Everything Wrong with South Carolina’s Education System, in One Bill

Be it resolved: Everybody should learn a lot of good things

Once in a while, the legislature passes a bill that perfectly expresses an otherwise mystifying attitude inside the State House. Such a bill is H.4936, introduced in February, passed by the House on May 24, and signed by the governor on May 26.

What does the bill do? That’s the interesting part. It doesn’t actually do anything. If we’re going to personify the legislation, it would be more accurate to say the billwishes or gestures or maybe emotes. But it does nothing.

Here is the first sentence of the bill:

The General Assembly declares that the principles outlined in the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate, published by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators and approved by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, the Education Oversight Committee, the State Board of Education and Transform SC schools and districts, are the standards by which our state’s high school graduates should be measured and are this state’s achievement goals for all high school students.

We were not aware of the existence of the “Profile of the South Carolina Graduate,” but it seems to consist of this one-page document produced by a new or newish organization called TransformSC.

The bill – now the law – goes on:

The State shall make a reasonable and concerted effort to ensure that graduates have world class knowledge based on rigorous standards in language arts and math for college and career readiness. Students should have the opportunity to learn one of a number of foreign languages, and have offerings in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, arts, and social sciences that afford them the knowledge needed to be successful.

H.4936, then, makes it official: Per a badly designed pdf document, the state of South Carolina will now strive to give high school graduates “world class knowledge based on rigorous standards in language arts and math.” Per the same document, students should have opportunities in a lot of important disciplines, including science and math and the arts.

We’re glad that’s all settled!

The new law has more to say about the good things that should be the case. Specifically:

Students also must be offered the ability to obtain world class skills such as:
creativity and innovation;
critical thinking and problem solving;
collaboration and teamwork;
communication, information, media, and technology; and
knowing how to learn.

We would not have classified most of the terms listed here – creativity, innovation, collaboration, teamwork, communication, information, media, technology, and “knowing how to learn” – as “skills.” But state law now says they are skills. Indeed, “world class skills.”

There is one more paragraph.

Students finally also must be offered reasonable exposure, examples, and information on the state’s vision of life and career characteristics such as:
integrity;
self-direction;
global perspective;
perseverance;
work ethic; and
interpersonal skills.

A lot of questions arise here, none of them very pleasant. Is there a distinction between “exposure, examples, and information” or is that just legislative verbiage? We were not aware that the state has a “vision of life” – what is that, exactly? And how are these random highfalutin nouns and noun phrases – integrity, self-direction, global perspective, perseverance, work ethic, interpersonal skills – part of a “vision of life” or instances of “career characteristics”?

The bill had no individual sponsor – instead it was sponsored by the House Education and Public Works Committee – but we wonder why its authors, whoever they were, didn’t simply write, “Be it hereby enacted by the General Assembly that South Carolinians become a highly educated population and acquire a lot of important skill sets.” That would have been simpler, and more honest.

We’re certain there must be some technical reason why this unreadable balderdash had to be put into a document and passed into law. Perhaps some federal grant dictated that the state’s educational standards must be enumerated and part of the law code – we don’t know, or care.

The sheer meaninglessness of the thing does strike us as significant, though. The fact that this collection of subliterate jargon was produced by the South Carolina General Assembly, presumably in conjunction with the state’s education bureaucracy – the Education Oversight Committee, the State Board of Education, the Department of Education, and a hodgepodge of education-related nonprofits like TransformSC and New Carolina – fills one with dread and hopelessness. Sadly, the very politicos who produced the bill will summon every bad argument they can think of against the implementation of anything resembling school choice.

Our favorite line in the bill, though, is the last one: “This act takes effect upon approval by the governor.” As if there were anything in it to take effect.

Reprinted with permission from the Nerve at thenerve.org

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