Director Patu, President Smith-Blum and I were sharing a laugh last Saturday over the last Board meeting where Vice-President Patu stepped in to lead the meeting because Smith-Blum was out of town. The joke was (and I had noted it here) that looking at the agenda, it would be a short meeting. Apparently it was and it ended at about 6:45 p.m.
The meeting may not run long tonight but the Speakers list is full (and overflowing) because of the issue of the race and social justice class at The Center School. I am on the list to speak.
Back in December 2010, there was an issue over the use of the novel, Brave New World. The parent who raised the issue was not seeking to ban the book but to get clarification about how the book would be used in SPS. In short, she was seeking assurances about teachers using context (who wrote the book, when and the use of satire) and that teachers would consider the background of students in the class and try to be culturally aware.
The Board held that the book could be use but did direct Teaching&Learning to work on professional development to guide teachers. (Did that ever happen? I have no idea. I have a query into the district.)
But now, we have the issue raised again but in a different manner. A teacher at The Center School, who has apparently taught this class for years, was the subject of an ad hoc district committee over how he presented his material based on the complaint of one student and his parents.
- The Center School has a social justice focus and that is clearly known to anyone who enrolls.
- it is my understand that this teacher hands out a syllabus, to be signed by parents, explaining the class.
- it is also my understanding that because it is a challenging class, students who are not comfortable with some sections, may be excused (presumably to the library).
To be clear, I have no problem with parents raising issues. I did it myself in the past.
But frankly, I think the district has handled this badly and it feels like the teacher is not being supported (except perhaps by his principal). Would it have hurt to note in the district statement what The Center School focus is and this is
an experienced teacher who taught this class for years? If what he did
was wrong, okay, but at least provide some context.
First, the district, in its statement, makes it sound like the section of the unit in question was done because the class had ended. No, the Superintendent told the teacher to suspend teaching it. The teacher did not just continue on and had to change course. (This is not noted in the statement.)
Second, the district, despite the ruling on Brave New World two years ago, didn't reference it in their statement. Now in that case, it was somewhat about the teaching materials but it was also about how the teacher was using those materials. If the teacher in that case had been more culturally sensitive, there might not have been an issue using that text as all.
So why, if the district has visited this issue before, didn't they reference it?
Third, the district could have at least noted that this teacher and his class seemed to be liked but (and more importantly) respected by students for the challenge it gave them. If this teacher has been teaching it for years, could it have really been this out of line? We are not being given ANY specifics and so what is the line?
Which leads me to number four. Why didn't they talk to the students? They were the only ones who know for certain what was said, how it was said and the reaction in the class (of course, each student had his/her own internal reaction). Not one student was asked (except maybe the student in question). We are guiding these teens towards young adulthood, the Board has a student rep who sits with them at the Board meetings and yet no one is going to ask them what the class was like?