Monday, January 09, 2012

Scratch a School Reformer and What Do You Get?

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

For instance, the parents of one New Hampshire high school student were outraged when their child was assigned Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America in the school’s finance class. They complained about the book’s pro-Marxist, anti-Christian references and asked that it be removed from the curriculum. (The boy’s parents complained that “Jesus is referred to as a wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist,” and the education bill’s main sponsor, Rep. J. R. Hoell, cited this incident in its defense, arguing that the “admittedly Marxist” book “insulted Christians and promoted illegal drug use as well as being critical of American family life.”)

The school district defended the book, arguing that its “instructional value outweighs its shortcomings.” But at what cost?

This is a dicey issue, to be sure. Taken to its extreme, such objections could lead to the banning of classic works of literature or the indoctrination of particular points of view in fairly homogeneous communities. But perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss these developments as one big creationist conspiracy. Do parents not have a right to ask that assignments not insult their beliefs and teachings? Perhaps a little more flexibility and sensitivity to the values of the kids we serve is in order?

Indeed, what is the cost of defending the free exchange of ideas in public high schools? Perhaps it is a higher price than Porter-Magee would pay. Probably a good thing she's not a principal.

You don't need to wonder what kind of extremes this could go to. If people are attacking a contemporary political nonfiction text by an award-winning journalist that has clear applicability to a practical course being taught to probably upper-level high school students, that's pretty much as bad as it gets. People getting uptight about the frank depiction of sex or race in literature is subtle in comparison.

This is particularly aggravating because Porter-Magee is a strong proponent of the Common Core standards, which are focused on argument and preparation for college and career. How you're going to do that without having students read anything about contemporary controversial subjects, I don't know.

Michael Goldstein:

We need many experiments in helping people to change their parent behavior, entirely on a voluntary basis (and perhaps never delivered by gov’t — too coercive — but by nonprofits, forprofits, churches, etc).

Exactly how is delivery of a voluntary program by the goverment more coercive than by private groups — particularly churches? Especially if funding is public.

This is a Tea Party argument.

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