Texas' twisted excuse for removing Helen Keller

Sara Novic is a Deaf writer and assistant professor of creative writing at Stockton University. Her first novel, "Girl at War," was released by Random House in 2015. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. The Deaf community uses a capital "D" to differentiate between people who identify with Deaf culture and identity, and the physical lack of hearing. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.

On September 14 the Texas State Board of Education made a series of key votes that could transform the way students learn to understand the world around them -- and themselves. Texas wants to remove some content from the social studies curriculum, said board chairperson Donna Bahorich, so that teachers can delve more deeply into certain topics.

Sara Novic

Billed as an effort to "streamline" the curriculum, the move spared Baptist pastor Billy Graham, the impeachment trial of former President Clinton and Moses from the chopping block -- while Hilary Clinton, Barry Goldwater, Thomas Hobbes and Helen Keller were eliminated.

Perhaps the most overtly dogmatic cut was the deletion of the phrase, "such as holding public officials to their word" from a fourth-grade unit on how to participate in civic affairs. But the erasure of Helen Keller, an iconic advocate for the deaf and blind whose social activism also included women's suffrage, birth control and pacifism -- who is currently taught as part of a third-grade unit on citizenship -- is an underhanded play with a troubling message: that homogeny is normal and exposure to outside perspectives should be limited.

To remove Keller from the curriculum also means to eliminate the single touchstone for deafness and disability for most mainstream students. Earlier this week, I asked a room of 35 of my own college students if they'd ever met a deaf person who wasn't me. Four or five raised their hands—they worked retail and had seen deaf customers. Many of these students are considering fields like social work, education, criminal justice, occupational and speech therapy and law, where knowledge of deafness and disability will be integral to their work, and still their exposure is extremely limited long past the third grade. This is the norm in a society that constantly tells us to avert our eyes from disabled people, to separate out "normal" and "other."

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HB-1244 UPDATE as of April 21, 2018

HB-1244 is moving.  The bill, known as the Jeri Cooper Act, is scheduled for a Senate floor vote on Monday, April 23rd.  On Monday, the Senate meets at 1:30 p.m.  It is expected Senator Griffin, the  Senate author, will move to restore the bill’s title, which was stricken in committee.  This move means the bill will be in exactly the same form as the House-passed version, so that if approved by the Senate, the bill can go directly to the Governor for signing.  A PDF copy of the bill is attached.


Remember you can watch/listen to the Senate floor activity by going to www.oksenate.gov and selecting the link for Live Floor Proceedings. 


Also be aware that legislative agendas are subject to change.  If for some reason HB-1244 is not voted on Monday, it could come up later in the week.


We expect state agency funding bills to be introduced this coming week, so legislative attention will shortly be focused on budget for all agencies besides Education.  Soon after the agency appropriations have been cleared, legislators will hope to adjourn.


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Support Services Provider/Jeri Cooper Act of 2017

This morning HB-1244, the Support Services Provider Act of 2017 (also being called the Jeri Cooper Act) passed in the House Public Health Committee on a 6-0 vote. Members who voted for the bill were Representatives Bush, Derby, Lawson, McEntire , Ritze and Sean Roberts. The committee substitute bill that passed is attached. Lepak’s bill directs DRS to establish a grant program to expand availability of Support Service Providers for Oklahomans who are deaf-blind. The program would only be implemented if and when funds are available. An annual funding cap of $300,000 is set in the bill – but no specific funding sources are designated. The measure is essentially enabling legislation that would make action possible at such time funds are made available. Next stop for the bill is the House floor. To thank Rep. Lepak and Public Health Committee members for their support of this legislation to assist deaf-blind Oklahomans, go towww.okhouse.gov. Then select the Representatives menu item, and scroll to the name of the appropriate Representative. On this main list of Representatives, beside each name you will find an “Email” box to click on for sending email. However, this feature may not work on your system – it does not work on mine. Instead, you should be able to send an email by clicking on the Representative name, which will take you to the Member’s bio page where you will again find an “Email Me” box. Click on this one, and a web form will come up.

To read the full copy of the Jeri Cooper Act please click here.

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