A member of the Enfield Board of Education is apparently crying foul over recent proposed changes to the curriculum, according to an article published in Thursday’s Journal-Inquirer. Republican Kevin Fealy was, ironically, concerned that the curriculum is promoting a specific political agenda. At issue? The schools apparently aren’t doing a good enough job presenting “both parts of the argument” about climate change, which Fealy claims isn’t settled science.
In other news, it’s been in the 50s this first week of January, following a year in which we’ve had freak October ice storms, hurricanes and record-setting, roof-creaking snowfall. What do I know, though? I’m not a scientist. Neither is Kevin Fealy, of course; he’s a Board of Education member. Which is probably just as good.
Hilariously, the other thing Fealy’s getting bent out of shape about is changes to the philosophy curriculum. Fealy wanted a list of philosophers being taught, just in case Che Guevara was making it into the schools somehow. Really. Apparently the “other point of view” is good for some classes, but not for others.
To their credit, the rest of the board seems to have rolled their eyes and ignored Fealy, passing the curriculum changes with Fealy as the lone dissenting vote. Enfield has its moments, but we aren’t about to follow Texas down the rabbit hole. I mean, this is Connecticut. There wouldn’t be a push by parents to put stickers explaining that evolution is “just a theory” on science textbooks, or pressure on teachers from on high to teach abstinence-only sex-ed in this state, right?
Sure there would. It happens all the time. Just ask any teacher about how the moral, social and political views of parents, administrators and town officials collides with what teachers want to present in their classrooms. You’ll get more stories than you can count, from book challenges to the constant meddling with standardized tests.
The classroom is an oddly public space. Everyone has a stake in how and what children are taught, and so everyone from the governor and state officials on down to individual taxpayers claims the right to tell teachers what to teach, how they manage their classrooms and how to assess their students. On the one hand, this can be a great thing. Society should have an interest in education, and community conversations about teaching and learning can be enlightening and beneficial. Of course, in this country these sorts of conversations can easily become shouting matches or blame-fests, with teachers caught right in the line of fire. Think about the conversations we’ve been having about education lately: reform tenure to get rid of the dead weight, fix failing schools by firing underperforming teachers, cut teacher pay to balance budgets, instruct teachers to prepare students better for standardized tests, make sure teachers aren’t indoctrinating their students with politics we don’t like, and on and on.
What’s underlying a lot of this political scapegoating seems to be that society at large doesn’t seem to trust teachers not to ruin our children’s education and steal from taxpayers while doing it. Kevin Fealy clearly doesn’t. He wants to review lists of philosophers because teachers might sneak one past him, and his kid will come home with awkward questions about who owns the means of production. But the state doesn’t really seem to trust teachers, either. They’re still wedded to the idea of standardized testing as a way of assessing students, for example, even though you’d be hard-pressed to find many teachers who think CAPT or Mastery Tests measure student learning fairly or accurately. All of this makes teachers an easy target for anyone with an agenda wanting to score political points on education, but it doesn’t do much to fix the problems the schools have.
I’m looking forward to more discussion this year on reforming Connecticut’s schools. Test scores aside, there is a huge gap between rich and poor districts in this state, and there’s a lot to be debated about how our schools are preparing our children for 21st century life. What I’m hoping we don’t see, though, is a lot of political posturing and teacher-bashing in the pursuit of narrow agendas.
Susan Bigelow is the former owner/author of CTLocalPolitics.com. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.