By Peggy Mackenzie
West Virginia isn’t often the topic of national news, with the probable exception of chemical spills and pipeline explosions, but recently the Huffington Post put out an article on a pending bill [HB-2107] before the WV House of Delegates, which would amend WV Code § 18-2-9 by adding language prohibiting “the study of social problems, economics, foreign affairs, the United Nations, world government, socialism or communism until basic courses in American state and local geography and history are completed.” The Huff Post article led with the tag line that “teachers could be fined for teaching about socialism and could also be removed from their jobs for at least a year for violating the law.”
The commentaries at the end of the article went on for several pages. Most seemed perplexed at how to discuss American history without including social and economical problems, or historical and religious background struggles.
Republican Delegate Michael Moffatt, one of the bill’s sponsors, told The Huffington Post the bill is based around the idea that “we need to learn more about founding documents first, then learn about the U.N. and other governmental systems.”
Sounds reasonable enough, however, he added, “I do see we are focusing on other religions and belief systems as opposed to learning about the Judeo-Christian founding of our country.”
Moffatt had pointed out that a West Virginia school recently came under fire for teaching students about Islam. Moffatt said, “They learned about Islam with posters up in the school …They are speaking about Islam and the Islamic faith, yet the schools can’t even mention the (sic) word ‘Bible’ and Christianity.”
The topic became locally controversial when it was posted on Facebook, following the Huff Post article, particularly because Greenbrier County’s Representative George “Boogie” Ambler was included as one of the authors of the bill.
The original law has been on the books since 1931. What’s being added are the specific restrictions, and by extension, the already included provisions for violating the law. Could it be that with this new version of the law, violations will be more stringently enforced? And is the issue fueling the amended bill about conflicts between Muslim communities and America?
Republican Delegate Ambler, stated in a telephone interview that initially, he was a named author of the bill until he saw the direction the other authors were going with, and he had his name removed as an author of the bill. His aim, he said, “was to get all the old, antiquated language out of the bill,” including the prohibited topics. As a former social studies teacher at Greenbrier East High School, Ambler said he’d often run aground of the superimposed prohibitions of the original restrictive version in his classroom.
In a follow up conversation, after meeting with committee members, Ambler said, that House Bill 2107 “is dead in the water,” and that instead Senate Bill 7 will amend and reenact § 18-2-9 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931. That bill has no prohibitive language with regard to “teaching, fostering and perpetuating the ideals, principles and spirit of political and economic democracy in America and increasing the knowledge of the organization and machinery of the government of the United States and of the State of West Virginia.”
“As a teacher, among eight or nine others on the House Education Committee, I am concerned about education in West Virginia.”
Senate Bill 7, in addition to the removal of “violation and penalty” language in the bill, is being amended to include language requiring that CPR be taught in the public school system as a condition of graduation.