The Hysteria Needs To Stop!

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Every teacher has a great deal of material to cover during the course of a school year. What they must teach is outlined in the standards which have been approved by the state board of education. It is like running a marathon to plan lessons that ensure that students will fully comprehend the required concepts while also making certain that every morsel of essential knowledge is presented before the end of the school year. Any idea that teachers are inventing their own curriculum is sheer fantasy. Their yearly appraisals rely heavily on evidence that they have toed the line in following the scope and sequence of topics assigned for a particular subject in a particular grade. While there are some renegades in schools, they are usually found and told to stick with the program as outlined in the essential knowledge and skills documents that they all have. If they do not they are urged to leave.

I am intimately familiar with such things because of roles that I played in the schools where I worked. First I was a team leader for my pod of seventh grade teachers from each subject area. Later I became the Mathematics Department Head and held regular meetings to outline methods for coordinating the transition of students from one level of mathematics to the next. We relied heavily on being certain that all of the grade level topics were covered thoroughly enough that students would have the necessary foundations to proceed through the sequence of skills from in each future grade. Eventually I became the school’s Peer Facilitator and as such I made visits to the classrooms of every single faculty member while also checking their lesson plans and analyzing the results of their students’ scores on standardized tests. Lastly I was the Dean of Faculty in a public high School where I spent my days keeping track of literally all of the teaching happening anywhere on the campus. 

In three different schools I found that the vast majority of teachers were highly educated, dedicated, and hard working individuals. They tended to focus on their students and on developing their lessons with an intensity that is not found in many employees in other fields of endeavor. They took their work and hearts home each night with a serious desire to improve their own pedagogy and the knowledge of skills of their students. Their ultimate goals were always to teach their pupils how to think and to do research and become lifelong learners. Teachers enrolled in classes outside of the school day just to learn new techniques and to become better at their jobs. Most of the time they did this at their own expenses of time and money. They were continually stressed with worry that they were not doing enough, not helping as many students as much as they wanted to do. If they had a general flaw it was in being too wrapped up in their work.

We have been hearing much negativity lately about schools and teachers who are supposedly introducing students to Critical Race Theory or bringing books into classrooms that make students feel bad about themselves. Most of what is being bandied about as truth is pure bunk or a wrongly reasoned anecdote about a single teacher. Some parents are becoming unhinged at School Board Meetings as though this alternate reality they are speaking against is a general situation overtaking our schools. Nothing could be further from what is really happening. 

First of all there are not school districts instructing their teachers to convey the tenets of Critical Race Theory, a general theory that is almost exclusively the domain of Law Schools. It is a specific study of systems that either intentionally or unintentionally foster inequalities based on race or religion or country of origin. Most teachers in elementary, middle, intermediate and high schools know nothing about Critical Race Theory because it has never been part of their curriculum. Nonetheless some parents are incorrectly viewing honest presentations of historical events fit attempts to influence students with Critical Race Theory. In fact, they are wrong. 

It is impossible to teach about the Holocaust with any honesty without producing strong emotional responses from students. There really is no other point of view that can ever be acceptably taught as a counterpoint. A teacher cannot and should not defend the practice of incarcerating and killing individuals based on race or religion. Such horrific historical moments are gut wrenching, but they are not intended to make students hate themselves. The purpose in teaching about them is to help students understand that sometimes humans have gone gravely awry. Learning about and discussing such things helps to to emphasize the importance of critical thinking, research, and active listening in observing the impact of events in the present and watching for warning signs that we are drifting away from the ideals of freedom.

Teachers particularly in Advanced Placement high school classes are charged with challenging their students with college level readings and ideas. Parents must understand that expanding students’ minds by showing them worlds beyond the bubbles of their own backyards is not a destructive thing, but a way of making them more aware and understanding. Teachers help their students to gradually pivot into the adult world. Hiding truths from them is wrong and can be destructive. 

I grew up during the Jim Crow era in the south. I saw firsthand how badly Black citizens were treated. I can still remember the separate water fountains and bathrooms. I saw the Black people sitting at the back of the buses that I rode on to get to downtown. I had no Black students in my school or neighborhood until I was in high school and the push to integrate was happening all across the south. I recall visiting my grandparents in Arkansas and hearing about the horrible treatment of the young Black students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock. It was so horrified that I was afraid of even driving through that town for many years after even though I am white. I cried watching the freedom marchers attempting to cross the bridge in Selma while being victimized by snarling dogs, water from hoses that knocked them down, and police officers who beat them. Why would we want to hide these truths of our history from our children? Life is not make believe. So what if they feel bad just as I did when I saw it happening. Hearing about abuse is never as horrific as being the victim. I learned from being a witness to such brutality. I became a better person. I was able to understand the cries for justice from people around the globe.

I can assure parents that they would be better served spending their time asking what schools and teachers need to support the incredible efforts they are making. I am much more worried about the lack of funding for up to date technology or classroom sets of books. I have purchased books for teachers countless times when there was no money available in their budgets to provide their students with the texts they needed. We spend more on stadiums than on science labs. We worry about a phantom theory that does not even exist in schools but do little to make teachers and students feel safe from shooters. Our priorities have been dictated by politicians whose only experience with schools is once having been students. Right now too many parents have it all wrong only because they are afraid of something that they cannot even define properly. So they are striking out randomly at anything that might evoke strong emotions or require students to consider different points of view. It all reeks of book burning and dystopian futures.

The schools and the teachers have a great deal of work to do. None of it involves making anyone feel sad or bad. Let’s not allow propaganda to make us believe differently. The hysteria needs to stop!