Category Archives: Censorship

Todd Chasteen is the wrong nominee for the N.C. Board of Education

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende, from a video she made specifically for the fight in Watauga County to preserve access to her book.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s latest nominee for the N.C. Board of Education, J. Todd Chasteen of Samaritan’s Purse, fought to ban a book from honors English classes at Watauga High School in 2014.

Nominees for the board go through the N.C. General Assembly, and given its track record, it’s likely Chasteen’s nomination could go through. But it’s another example of the many troubling moves that hand leadership in North Carolina to extremists that don’t represent the values of many of the people in the state. The General Assembly should think twice before letting this nomination sail through.

Chasteen’s background is in nonprofit logistics and law, and his wife, Kim, runs a private, Christian K-8 school, Grace Academy. There’s some evidence that Todd Chasteen’s effort to ban Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits” was part of a larger effort to fight the book encouraged by Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse.

Allende wrote a letter to the local school board defending the book and made a strong video explaining its context and the dangers of censorship (screenshot above). The local board eventually voted 3-2 to deny the challenge. But before the resolution, the controversy hit Fox News and Media Matters and drew in the ACLU.

None of this likely matters enough to keep the N.C. General Assembly from approving Chasteen’s nomination to the N.C. Board of Education, which approves textbooks, approves or denies charter school applications, and administers the “free public school system” as spelled out in North Carolina’s Constitution.  The General Assembly sat on nominations for the board from former Gov. Bev Perdue for two years, giving McCrory more appointments instead. This latest nomination for a voice representing Samaritan’s Purse probably feels like just another routine step to increase far-right, extremist voices on a board often overlooked by most people in the state.

But here are other factors that should concern N.C. residents about Chasteen’s nomination and McCrory’s history with the state school board:

  • McCrory’s nominations fail to reflect the background of many of the consumers of public schools in North Carolina. He’s made seven nominations: four white men, two white women, one Native American woman. Chasteen’s nomination is the fifth white male.
  • McCrory’s nominations shortchange one of the two largest systems in the state, Charlotte-Mecklenburg. One member out of 13 voting members*, Eric Davis, is from Charlotte and is a recent at-large appointee. Chasteen’s nomination is for the northwest district, recently represented by Greg Alcorn, a native of Rowan County. Alcorn has somehow been moved to the southwest district representing Charlotte, through some kind of redrawing of districts effective April 1, 2015.
  • Of McCrory’s recent nominations, some don’t have strong public education backgrounds, just like Chasteen, who again comes from a private, religious, nonprofit logistics and law background. Alcorn has a marketing/logistics/business background, skills valuable on the board in balance. But those kinds of backgrounds are squeezing out members who can represent the consumers of our state’s free public classrooms.

McCrory and the General Assembly should take another crack at representing the biggest consumers of the state’s schools. The Charlotte area has educators and voices who could be a better balance on the board. Here are three names I found just digging around through media reports and social media. I don’t know them personally, and I have no idea they’d be interested, but their backgrounds are stronger than Chasteen’s for representing public school consumers. If I can find three easily, surely McCrory and the General Assembly can do a better job finding a voice that would provide better balance to the N.C. Board of Education.

  • Beatrice Thompson, a TV and radio personality in the Charlotte area. She has covered education as a reporter and is in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Women’s Hall of Fame.
  • Cheryl Turner, director of Sugar Creek Charter School and a member of the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board until June 2015. She said in 2014 that she planned to step down from that role, but she’s still listed on the board’s website. Her school got written up by the Carolina Journal in 2010 as an example of a strong charter school.
  • James E. Ford, now serving in an advisory capacity to the Board of Education because of his selection as North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year in 2014.

Chasteen, McCrory’s latest nominee, may be a shoe-in, and the redrawing of board of education district lines effective April 1 may be a signal that his appointment has been in the works for awhile. His involvement in trying to keep a book away from other students should be enough to disqualify him from the N.C. Board of Education. Taken in the context of McCrory’s nominees over time, it’s clear that his nomination is just another step stifling the voices of many consumers of public schools.

* I don’t know if Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson is a voting member; I didn’t include her in the 13 voting members.

Further reading:
The Progressive Pulse has a series of profiles of state school board members.

Advertisements

The Stop Online Piracy Act and U.S. Rep Mel Watt

Rep. Watt on Youtube

Rep. Mel Watt during SOPA hearings.

Congress is considering a bill that would place restrictions on the Internet, and Charlotte’s Rep. Mel Watt is one of the co-sponsors. Industry heavyweights like Google have lined up against the bill, which has other heavyweights like the Motion Picture Association of America on the other side.

Watt’s coming under some heat because of his statements during discussions about the bill, which could resurface Dec. 21. He has said, “It’s not worthy for us to be talking about who got bought off by whom.” That statement, of course, sent people to look at his political contributors. Here’s a summary.

From Phoenix Woman at Fire Dog Lake:
“Mel Watt Has Over 130,000 Reasons to Like SOPA.”

Alex Howard, government 2.0 correspondent for O’Reilly Media, reported in real time from the markup hearings on Dec. 15 for the bill. Here are two tweets of his from his @digiphile account, with more than 110,000 followers:

Alex Howard tweet 1

Alex Howard tweet 2

Others responded to Watt’s “I am not a nerd” statement during hearings:
“Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works.”

Here’s Watt saying, “I am not a nerd,” on Youtube, with reaction.

What the bill does: Lifehacker’s quick version: “All About SOPA: The bill that wants to cripple your Internet, very soon.”

The deep dive on the bill, from Zack Carter at the Huffington Post.

Discussions about the bill could resurface as early as Dec. 21. Here’s where it stands.

Current contributors to Watt’s future campaign efforts include the Communications Workers of America, Microsoft, Cisco, the Motion Picture Association of America, News Corp., Qualcomm, and the Recording Industry Association of America.

Here’s more from OpenSecrets.org on Watt’s campaign finance numbers.

Free speech and free software

Gillmor in Russia

Dan Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media is visiting Russia. That’s part of one of his pictures above.

His web site is one of the sites I’m evaluating for my research topic: building sustainable, objective, findable journalism on the web. Over time, Gillmor has built up credibility about the idea of Citizen Media, because of his dead-tree book, his blogging and his affiliation with Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University Law School.
His postings from Russia add to my belief that “citizen journalism” is only fueled by oppression. He’s mildly surprised that the concept of citizen media is going globally so quickly, but I think that the state of free speech and a free press in other countries adds to people’s yearning for tools to help them speak freely.

Please note: I understand oppression doesn’t just come from governments. Imagine a dystopia in which we all work for one company, Bogoohooazonfa. That’s as frightening to me as worrying about oppressive governments.

But “citizen” involvement is going on in the business world too. Open-source software — free, shared software that is open for modification and development by others — is continuing to evolve. That movement has the potential to not only change how people publish online, but also how they publish in print. Perhaps in the future, even newspapers and magazines could be published with open-source software instead of expensive proprietary systems.

The Raleigh area of North Carolina is right in the middle of those open-source developments, because the company Red Hat is there. You can learn more at Red Hat Magazine.

Repression of free speech fuels the fire

What do a ninth-grader surfing for porn at school and a citizen journalist in Myanmar have in common?

Their Internet surfing and chatting can be kept in check by software from U.S. company Fortinet. The company said two years ago that it would investigate claims that its software was sold to Myanmar in breach of a U.S. embargo. The Open Net Initiative gives details.

While some worry that laziness or boredom will be the death of Web 2.0, I’m confident that repression of free expression will in fact fuel the use of Internet tools just as the American Revolution helped launch the newspapers and pamphleteers of that time. Sure, the conversation will be at times rude and crude, as Leonard Pitts notes. But U.S. leaders wrote the First Amendment because they saw how repression of free speech fuels the fire.

Online and offline reaction encouraged Verizon to retreat from a plan to refuse text messages promoting abortion rights from NARAL.

In other countries, people are using Flickr, Youtube and social networking sites to expose repressive government, and the governments are fighting back.

I’m humming Peter, Paul and Mary, circa 1967.