At best, freshman state Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver now wants to be South Carolina’s education book nanny, instead of its policy leader. At worst, she’s becoming a fully actualized apparatchik who blindly kowtows to the Republican party line about curbing what kids can read.
As reported across the state, Weaver has cut ties with the S.C. Association of School Librarians, saying she prefers to communicate directly with school librarians instead of partnering with the organization as it has done for 50 years.
Scary. If you think this smacks of Big Brother rather than people working together, you’d be right.
“It’s disappointing to me as a parent of an 8-year-old,” observed Jace Woodrum, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, “that our superintendent is against the freedom to read and the right to learn.”
In an Aug. 25 letter to the head of the school librarian group, Weaver — a graduate of conservative Bob Jones University — praised libraries but couched language to minimize professional qualifications of the very people trained to curate books for students. Instead, she snuck in religion: “A cooperative approach among parents, administrators, teachers, school staff, businesses, and faith and community organizations is the only way we will achieve the ambitious goals we have for the students of this state.”
Sounds nice, but it’s dangerous. Does it mean janitors can help pick books? Or does a vocal mini-minority of zealots trump the professional opinions of people who have college degrees on books in school libraries? Or it is really simpler: “We at the state Department of Education will tell you what to do. Don’t use your own brain.”
Weaver’s letter also criticized the group for speaking out against library censorship. But if you’re a librarian and you have a nanny state and a handful of helicopter parents shaking the Bible about a few books, who else should stand up for the state’s children but those trained to vet educational materials?
Weaver, an acolyte of former GOP U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, long has written white papers and published policy positions for the conservative Palmetto Promise Institute advocating very conservative approaches to government. Now she’s in the position to make them reality — and we should carefully watch what she is up to.
What’s happening to the state’s school librarians is likely to be Weaver’s first salvo. If you value freedom, education and independent thought, you should let her know that you vehemently disagree with her narrow approach.
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