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Commentary: Andrew Steele: Sweating the small stuff

A new Indiana General Assembly and new governor will soon begin the process of absorbing the Mitch Daniels years. After eight years as active as these have been, it’s invevitable, barring some catastrophe, that a period of more incremental activity follows.

The question becomes, what small stuff? The danger for Republicans, who hold a “super-majority” in the legislature, is that the decide they need to do big things, and in stretching to do so, do some crass small things.

A couple come to mind. First, this odd idea from Sen. Dennis Kruse of Auburn to pass a “truth in education bill” that would allow students to challenge their teachers (something I assume they can already do) and require teachers to show proof of whatever they’re teaching (obviously we’re talking about evolution, and presumably things like climate change).

I suppose anyone who supports this considers “proof” to be their opening — it’s possible to go deep enough into the semantic weeds that a student could, essentially, filibuster lessons on subjects whose scientific foundations are firmly established.

Whether or not students would do this, and why politicians would want to put teenagers in a position to carry their ideological water, are good questions. But this is clearly small stuff — a rather petty way to try to get religion into science class. An overt effort last year didn’t work, and I’d bet this one won’t for the same reasons.

Another item of small stuff is this Indiana Chamber of Commerce-backed proposal to make it illegal to have teachers union dues withdrawn automatically from teachers’ paychecks.

The idea is that it’s inappropriate to have public agencies (the schools) engaged in dues collection for private agencies (the unions). And, that teachers who don’t want to be in the union will somehow feel additional pressure to be members because automatic withdrawal is offered.

This all seems a rather petty swipe at teachers unions (apparently firefighters and police would not be included — principle only goes so far). And the point isn’t just that these things shouldn’t be introduced. It’s that even if they’re passed into law, they won’t really matter.

Sure, some kids might try to filibuster biology class, but I doubt it. And some teachers might feel liberated if there union dues aren’t taken out of their paychecks, but I doubt it. (As a side note, my understanding is that Crown Point is one of several unions that doesn’t withdraw membership dues from paychecks, and this hasn’t affected membership.)

There’s plenty of “small stuff” that Republicans can focus on as the changes of the Daniels terms continue to sink in. In education, the funding and charter school revolutions have not worked their way through the system, and are much more important to evaluate and adjust than these ideological issues.



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