Mitch Daniels, Howard Zinn and "censorship" in education

As liberals in academia are up in arms about e-mails sent by former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels regarding a controversial history textbook by Leftist activist Howard Zinn, we all need to chill out and contemplate a couple realities. First, education necessarily involves “censorship.” Second, state government has a legitimate role to play in selection of materials for teacher training as well as what is taught in K-12 schools in the state.

The first claim might be a little shocking, but is self-evident. There is simply not enough time in the day, or in thirteen years in Indiana’s government school system, to teach everything there is to know. Therefore, decisions must be made as to what materials are appropriate, what textbooks should be used in each course (which necessarily requires exclusion of textbooks not used) and what areas of study are most important to teach Hoosier children.

If one history textbook (or a textbook on any other course) is deemed to be less valuable from a scholarly standpoint than another one, is it “censorship” for schools to use the better textbook and not teach from the lesser one? Technically, the answer is “yes,” but it is necessary. At some point a decision has to be made on what to use.

Indiana is an interesting state in that we have an elected Superintendent of Public Instruction as well as a State Board of Education appointed by the governor. Education always features prominently in both elections for governor and the policy agenda of the governor. Because the governor has a prominent role in education of Hoosier students, it is logical that he would be motivated to ensure that the best materials are available in the schools and that sub-par materials in classrooms are replaced by superior ones.

This is not to get into the value of Zinn’s history textbook. I have not read it, I have no plans to read it, and I do not have an opinion on it. That subject can be explored and debated by others. My main point with this post is that selection of materials is entirely appropriate, and the governor (who is responsible for making the state’s schools as good as possible) has a role in making sure that students are getting the best education from the best sources possible.

The legislature should tighten the Open Door Law

My latest post at Hoosier Access:

What good is it to have a “public meeting” when the meeting is held at a time when most of the public cannot attend? Legislative bodies that make decisions on what you can do with your property and fiscal bodies that decide how government will spend the money it forcibly confiscates from you too often meet during the work day, when most people cannot attend those meetings.

Read more at Hoosier Access.

Weiner sexting scandal II – character matters!

Despite what Huma Abedin says, her marriage is the public’s business, because her husband is seeking one of the most powerful and high-profile elected positions in the nation. It is very simple: character matters.

Two years ago, Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress after it was revealed that he was sending pictures of himself (including pictures of his genitals) to women who were not his wife. Weiner admitted at the time that more pictures might be coming out. What he didn’t say is that more pictures might be coming out because he was going to continue exchanging pictures and sexually explicit messages for the next couple years.

In a press conference addressing Weiner’s continued lapses into online depravity, Abedin said:

Anthony has made some horrible mistakes both before he resigned from Congress and after. But I do very strongly believe that is between us and our marriage.

First, Weiner did not make “mistakes,” horrible or otherwise. Spilling your coffee is a mistake. Exchanging photographs and explicit text messages with other women is committing adultery. (Jesus said that Himself in Matthew 5:27-28.) If Weiner’s wife cannot trust him to be faithful to her while she is pregnant with his child and after he confessed his depravity to a world that assumed this behavior was going to stop, how can the voters of New York City trust him to use his power responsibly?

The message this sends is disturbing. Rachel Maddow (who I rarely agree with) made the following observation on her July 24 television program about Weiner and two other politicians currently mired in scandal:

Every moment they stay in office will slightly recalibrate for us as a nation the depths of shame that we are supposed to accept from people in positions of public leadership. Every moment they stay will further reduce the value and the prestige of public office as a career in the United States of America.

Maddow is right. She was also right when she followed up by asking what the next generation of political leaders would look like, if they are inspired by creeps like Weiner. This is not the kind of example we should be setting for young people who will be the future leaders of their communities, states and nation.

There has never been a person in the history of the world who has not done something he is ashamed of at one point or another. (See Romans 3:10-12.) The fact that Weiner was caught committing adultery in 2011 is not automatically a disqualification to him serving as mayor of New York City. The fact that he continued his depraved behavior after he got caught, and likely would have kept doing it had he not been caught a second time, should be a disqualification.

I am tempted to say that the people of New York City deserve better than Anthony Weiner, but if he is elected as mayor this fall, they clearly do not. They will have the government they deserve.

Allow the states to handle education policy

When the House of Representatives voted to significantly alter the No Child Left Behind Act last week, it was both refreshing and instructive. It was refreshing to see Republicans repudiate the Bush Administration’s significant expansion of the federal government’s role in K-12 education, and it was instructive to see how Democrats reacted to it.

Just six short years after the Republicans took over Congress and started a serious discussion about moving federal power back to the states, a Republican President was significantly expanding the role of the federal government, and NCLB is just one example of that. The Tea Party movement was as much a response to the leftward drift of the GOP as it was to Barack Obama’s wild-eyed spending. It is encouraging to see Republicans move back toward a more limited-government stance.

Congressman George Miller (D-CA) said the effort to move standards back to the states moved the country “back to a time when students were left out of the system.” This reaction is interesting. Does Miller think that the 50 state legislatures are incompetent to set educational standards for K-12 schools in their states? Does Miller think the 50 state legislatures will not act in the best interest of students in their states? Does Miller have no confidence in state departments of education, not to mention local school boards?

Miller’s comment betrays an unfortunate worldview – that all solutions must come from Washington, D.C. So many times when we have a problem, we do not look to local or state government to solve it. Instead, we look to our masters in Washington. The men who founded this country would be appalled at such an attitude. The founders were skeptical of an all-powerful central government, and with good reason. It is a scary attitude.

The U.S. Senate, the filibuster, and cabinet nominees

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid angered Republicans when he threatened to limit the filibuster in the Senate, but he actually raised a good point and the filibuster deserves to be discussed.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul engaged in a “talking” filibuster earlier this year, but those are actually very rare in the Senate. In fact, the filibuster is not what many people think it to be. Many of us think of someone standing up and speaking for several hours at a time to block a piece of legislation or a nomination he strongly opposes. Generally, the way the rules work is that any senator can say he is conducting a “filibuster” but not stand up and actually speak.

So here is the first reform I would make: Filibusters must be real filibusters. The work of the Senate grinds to a halt while Senators stand up and speak for as long as they can about the item up for a vote. If no one stands up to actually filibuster by talking, then the “filibuster” is declared null and void.

As to the President’s nominees, generally the opposition party should defer to the President’s judgment on who he wants in his Cabinet. Unless a nominee is obviously incompetent or corrupt, the President should be allowed to pick his team. The Senate should generally approve nominees who only serve as long as the President is in office and will be gone when the President’s term is over – though appointments that go into the next term are another matter.

The President certainly should expect a simple majority vote on the vast majority of his nominees.

I do not think abolishing the filibuster on the President’s nominees for executive branch positions is the right answer, because there may be a case where someone truly does need to be stopped – such as when someone is obviously incompetent or corrupt, as I pointed out earlier. But, again, those filibusters should be real filibusters.

An utterly absurd view of the Zimmerman trial

The following quote from a “jury consultant” in USA Today illustrates how completely absurd the George Zimmerman trial became, and how absurd it continues to be.

I would have done almost a memorial about Trayvon Martin. I would have shown these are the things he’s not going to be able to do: He’ll never have a family or he’ll never see his graduation.

See, this is the problem with the whole situation. The Zimmerman trial was treated as a political contest or controversy, not as a matter of following the law or determining the facts. The lost potential of Martin may have been relevant in the sentencing phase of the trial had Zimmerman been guilty, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the facts of the case or the application of the law to those facts.

The primary question was one of fact. Did Zimmerman reasonably fear for his life? It has been established (and prosecution “star witness” Rachel Jeantel admitted) that Martin was on top of Zimmerman and had the upper hand in the fight. We can debate whether Zimmerman should have had a “duty” to retreat, but when he was lying on his back with Martin punching him and slamming his head into the concrete, Zimmerman did not have the ability to retreat.

The jury, thankfully, did not make a decision based on politics. The jury did not make a decision based on who they liked more. They made a decision based on the facts and the application of the law to those facts. That so-called “experts” are treating this as a political matter rather than as a legal matter demonstrates how our criminal justice system has been completely corrupted. When cases are decided based on political considerations instead of facts, no one has any hope of a fair trial.

Can we use a little common sense, please?

Should an admittedly crude and offensive “joke” on Facebook with no actual intent to commit a violent crime send someone to jail for ten years? I would hope that the answer is “no” but that may well happen to a 19-year-old gamer in Texas. Justin Carter was discussing a video game online when someone else called him crazy. He said, sarcastically, that he was crazy and was planning to shoot up a school.

(For more, see here and here and here and here.)

I realize that we live in a post-Sandy Hook era and that we need to take remarks about gun rampages seriously. “Jokes” that would not have brought forth a criminal investigation fifteen or twenty years ago need to be looked at. Law enforcement was absolutely right to investigate Carter’s offensive “joke” when they were tipped off about it to make sure he was not actually planning to maim or murder innocent people – especially children. But once it became clear that Carter was not seriously threatening to maim and murder, the charges of making a “terroristic threat” and the potential prison time should have been dropped.

Keeping Carter in jail, and threatening him with ten years behind bars is beyond silly at this point. It makes the criminal justice system look like it is populated entirely by hysterical drama queens. Carter has been attacked by other inmates in jail and is being kept in solitary confinement for his own safety – but solitary confinement is taking a toll on his mental health. That alone is more than enough punishment for his crude and offensive Facebook post, to say nothing of spending ten years in prison.

This serves as a reminder to all of us to think about what we say online, whether in a “private” conversation or in a public forum. Not because of threats that we may see criminal charges for our speech, but out of a basic respect for others and respect for civility. I certainly need to remember that lesson, more often than I would like to admit.

Indianapolis "pastor" smears the name of Jesus Christ

The following was submitted to the Indianapolis Star as a letter to the editor.

To the Editor:

It is shocking to see a pastor invoke the name of Jesus Christ while brazenly violating the clear commandment of Scripture in Exodus 20:16 not to bear false witness against his neighbor, as Jeffrey Johnson of the Eastern Star Church did in his July 18 letter to the Indianapolis Star. Johnson claims Trayvon Martin was shot to death “simply for walking home from the store.” A minister of the Word and Sacrament should know better than this.

Johnson knows that Martin was not shot for simply walking home. It has been well-documented by this point that there was a physical altercation between him and George Zimmerman, who is Hispanic. An eyewitness said that he saw Martin on top of Zimmerman in a MMA-style “ground and pound” position. An expert witness testified that the forensic evidence at the scene is consistent with Zimmerman shooting Martin while Martin was on top of him.

Zimmerman may have acted foolishly, and he may have been overzealous in his role as a volunteer for the neighborhood watch. Those actions, while they may be worthy of condemnation, are not a crime. The legal question that the jury was asked to answer was whether there was reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s accusation that Zimmerman committed murder. Did Zimmerman legitimately fear for his life as Martin allegedly slammed his head into the concrete?

It is shameful to see a pastor leave out these critical facts in pursuit of a political agenda. Johnson has smeared the name of Jesus Christ, who he claims as his Lord and Savior. But if Jesus is Johnson’s Lord, then Johnson should obey His commandment in Exodus 20:16. If Johnson loves Jesus, then he should keep Jesus’ commandments. (See John 14:15.) Johnson should publicly apologize and repent for sinning so egregiously in his letter.