Wednesday, October 6, 2010

This is what education in the US looks like

Risha Mullins is an educator: an English teacher in Kentucky, who used Young Adult (YA) literature to encourage her kids to read more, which was shown effective when her students' test scores were markedly improved.  You'd think parents and administrators would be happy their kids are reading more, and doing well on their tests.  How did they respond?:

Two years ago this week. A parent whose child had chosen to read Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles, and how that parent sent an email to the superintendent, the board members, the principals, and me saying that I taught “soft pornography.” Remembering the way my stomach hurt when I read the email, how I cried and stayed up all night drafting a nine-page rebuttal that began with, “Literature is my life, and I take my career very seriously. I have worked extremely hard to get students to read, and the school is just beginning to see the impact of that.” Remembering getting called to my principal’s office the next day and berated for sending the rebuttal to everyone the parent had sent to (I did not send it to the parent). Remembering how my curriculum coach said she had thought I'd be fired before she even made it to school that morning.

Remembering how stupid—how naïve—I was to send my rebuttal to the entire English department, thinking they needed to know that literature—our livelihood!—was under attack, thinking that we were a team and that we were supposed to support each other. Remembering the anger, the shock, that surged through me when the only two teachers in my department who bothered replying at all, did so to belittle me with how I had misrepresented “the classics” (which I had not done). Remembering what it felt like when I was asked to resign as the Literacy Committee chair--after only a month in the position--because “it just didn’t look good for the committee right now.”

After that email, my curriculum coach told me—in the principal’s office, with him present—that she had to beg the superintendent not to shut down the Moo Moo Book Club, and that she quoted him when she said, “one more problem with books and the club is gone.” I remember asking if he could do that. And I remember her laughing. Then on October 10, 2008, I received the edict—on signed letterhead: “After investigating the situation and discussing it with Ms. X, I have decided that all books in question in your classroom library and on the Moo Moo Club reading list will be pulled and reviewed…” Every book. Class and club. And yet not a single official challenge had been filed, as  board policy required for a book to be suspended. 

She goes on to describe more and more backlash to her YA literature from parents and administrators alike.  You can read her entire story here (she pulled the original page from her blog because of hostile messages being sent to her former administrators).  I highly recommend it.

I just don't get how other teachers and administrators can be so oblivious.  I know there are going to be crazy parents who don't approve of their perfect Christian children being "corrupted" by those evil books these teachers keep pushing on them.  But you'd think other educators would get behind a teacher who is encouraging reading, and learning about new things.  It's bad enough teachers are constantly assessed with incredibly flawed standardized tests.  But here, a teacher actually improves these test scores while getting kids excited about reading and learning, and there is still no support for her peers and superiors. These kids are going back to hating their English classes, reading less and less, and will be hurt in the long run.

As long as fundamentalist Christian parents are allowed to enforce their beliefs on school districts, this type of censorship will continue to happen.  When Christians get offended, school districts often listen.  My question is: where are the pro-education parents who are upset about the school kowtowing to whims of the fundamentalists?  Why don't I ever hear about a group of parents pressuring the schools to improve science education (including evolution), or adding controversial, thought-provoking literature?  I know these people exist.  Look at the comments on Ms. Mullins' blog post.  There are plenty of people who agree with her, and went through similar experiences in school.

What is the reason schools seem more likely to listen to parents who promote censorship, rather than parents who want their kids exposed to new ideas?  Is it because the second group of parents are disorganized and relatively quiet?  Or is there some other reason religious parents get more attention?
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