South Carolina: Buying poison, banning abortion, attacking teachers
Here are some grim updates from the Iodine State
On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a “shield law” allowing the state Department of Corrections to hide the identity of lethal injection drug sellers.
This solves a problem that only exists in states that are trying to kill their own people. Pharmaceutical companies have quit selling lethal injection ingredients to death-penalty states, and the old supplies of drugs like pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride have run out. In 2010, South Carolina was 1 of 7 states that got desperate and ordered sodium thiopental from Dream Pharma, a company operating out of a driving school in London, according to the Greenville News.
Now when the state decides to take a human life, the condemned person can choose from a firing squad made up of anonymous volunteers, an electric chair containing parts manufactured by an amateur electrician, or a drug cocktail of unknown ingredients and provenance.
As I wrote in March, our politicians have shown nothing but dead-eyed premeditation and resolve when it comes to the problem of how to murder captive men. Meanwhile this week, Gov. McMaster has called the legislature back into session to hash out the details on a 6-week abortion ban — effectively a full ban in many cases — that will, if signed into law, result in a further increase of our state’s already abysmal maternal mortality rate.
I don’t have anything clever to add. “Pro-life” was always just a marketing term, and you can’t defeat the ruling party by pointing out its hypocrisy. We are governed by dealers of death until we defeat them.
I couldn’t make it to the state capital this week to raise hell about the abortion ban or the ongoing attempt to restrict discussion of race and gender in the classroom. Instead, I joined some teachers fighting back against the extremist takeover of the Berkeley County School District. The meeting opened with a moment of silence that was interrupted by some people in the back of the room yelling the Lord’s Prayer. They’ve done this at two meetings in a row now.
As you might remember, this school district in the Charleston suburbs was taken over in November by a newly elected slate of hard-right school board members backed by Moms for Liberty and the local GOP. Immediately after being sworn in, the new board fired the district’s first Black superintendent, fired the district legal counsel, voted to cut property taxes, approved a ban on “critical race theory” in the classroom, and set up a panel to begin reviewing and banning books containing sexual content that they deemed inappropriate.
It’s been a difficult school year, but mercifully the board has lost some of its focus from that first meeting. Attacks on teachers have devolved to the individual level. At a May 1 school board meeting, a handful of activists and the chair of the Berkeley County Republican Party spoke during public comments about their months-long effort to ban the 2006 young adult novel Sold by Patricia McCormick from high school English classes. They called the assignment “unconstitutional and ungodly” because the book contains a scene describing the rape of a girl sold into sexual slavery.
After hearing about the saga from some teacher friends, I found a used copy of the book, read it, and drove an hour to the district office (I live in a neighboring county) to deliver a rebuttal at the May 15 meeting. The rest of this week’s newsletter is adapted from my public comments on Monday night. Here’s a video if you’re interested:
I have a friend who taught high school history in the Berkeley County School District and quit in 2017. He was gracious enough to come directly to the board and explain his reasons for leaving the profession. They were numerous, but chief among them were low pay and a lack of autonomy.
Six years after my friend quit teaching, there remain some very good reasons to leave the profession today. Added to that litany of struggles in the past year is a neo-McCarthyite push to surveil, harass, and intimidate teachers by self-appointed speech police.
On May 1, the Berkeley County School Board heard from a handful of people who were upset that high school English teachers were assigning Sold by Patricia McCormick, a young adult novel about human trafficking. They called it pornographic and obscene and said that a person who gave it to a teenager could be arrested for distributing obscene materials to minors.
You should know that the advocates for book bans use the same playbook in every state, county, and school district they go. In Virginia Beach last year, the Moms for Liberty crowd called the superintendent of schools a "porn peddler" because he refused to remove books including Sold from schools there. Does that sound familiar?
In Texas, Florida, Idaho, and Pennsylvania, activists read the same page of this book, plucked out of context, and demanded censorship. Their work is made easier because, unlike the United Daughters of the Confederacy and various book burners before them, they no longer have to read the entire book themselves. They get their salacious snippets from a website called BookLooks, where they can grab a 1-page PDF of the parts that scare them and run down to the school board office to sound the alarms.
I have been reading this book, and while it is heartbreaking and unsparing, I would suggest that if an adult reader finds a book like this pornographic, it says more about the reader than it does about the text itself.
This book has been in BCSD class sets since 2007 without incident, but now, suddenly, we are led to believe this book is a threat to our children. Don't fall for the fearmongering. Patricia McCormick wrote last week in the New York Times about the ginned up controversy surrounding Sold and about why she and others, myself included, are defending its inclusion in high school courses:
To ban this book is disrespectful to the teenagers who want and in some cases need to read it. I’ve visited classrooms and juvenile detention centers all over the country since the book came out in 2006. At nearly all the visits, students come forward to say that they have been sexually abused or are being sexually abused — and that seeing their experience rendered in a book finally emboldened them to say so …
I always brace for a nervous or inappropriate reaction from the other children in the classroom. I wait for someone to laugh or scoff or gasp. They never do. They unfailingly treat such painful revelations with respect and empathy. Meanwhile, their teachers step in to provide help for a problem they may not have otherwise known about.
This is the work of teaching. It's emotionally difficult, and teachers work with our kids at a time when many of them have heavy burdens on their hearts and minds. I'm asking the school board not to make that job harder than it needs to be. Don't give in to the Moms for Liberty. Defend the freedom to read.
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