Notice: This is the third installment in a series of posts relating to the topic of education policy. These posts cover the inns and outs of education policy, including the issues of teacher pay, Student achievement, standardized testing, blended learning, and charter schools, among others. Since I am currently taking a class that centers on education policy, I thought that it would be appropriate to post these brief articles to the site. I hope you enjoy the latest post in this series, below.
According to Webster’s dictionary, indoctrination is defined as “to imbue with a partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle.” By admitting that the underlying reason for complaining about the class curriculum is because of believed underrepresentation of certain ideas, the school board is blatantly participating in an attempt to indoctrinate Jefferson County students. It is true that the popularly elected school board should hold the majority of the community’s views on matters related to education. It is still perceived (and is largely true) that members of school boards have been proven leaders of the community. However, members do not need to be experts within the education field, whether in the policy arena or in the classroom. Thus arises the second problem: if the board does agree to tweak the class curriculum, the action would trigger unforeseen consequences, forcing the College Board to revoke the A.P. designation for Jefferson County students taking that class. If that occurs, the actions of a handful of board members could rob thousands of students the intellectual challenge of taking a college-level class. For some, the lack of A.P. experience may mean missing out on an acceptance letter from their desired college.
Thousands of concerned teachers, parents, and students have lined the main boulevard of Golden, Colorado in the past several weeks, voicing their anger over the actions of the local School Board. Three conservative members of the Jefferson County School Board incited outrage after complaining that content taught in the College Board’s A.P. United States History program highlighted unfortunate realities of American History. The board members complained that the curriculum underrepresented America’s exceptional rise to prominence, commitment to individual rights, and belief in free enterprise. This episode is merely another example of a local school board trying to impose its views on students. Philosophical and practical problems have risen from this controversy.
|Protests on the streets of Golden, Colorado|
Whether in the past or into the future, the word “diversity” should characterize American history. Whether free enterprise has been agreed upon in principal or in some degree as what makes our nation unique can be debated. What makes American history unique is the presence, sometimes simultaneously, of ideas at odds with one another: slavery in the South, abolitionism in the North; political progressivism in the North, religious conservatism in the South. To endorse a singular perspective despite this diversity, breeds ignorance and continuation of misunderstanding.
The fight over what should be taught in A.P. History is only a proxy of the larger war that is being waged over curriculum. With much fanfare, the U.S. Department of Education passed the Common Core Standards (CCS) a few years ago. Praised by Education Secretary Arnold Duncan, the standards were not to function as a national curriculum; rather, they would function as a common baseline of knowledge that all American students should learn, regardless of state. Even a program like Common Core—devised by a bipartisan organization (the National Governors Association)—has become another casualty of partisan politics. States, most of which are led by Republican governors, are competing to see which can shed another semblance of “Washington tyranny” the quickest. Governor Mary Fallin announced Oklahoma’s withdrawal from Common Core; Governor Nikki
Haley announced that South Carolina will be replacing Common Core with a state substitute.
|Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) addressing supporters|
It is disturbing to witness the Republican establishment hijacking education curriculum for political ends. In many cases, state standards that replace Common Core bare much similarity with their Federal foe. States end up tweaking a standard and slapping their own ambiguous label (Oklahoma Academic Standards), often to the nod of their electorates. There should be no problem to mandate a baseline of knowledge for students. Even from the original intention, teachers and states always had freedom to teach these standards in whatever ways seem appropriate. Mandating a baseline education helps students from across the country communicate with one another, beyond their professional lives. Common Core helps reduce the gap between what students learn in different states, leading to higher educational achievement. States that adopted Common Core (44 with the departure of Oklahoma) often supplement the standards or develop stronger state alternatives. Common Core as another manifestation of “Washington tyranny” can be easily avoided by seeking educational excellence.The Jefferson County School Board’s dabble in revisionist history-telling teaches the value of an informed and active electorate. Students should be faced with a multitude of perspectives that celebrate, condemn, and most importantly, tell the whole story of the American experience. Only through this process can we more fully appreciate what makes America unique and exceptional among nations.