Strange New Law in New Hampshire

This isn’t specifically about creationism, but we suspect that New Hampshire’s new law has no other purpose. We learned about it at the website of radio station 89.3 KPCC-FM in Los Angeles, affiliated with Southern California Public Radio: New Hampshire parents get to nix school curriculum they find objectionable. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

A new law recently passed in New Hampshire gives parents the right to file an objection to any course material they find offensive at their child’s public school, and as a result, the school district has to devise an alternative acceptable to the parent. No other state in the nation gives parents this much control over curriculum and the implications have some experts worried.

How did we miss something like that while it was working its way through the legislature? Here’s more:

The new law does not require the parent to justify the reason for the objection, only to state it.

That’s nice. Here’s the rest of the news story:

If a parent believes in intelligent design or creationism, should they be able to prevent their child from learning about evolution? Will the school have to provide coursework that validates its beliefs even if those beliefs are not supported by facts and accepted scientific principles? Will this kind of choice perpetuate stereotypes, or even racism? What if a parent doesn’t want their child to learn about the Holocaust because they don’t believe it happened?

It appears that the radio station had a panel discussion about the bill, but we don’t see any link to a recording. As we said, we suspect this thing is aimed at evolution, and the radio station certainly thinks that’s a possibility.

So we went searching at the website of the New Hampshire legislature. Here’s the text of the new law — it’s HB 542-FN – FINAL VERSION. It adds a new paragraph to the law that lists the duties of the State Board of Education, and it takes effect on 01 January 2012. Got that? It’s already in effect. Here’s what the State Board of Education must do:

Require school districts to adopt a policy allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent’s or legal guardian’s determination that the material is objectionable. Such policy shall include a provision requiring the parent or legal guardian to notify the school principal or designee in writing of the specific material to which they object and a provision requiring an alternative agreed upon by the school district and the parent, at the parent’s expense, sufficient to enable the child to meet state requirements for education in the particular subject area. The name of the parent or legal guardian and any specific reasons disclosed to school officials for the objection to the material shall not be public information and shall be excluded from access under RSA 91-A. [Emphasis supplied.]

What “objectionable material” do you think they have in mind? To learn more, we continued searching the legislature’s website to see what else we could find about this law. This page, Docket of HB542, informs us that the thing was vetoed by the governor on 13 July 2011 and his veto was overridden.

The governor’s veto message is here: Veto Message Regarding HB 542. We’ll spare you the effort of scrolling around to find it. It says, with our bold font added for emphasis:

I am vetoing this legislation because it does not clearly define what material would be objectionable; it would be disruptive to classrooms and other students; and it would be difficult for school districts to administer.

Current law already allows for parents to remove their children from classrooms for particular lessons on health or sex education. Given the strong moral and religious issues inherent in those subjects, that is appropriate. But this legislation goes far beyond that. HB 542 would allow a parent to determine any course material is “objectionable” and require school districts to work with parents to develop an alternative. This legislation in essence gives every individual parent of every student in a classroom a veto over every single lesson plan developed by a teacher.

For example, under this bill, parents could object to a teacher’s plan to: teach the history of France or the history of the civil or women’s rights movements. Under this bill, a parent could find “objectionable” how a teacher instructs on the basics of algebra. In each of those cases, the school district would have to develop an alternative educational plan for the student. Even though the law requires the parents to pay the cost of alternative, the school district will still have to bear the burden of helping develop and approve the alternative. Classrooms will be disrupted by students coming and going, and lacking shared knowledge.

Just as important, this legislation will fundamentally damage educational quality. Much of the genesis behind this legislation is objections to certain books that have been used in lessons. This is a perennial debate, and teachers and schools have a responsibility to ensure they are using age-appropriate, school-appropriate materials in their classrooms.

The intrinsic value of education is exposing students to new ideas and critical thinking. This legislation encourages teachers to go the lowest common denominator in selecting material, in order to avoid “objections” and the disruption it may cause their classrooms.

Because it is unclear what educational material or programs would be objectionable and the quality of education in the classroom could be impacted, I am vetoing this bill.

Respectfully submitted, John H. Lynch, Governor

Did you notice that the Governor’s message used the word “genesis”? That was no accident.

The Docket Page also informs us that the veto was at first sustained, and then, on reconsideration, the veto was overridden on 30 November 2011 (or maybe on 04 January 2012). So the bill became effective on the first of this year.

According to the veto message, “Current law already allows for parents to remove their children from classrooms for particular lessons on health or sex education.” What else was the legislature thinking about — geometry? In our humble opinion, although there’s no reference to it, this law is aimed directly at the teaching of evolution. What’s going on in New Hampshire?

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

17 responses to “Strange New Law in New Hampshire

  1. Excerpt: “If a parent believes in intelligent design or creationism, should they be able to prevent their child from learning about evolution?”

    Absolutely. And they have 2 ways to do it. First they can take their kids out of public school and “educate” them on their own dime. Second, they can get their butts in the lab to develop a theory of ID or creationism, and if they succeed it will replace evolution in publicly-funded education.

  2. This bill had nothing to do with the CREVO wars (though it appears it *could* be used in such a context now that it is on the books.)

    The impetus for the bill was a high school teacher who assigned some left wing “class warfare” screed to his class. There was no counterbalancing texts extolling the virtues of free markets assigned to the class — no von Mises, no Milton Friedman. In short, the teacher appeared to be using the book to promote an anti-free market POV to the class.

    A number of parents were outraged by this, and apparently got short shrift from the school administration and school board. This bill was the legislative response.

    It is arguably over broad, and could be used by all manner of “activists” to get their children out of class:

    I conscientiously object to fractions, and want my daughter exempted from attending General Math class on those days when fractions are used.

    Thank You,

    [signed] Conscientious Fraction-hating Parent

    It’s a tough question: how does one prevent the school system from degenerating into a political indoctrination center for a teacher’s pet political lunacy, but at the same time not allow the lunatics to get their kids out of classes that teach facts that offend their lunacy?

  3. Longie says: “This bill had nothing to do with the CREVO wars (though it appears it *could* be used in such a context now that it is on the books.)”

    I know you want to defend your state, but I’m confident that many of those voting for this thing were aware of the possibilities for creationism. The fact that parents have to pay for developing their preferred curriculum is no deterrent, because there are many creationist materials already available.

  4. ….but I’m confident that many of those voting for this thing were aware of the possibilities for creationism.

    It takes a 2/3 majority in BOTH houses to overcome a veto in NH. Believe me, there aren’t that many fundies in the NH legislature. It is axiomatic that a majority of those voting in favor of this did NOT have Creationism in mind when they did so.

  5. “Parents (previously) had the right to object to materials, but in a very narrow scope,” Hoell said. “The classic example was the personal finance course in Bedford.”

    Hoell was referring to Bedford parents Dennis and Aimee Taylor, who objected to the book “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich being used in their son’s personal-finance course at Bedford High School in October 2010. The book was pulled from the course curriculum months later, but the Taylors still removed their two children from Bedford High School as a result of the frustrating process.”

    http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/947434-196/story.html

  6. from wikipedia:

    “Barbara Ehrenreich (play /ˈɛrɨnraɪk/;[1] born August 26, 1941, Butte, Montana is an American feminist, democratic socialist, and political activist who describes herself as “a myth buster by trade,” [2] and has been called “a veteran muckraker” by The New Yorker.[3] During the 1980s and early 1990s she was a prominent figure in the Democratic Socialists of America. She is a widely-read and award-winning columnist and essayist, and author of 21 books.”

    [emphasis added]

    It would further add that the law as written isn’t quite as bad as it seems at first blush — the student still has to learn the topic, even if the school supplied teaching material is deemed “objectionable” by the parents. IOW, the biology curriculum includes evolution, and thus the student has to learn evolution, not creationism, even if the student’s parents don’t like the textbook the school uses. The parents can’t simply substitute “Of Pandas and People” for some standard biology text they don’t like.

  7. I’ve read Ehernreich’s book that is the basis of all this flap. I read her with a jaundiced eye ever since, many years ago, she wrote a piece for a women’s magazine about the Salem witch trials. In that piece, she claimed witches were burned. However, I can certainly see this book being used in a personal finance class. It would definitely be a book to encourage students to get an education and/or good technical training, so they don’t end up living paycheck to paycheck by working at Evil Wally World. I’m astounded that a book which will probably rarely be read by people who should read it, could cause a State Legislature to write a new law.

  8. Longshadow: It is arguably over broad

    And de Nile is arguably in Egypt.

    I understand parental frustration with some bad teaching practice. And I understand that standard curriculum changes are too slow to help a kid already in a class. Nevertheless, this seems to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. ‘Nickel and dimed’ is – unlike creationism – not unconstitutional to teach; if you don’t like the message its teaching your kid, first sit down with them and explain why its wrong. Don’t upend the entire school curriculum to get your way.

    And, incidentally, your last post and bolded sections does nothing to make your complaint seem more reasoned, as its merely an ad hominem. We should not care about the personal or political views of our textbook authors, but what is right/wrong about what they write. Imagine if some creationist complained that we shouldn’t have kids read Dawkins’ work on evolution “because he’s an atheist” – would you think that argument was legitimate, or pure baloney based on the person’s own biases? After answering that, go reread your last post. You may find it fits in the same pure baloney category.

  9. Actually, Eric, I posted the material to provide background and context to the earlier post regarding the motivations for passing this law. The issue at hand is that some here are concerned that the law was formulated as a means to facilitate Creationists to get their children out of learning Evolution. As I have demonstrated, the law was in response to other materials e.g., politically slanted texts, (as well as materials that had sexual content to which some parents objected,) not Evolutionary texts.

    As for the material you feel is ad hominem, I suggest you take that up with wikipedia — I merely quoted their content, which I indicated in my post.

  10. longshadow, you quoted wikipedia to make a point – that the text author is a socialist. You even added emphasis to make sure we didn’t miss that point. Why should that matter? Can socialists not write accurate personal finance books? Should we respond “oh, well, she’s socialist, so I can downgrade the value of what she says.” You’re making an ad hominem attack.
    I haven’t read “Nickel and Dimed.” I suspect I’d probably agree with you that it has a bias. But pointing out the author is socialist is about as valid an argument as pointing out the author is a woman.

  11. Can socialists not write accurate personal finance books?

    Certainly they can, but that is not what Nickel and Dimed is about. It is about how the deck is supposedly stacked against the working poor. It is not a guide to personal finance.

    And when someone makes an argument about what government policies do or don’t for the poor, that they are a socialist is every bit as relevant as if they are a libertarian.

    “Socialist” is a set of positions held by a person who has (I hope) thought about them. “Woman” is something you did not choose for yourself. Your comparison is ludicrous.

  12. A chapter-by-chapter summary of Nickle and Dimed for eric’s perusal.

    http://www.bookjive.com/wiki/Book:Nickel_and_Dimed:_On_(Not)_Getting_By_in_America

    The inclusion of the fraudulent I, Rigoberta Menchu in virtually every college English program is a far more egregious case of propagandizing in educational guise. When my roommate had to read it I mentioned that it was fraudulent and that he should look it up. He did, and asked his instructor about it the next day in class. His instructor admitted to knowing it was fraudulent, smeared the motives and biases of those who exposed the fraud, and then explained how it didn’t matter what events depicted therein had actually happened.

    In another English class he was exposed to Shakespeare conspiracy theories. I don’t see why people who are against creationism in scholl would be fine with any of these other things, though granted there are no Constitutional issues involved.

  13. Gab’s post is completely on-point. I will simply add that in contrast to Nickel and Dimed there is another book (I don’t know the author or title) that deals with a similar topic — making one’s way in life starting with nothing — that documents one man’s experience starting in a strange city with no money, and a resume striped of all of his job and educational experience. My admittedly second hand understanding is he starts out living in a shelter and eating in soup kitchens, he finds a low paying job as a janitor or dishwasher, he scrimps and saves, shows up for work on time, works hard, and eventually gets a better job that pays a little bit more, and so on…. after a period of months, he’s moved out of the shelter and into some low cost apartment (possibly with roommates) and some months after that he’s saved enough to buy himself a used car.

    That’s not only in contrast to Ehrenreich’s stacked deck, class warfare-laced screed, it is guide to how to succeed in personal finance under difficult conditions, not a guide to failure.

    The teacher in NH could have used that book instead of Nickel and Dimed. It is arguably much closer to the topic of the course than Ehrenreich’s book. The teacher could have even assigned BOTH books, and let students see alternatives views of minimum wage jobs. Alas, he did not.

  14. It is not a guide to personal finance.

    That is a much more on-point argument. Implying the book is bad because the author is socialist just makes us look as irrational as our opponents.

    In another English class he was exposed to Shakespeare conspiracy theories. I don’t see why people who are against creationism in scholl would be fine with any of these other things, though granted there are no Constitutional issues involved.

    Well, for starters you are now comparing University classes with HS ones; the latter is mandatory/forced attendance, the former is not. So it makes sense that the type of regulation or control the state exercises over the former will be both lesser and different from the type of regulation it exercises over the latter.

    And I’m not “fine” with bad education. I just think this particular legislation is a cure worse than the disease. Pointing out that it can be used to prevent a liberal teacher from teaching socialism in a personal finance class does not eliminate its problems, which SC effectively pointed out through bolding.

  15. I just think this particular legislation is a cure worse than the disease.

    Then you could have said that, instead of arguing over whether it was appropriate to include that book or to mention that the author was a socialist. But I think we all agree that the law has a lot of undesirable and unintended consequences, and then we here wouldn’t have anything to argue about, and that would be boring.

    People get angry when they are compelled to pay for something that is antithetical to their beliefs. But that’s a problem with mandatory, taxpayer-funded education that will never go away, no matter how many Top Men are put in charge of it. Once in a while the wrong people get in charge. That’s why I’m glad the Federal government has no power over curricula, and I’d like to get government out of the educating business all together. We don’t have food districts and mandatory, taxpayer-funded grocery stores, and yet people manage to eat. Likewise children would be educated without mandatory government schools.

  16. Eric,

    Just to clarify an apparent misunderstanding, this:

    Implying the book is bad because the author is socialist just makes us look as irrational as our opponents.

    Is NOT what I did. If you look at my first post on this thread, you’ll see that I specifically characterized the book:

    The impetus for the bill was a high school teacher who assigned some left wing “class warfare” screed to his class. ….. In short, the teacher appeared to be using the book to promote an anti-free market POV to the class.

    Thus, I pointed out the basis for the objections to the book being used in class was because it promoted a socialist POV, NOT just because the author was a socialist.

    I later posted the wikipedia material to confirm the author’s socialist bona-fides, in case anyone doubted the author had such a POV.

    The reiterate, the book is bad because it’s arguably off-topic for the course, and promotes an openly obvious political view, not because the author just happens to be a socialist. (Einstein was a socialist as well, but I don’t object to his books on Relativity. OTOH, If a teacher were to jam a book on Einstein’s political views into a science class, I would object.)

    I hope that clears things up.

  17. Longie says: “I hope that clears things up.”

    I hope so too. Let’s not get into a personal squabble over this. (Hey, good point about Einstein.)