Last July, state school board member Wade Linger suggested a state-backed teacher liability insurance plan which was a thinly-disguised effort to lessen the power of teacher unions. Prior to that, at the end of 2014, Linger tried to change the state science standards because they dealt with climate change.
At the request of a West Virginia Board of Education member who said he doesn’t believe human-influenced climate change is a "foregone conclusion," new state science standards on the topic were altered before the state school board adopted them.
When Linger resigned from the board earlier this year, I cheered until I read about his replacement, Scott Rotruck -- a person with no experience in education but lots of it as an energy lobbyist which apparently makes you qualified to oversee education in West Virginia. Earlier this week West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter Glynis Board interviewed Rotruck. Board lobbed softballs to Rotruck with very little follow-up and combined with Rotruck's non-sequiturs and evasive answers made this a not-very-informative interview.
Early in the interview, Board asks him about his "general philosophy on education." Read it for yourself, but he answered that (1) he grew up around people in education, (2) he's married to a retired guidance counselor, and (3) (my personal favorite) "My parents were friends with the superintendent back in Mineral County." It would be hard to top that kind of experience and it certainly did not explain his "philosophy." (A special note to Mike Myer and our local editorial writers -- the next time you decry the quality of education in West Virginia, why not start at the top with the state board of education?)
Board's next question referenced his predecessor, Wade Linger:
who stirred up some controversy last year when he objected to language outlined in science standards. His objections were pretty nuanced but it basically boiled down to a debate about how we teach students across West Virginia about climate change. You're an energy guy, so where do you fall in this debate?
("Nuanced"? I'm sorry but that is not a word that comes to mind when thinking about Wade Linger's science opinions.)
Here's Rotruck's reply (bold emphasis is mine):
I am an energy guy, as you said, but I’ve been in either external relations, public relations, regulatory affairs, or I’ve been an investor in the energy space. I’m not a scientist per se. So I have to add that disclaimer.
I think first and foremost, besides giving students a requisite amount of information - things that they understand and come to internalize by rote memory - I believe we need to teach them how to think. So as much as we can around these difficult issues, where we can find Nobel laureates on both sides of these types of issues, we need to empower the students in every which way, in a cascading up sort of fashion, so that they can make their own decisions. Even then I know that it is tough to know what to include and what not to include. But I’m all for trying to let people know as much as they can and for empowering them to make their own decisions.
Egads! What a terrible answer. Most importantly, why didn't Board ask Rotruck to name one laureate who doesn't believe in climate change. Just one! Instead, she reworded the question and then asked him again about climate change. After having read his answer a number of times, I think that he is telling us that he looks to the insurance companies for answers. (Yes, the insurance companies.)
You want to add anything to that explanation as far as how you feel one way or the other? Is climate change real? Is it happening? Is it manmade? Is it not manmade?
Rotruck: There’s great work going on right now doing deep ice cores; we have so much more ability. Just like, even ten years ago when I first got involved in the oil and gas industry and we talked about what we were able to do at that time with given technology - quantum leaps. The same thing with looking back through our history and trying to make a decision on what the anthropogenic impact has been in terms of climate change.
I believe, for me, for the investor part of me, I want to know what the insurance companies are going to be thinking about going forward, especially when it comes to property that may fall under that discussion argument about sea-level rise. What kind of bets are those insurance companies going to be making? You will see people begin to direct their resources toward what they believe are going to be the results.
But if you look around it appears pretty clear that we are having changes in our climate. Look at the evidence. It would appear to me to warrant inspection.
And that's how the interview ends.
Let's see. The governor appoints an energy lobbyist with no background in education to the board that oversees the state's educational system. No one appears to question the appointment and when a media outlet is given the chance to ask questions, the board member's qualifications are never challenged nor are any of his "facts." We do learn, however, that the appointee's parents were good friends with a school superintendent. What can I say except that our government (especially the governor) and our media have failed us.