My daughter's social studies teacher has been giving a decidedly Republican twist to the curriculum. So sent the following message to the principal. We'll see what kind of response I get.
I am writing to express a concern with how the social studies curriculum is being presented in my daughter’s 8th grade class by Mrs. Smith. She is presenting a very right-wing ideology which I feel does our children a disservice.
Some examples of things that are ideologically biased are:
Mrs. Smith: Thomas Jefferson was a strict interpreter of the Constitution.
Actuality: While Thomas Jefferson was indeed a strict interpreter of the Constitution, this loses validity as a historical artifact if the position of the Federalists are not also presented as equally valid. This is especially true in light of the political overtone that the term, "strict interpretation of the Constitution," has taken in the last decade.
Mrs. Smith: Democrats believe in big government and Republicans believe in small government.
Actuality: This is hardly a nuanced statement. It should be stated as "Democrats believe that government has a positive role to play in society and that civil rights are important and should be guaranteed. Republicans believe that government does not a positive role to play, that a free-market economy can provide the benefits necessary to society, and that government has the right to control morality and sexuality." This also completely ignores the doctrinal differences between Democrats and Republicans on the role of religion in government and society.
Mrs. Smith: The Health Reform Act is bad because it included federal student loan reform which fundamentally changed the way federal loans are made. Banks have been cut out and you will have no choice in where to get federal student loans.
Actuality: Federal student loans are a subject with which I have much experience. The new legislation cuts out the middle man in the student loan industry, the banks. Previously the federal government accepted all the risk for the loans, and the banks, as loan originators, were able to charge higher fees (My current federal loans are in the 1-3% range, and my private student loans, some of which are federally-backed, are in the 5-9% range) and turn a profit on the loans. The new legislation simply removes the profit motive, by removing the banks, which allows $60 billion to be returned to students in the form of higher Pell grants (meaning less loans are necessary) and lower interest rates. Even before this change, all federal loans came from .... the federal government, as they still do.
I’ve looked at the state standards for the social sciences and nowhere do I see such an ideological slant being promoted. I can only assume that Mrs. Smith is giving my daughter a distorted view of social studies, and that you are either unaware of this, or approve of this insertion of political ideology into the curriculum. I do not care what political ideology Mrs. Smith subscribes to as long as she does not impart it upon the children. It is possible that my daughter is incorrectly remembering what is being said, but she maintains very high grades, so that is not likely. Politics are frequently discussed in our home, although of a much more liberal ideology, so she would not pick this information up at home. This penchant of Mrs. Smith to present only the more conservative viewpoint has sparked many interesting conversations at home (and I had to research the history of Jefferson’s role in the development of constitutional law), so it not completely a bad thing. I just want to make sure that the classroom is politically neutral.
I would appreciate a response to my concerns.
UPDATE the FIRST: I believe the culturally expected gushing about first time on the rec list goes here? :D Thanks!
UPDATE the SECOND: This is the reply I got back from the teacher and my response to her response follows that:
Thank you for your email. I would truly never want to do a disservice to any student. I make it a point of not telling students my political beliefs or how I vote. I agree, that's not my job.
I do teach the time periods I am responsible for, using the text selected by the district. For example, the information concerning Thomas Jefferson being a strict interpreter of the constitution is strictly from the text, not my take on anything.
I also try to have students not only see how history was formed, but see how these same parts of government or issues are still working today. I have never said "The Health Reform Act is bad. " I do throw out questions that I have or am thinking about, such as the student loans. I was surprised that this was included in this bill, and brought that up. I do try to get them to think about things... I am sorry if it has come across as my opinion. If it is being interpreted that way, then I need to be even more careful on what I say and how I say it.
I often will try to connect events from today to events from the past, and have discussion on it. I do want kids to be involved in what happens in this great country, to think and research items, and be part of an active solution. They are the future. I do not want to tell them how or what to think.
I would be more than willing to sit down and talk with both Meghan and you, or just you if you would like, to discuss any or all of this at any time.
My response to Ms. Smith:
Thank you for taking the time to reply. I fully comprehend the difficulty of trying to teach about politics, without interjecting your own political viewpoint. You may have not been aware of the way in which your language and teaching could have interpreted. To you, it is simply the language and concepts that you use to organize your own thoughts. I interpreted the language that Meghan brought home as Republican talking points:
Strict interpretation of the Constitution
Democrats want big government
Student loan reform equals no choice
I can accept that the standard textbook has that opinion of Jefferson, so perhaps the textbook needs to be changed. However, the Health Care Act did not contain the language about student loan reform, it was the reconciliation package. I do not know if that distinction was made in class, or even if there was a discussion of why a reconciliation package was even necessary.
Meghan asked me how she was supposed to learn anything if she could not trust her teachers. I told her that this isn't a matter of trust. She should respect and listen to what her teachers say, then verify it for herself. That this is simply a part of being a well-informed critically-thinking person. Wasn't it Reagan who said, "trust but verify?"
I fully support political dialogue among peers. You are not my daughter's peer. You, as a teacher my daughter likes very much, are in a position of power in my daughter's life. You have more responsibility to present the information in a politically-neutral manner.
This is what I hope you will do, please pay more attention to how you deliver the curriculum to the students. If you present a concept fraught with political division, do it with respect for those who may not believe as you do. Be conscious of your language, and verify your own sources, even if that source is the state-approved textbook (Look at the Louisiana Purchase of how Jefferson was NOT a strict interpreter of the Constitution).
Meghan is an astoundingly bright young woman, who I hope, will develop her own thinking on these matters. I want to thank you again for your response.
UPDATE: The THIRD: Those who have said that I should have contacted the teacher first are right. That was bad form on my part.