his parents’s alma mater), Rice University. We swapped stories, including this one, which was published on AlterNet on June 18th. According to AlterNet, some of the schools that had qualified for vouchers in Louisiana were using textbooks that advanced, among other things, the idea that the Loch Ness monster was alive and well and that, therefore, its existence disproved the theory of evolution.
Zack, for those of you who don’t know, had previously made national and even international news, as a high school student, for challenging the Louisiana Science Education Act, a pernicious piece of legislation, endorsed by Governor Jindal, that implicitly allows the teaching of new earth creationism in the science classroom. When Zack read about the textbooks that some of these voucher schools were using, he immediately recognized the implications. I sent him a link to John White’s “master list” of approved voucher schools, a list that, only a few days ago, was taken offline, and he spent the next week parsing the list, identifying schools that raised suspicion, and then exhaustively researching each and every one of those schools.
The more he uncovered, the more obvious it became that he was sitting on a much bigger story than AlterNet had initially reported. And for me, it also raised some serious questions: I have no doubt that Zack is a preternaturally smart and savvy guy, but here’s a 19-year-old college sophomore on summer break conducting the due diligence on voucher schools that should have already been done, months beforehand, by the Louisiana Superintendent of Education and his staff. Zack found that at least twenty of the approved schools teach new earth creationism instead of science, but, truthfully, that was only the tip of the iceberg. Many, if not most, of these schools advance a virulently anti-scientific curriculum. And most disturbingly, if a student objects, many of them reserve the right to expel the student on religious grounds, meaning that these schools, literally, will be pocketing taxpayer funding from students against whom they will discriminate on the basis of religion. It’s a foregone conclusion: Under Jindal’s plan, we will be spending public dollars to help prop-up schools that discriminate against students because of their religion.
Religious discrimination is not the only issue. Schools may also discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation. And because voucher schools are not required to accommodate disabled students and students with special needs, many worry that the program will ultimately create a unconstitutional “separate” education system for the disabled.
After Zack published his findings (which were immediately republished here and on The Daily Kingfish), it took around a week for the mainstream media to pay attention, but once they did, they were relentless. And there are no signs of letting up.
Superintendent John White, however, would, understandably, prefer to change the subject as quickly as humanly possible. He doesn’t want to admit that he and his entire department completely and utterly failed to properly scrutinize the schools they qualified for massive taxpayer subsidization. While arguing that he simply wants to ensure that parents are armed with all of the information needed to provide them with the ability to make a “choice” on their child’s education, Superintendent John White has removed the list of schools that he qualified for vouchers from the Department of Education’s website, and currently, he is refusing to cooperate with the request for records pertaining to his selection process. He’s also been accused of subverting the state’s open meetings laws by improperly participating “walking quorums” with BESE board members. Again, in almost any other state in the country, this man would have already been fired, but this is Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana; he’s Bobby Jindal’s Superintendent, and this is Bobby Jindal’s “moon shot.”
A few days ago, after the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to grant an injunction against the voucher program, John White quickly declared moral and legal victory, when anyone with a shred of honesty and an ounce of integrity would readily recognize that the court’s refusal had nothing to do with the merits of vouchers and was based, entirely, on John White’s disingenuous affidavit that an injunction would create a $3.4 billion deficit. I wrote about this a couple of days ago, and yesterday, Mike Hasten of Gannett backed me up.
Yesterday, we also learned that Superintendent White is finally acknowledging the need to more thoroughly scrutinize the private schools he approved for voucher funding, telling Mr. Hasten, “Conditions have changed such that the nonpublic approval process now has greater importance.” Nothing about these schools has changed; the only conditions that changed, as far as I can tell, is that John White’s decisions have been repeatedly criticized by the state and national media.
In the last two weeks, not only has this story been the subject of headline articles in every major news publication in the State of Louisiana, it’s also been featured in The Washington Post, Esquire Magazine, The Huffington Post, “Hardball” with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, the Associated Press, and Reuters. In addition, the story was also picked up by prominent education policy scholar Diane Ravitch, Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, LSU professor Bob Mann, and the website Above the Law, among others.
The coverage has been intense and interesting, and with only a couple of minor corrections, the national coverage has been, for the most part pitch-perfect.
As awesome as I think it is that Zack’s research on creationist schools and my research on the profiteering prophet (which inspired a brilliant and hilarious editorial by Clancy DuBos of The Gambit and another great report by Lafayette’s The Independent Weekly) have made statewide and national news, it also worries me. Again, if a couple of college students on summer break can easily learn more about the schools that qualified for public subsidization than the department that approved them for funding, then, clearly, our leaders and elected officials are not doing their jobs.
In Louisiana, when people attempt to divert attention or weasel their way out, we call it “crawfishing.” And apparently, Governor Jindal and Superintendent White, just like crawfish, prefer muddied waters.
Enjoy this wonderful little letter from the Louisiana Voice – Bobby In the Bunker
Editor’s note: LouisianaVoice occasionally has guest columnists. The following contribution was written by Dayne Sherman, a writer and public speaker who resides in Pontchatoula. You are invited to visit his website at: daynesherman.com.
I hate to break the bad news. No, it’s not about Gov. Mitt Romney having the good sense not to pick you as VP, nor that you weren’t even on his shortlist of candidates, nor that you didn’t land a prime speaking spot at the RNC in Tampa. The bad news is something a conservative activist told me the other day. On Aug. 12 your political career ended.
Yes, not becoming Romney’s VP was the end of your political ascendancy. Blame Romney or blame yourself, but it’s caput.
Maybe you’ve already figured it out. Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press ran a story with the word “bunker” in the title regarding your administration’s activities right…
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What a sad farce.
According to the new “unclassified” yarns on R-Money’s #VeepStakes, our own Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal was NOT among the top 5 in consideration for selection. This story from the Associated Press describes R-Money’s deliberations:
“This was Mitt’s decision,” said Beth Myers, the senior adviser who led the vice presidential search. “He kept his own counsel.”
In picking Ryan, Romney bypassed Republicans including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Officials said he had called all five to notify them of his decision. Pawlenty received a call Monday evening, the day after Ryan accepted, while the other four were all notified on Friday, just hours before the announcement.Romney’s campaign kept the details of the search carefully concealed until late Saturday.
Jindal’s Vice-Presidential campaign was hatched in 2008, and has consumed Louisiana’s political chattering class since Jindal’s cakewalk re-election by 23% of Louisiana’s voters just one year ago. Jindal’s entire agenda was shaped to grab the attention of national GOP bigwigs, including his mass-scale government privatization, statewide voucher programs, and his adversity to even whiffs of revenue increases.
Now, he finds himself in crisis. The Times-Picayune takes a look at his future prospects:
With his pick Saturday of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate, Mitt Romney dashed Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hopes of moving within a heartbeat of the presidency come January. He may have dealt a longer-term blow to Jindal’s chances of ever occupying the White House.Whatever the outcome in November, Ryan now vaults to the head of the pack as the prospective party nominee after either a Romney presidency or a Romney defeat, and at 42, and only 1 year, four months and 12 days older than Jindal, he robs the Louisiana governor of what had been his unique standing as the brainy boy wunderkind of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
Perhaps this will finally convince Jindal to come back to Baton Rouge and get to work. But don’t hold your breath.
Louisiana is, to understate it drastically, an interesting state. It is an epicenter for diverse cultures and events not typically seen anywhere in the U.S., let alone the Deep South. And yet, it is one of the reddest states in the country. Why?
To start, Louisiana is an oil-and-gas state. Its people are largely religious and socially conservative. Businesses are widely seen as saintly as, well, the Saints. The state’s top leadership is a virtual Republican monopoly. In a sense, Louisiana’s steady migration from Democrat to Republican seems natural, if not inevitable.
But even Republicans will lose in the long-term if Louisiana slides so deeply into a one-party system. Why? Look no further than Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform. It’s revolutionary, and not for a good reason. Such an unabashed kickback to parochial and charter schools would not have happened had there been a healthy ideological balance in state government. A “yes man” autocracy is a disaster in the making for any leader, regardless of affiliation.
Republicans don’t shoulder all the blame for that; Democrats have been inconsistent in their opposition. The party’s label has become toxic enough that many state Democrats switch to Republican just to have a chance at the polls. That stigma is in part due to Louisiana’s longstanding reputation as a pit of one-party (Democrat/Dixiecrat) corruption. Another aspect is outnumbered progressive citizens either hesitant to speak out or discouraged that it will do much good.
I wouldn’t say the ratio of liberal to conservative in Louisiana is anywhere close to even, but it’s also not as one-sided as its leadership would suggest. The difference is largely one of confidence.
By and large, people here assume that you’re a Republican — specifically, that you’re a far-right, tea party-leaning neoconservative. They’re the ones who offer forth their opinion in public with confidence. Conservatives freely affix bumper stickers advocating their candidates and stances, but an Obama sticker is more likely to meet and greet a baseball bat.
Coming out as liberal — or otherwise being critical of conservatism or unchecked capitalism in any way — can lead to horrified reactions from otherwise loving people. They take it as personally as if you declined to eat their home-cooked seafood dish. (I’ve had plenty of point-and-shriek moments on both counts.) This usually results in liberals being far less confident and effective than their conservative counterparts. For candidates, it’s political suicide.
Being born and raised in south Louisiana, I didn’t fully see just how deep this attitude is rooted until I moved away. I lived in Missouri for four years — itself not the most secular or progressive state. But I noticed right away that liberals, despite being the minority there, weren’t reticent. It was the first time in my life that I regularly ran into people who would espouse left-of-center views to a total stranger. The newspaper for which I worked published columns from readers, and they ran a far more diverse spectrum of views than I was used to here. The liberal writers frequently defied stereotypes — many were older, white, male business owners and even preachers. The free and frank exchange of ideas was a tremendous eye-opener. The difference became even more stark when I moved back to Louisiana and saw the political climate through new eyes.
Plenty of progressive people live in Louisiana. We’re not a tiny sliver of the population. At least, not as small as our say in state affairs would suggest. What we need to do is match the confidence and the clout of conservatives. Show our increasingly disaffected fellow citizens that alternatives exist — alternatives that don’t oppose their best interests as much as they might think, wherever they stand.
After all, Louisiana is our home too.