As a native South Carolinian, and a resident for most of my life, I have been schooled to expect the absurd from our public officials. But it's beginning to be a full-time job chronicling the trajectory into the preposterous in South Carolina and other Southern states.
Consider the unsettling behavior of Gov. Mark Sanford, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, and state Sen. Jake Knotts Jr., or the improbable nomination of Alvin Greene (or, for that matter, Jim DeMint six years earlier). Unbelievably, S.C. legislators threaten annually to mandate teaching creationism in schools, or allow guns on college campuses.
When it comes to the embarrassing policies or the behavior of public figures, it is likely only Texas surpasses us. You might recall that the Texas State Board of Education recently rewrote history to reflect their majority right-wing ideology, e.g. that slavery ranks behind states' rights and sectionalism (sectionalism?) as causes of the Civil War.
Not to be outdone, the Georgia state legislature recently passed a bill allowing people with gun permits to take their weapons into the airport.
So, I guess I should not have been surprised when I read that the Horry County school board recently gave a 90-day conditional approval to the county's first charter school (and I promise I'm not making this up): The Palmetto Academy for Learning Motorsports.
Let me first disclaim that my shock derives from some elitist academic view. Though I am not a fan, I recognize that lots of locals are motorsport followers, which is their right. And I also support plans "to help at-risk kids in Horry County complete their high school degrees and learn job skills," which is what Martha Flom of the school's planning committee said about PALM.
According to The Sun News, Horry County Schools Superintendent Cindy Elsberry, who recommended rejecting the application, stated that sponsorship of PALM "would mean entering into a 10-year, $16 million contract."
Although I am offended that co-opting the name PALM defiles the image of that graceful palmetto tree adorning our state flag, what really goads me is this: In a state still hobbled by educational underfunding and hence underachievement, in an era of budget cuts and layoffs, $16 million is potentially allocated to a curriculum on racing using internal combustion engines (you know, the kind that cause climate change).
Here's a friendly alternative suggestion. As irrefutable evidence on the deteriorating environmental state of the planet continues to accumulate, and polls of the American public reflect misinformed views on climate change and other environmental issues, why not focus on programs that create critically thinking, environmentally knowledgeable, nature-valuing students? Why not a charter school that teaches kids how to live sustainably? What about a program to teach students how to conduct energy audits and renovate buildings to be energy-efficient? Or one that teaches community vegetable gardening? Is it too much to ask for visionary leadership that gives our kids values and skills that will serve them and society, and at the same time supplants embarrassment with long-overdue pride?
Abel is a local professor, author and environmentalist.