Curriculum transparency

I’m not going to lie, I have a limited ability to give a flying rat’s ass about what they are teaching in public schools these days. I would not even spend 30 seconds contemplating enrolling my one precious child in a public school at this point. Critical race theory, the intellectual hellspawn of the 1960s, isn’t even at the top of the list of the reasons why. How about the fact that most kids in the United States don’t read or write at grade level, which is going to be a huge reality check when the United States is no longer the world’s top superpower? Or school violence? Or the prevalence of drugs and sex, even down to very young children? I mean, there are some schools that are passing out condoms to elementary school kids – who puts their kid on that bus? I just want parents to have absolute freedom about where they send their kids to school. One of the main lessons of economics is that competition raises standards and monopolies lower them. In this case, the government has a near monopoly on education, and its standards suck. Pretty basic problem here.

That said, this whole debate about curriculum transparency is really freaking weird. Clear across the country, we are treated to public school advocates trying to explain why they cannot post what their curriculum involves for parents to see. Some have graduated (lol) to telling parents that they do not get a say in their kids’ education at all – an education is about what society wants for a child, not the child’s parents. Bracket off the idea of “society” being the “client” of education systems, it’s not like “society” has a monolithic perspective on anything. These are the same people who will argue in another breath that children kill a woman’s career or that you should not have children because we are facing a climate emergency that can only be solved with self-inflicted extinction or something. (We must decrease our population or the climate will decrease our population, my favorite social media tautology.) Like I said, math is not their strong suit.

You take a college class anywhere in the world and it’s not going to be some deep mystery what you are going to be studying. Why? The professor is going to post a syllabus with the books you are going to be reading (which you can preview on Amazon and Google) and the daily lessons / homework. So you’re going to tell me this is impossibly difficult to do for 5th grade?

Of course, we can all surmise the reason for this behavior – they know their curriculum is controversial and/or they’ve lied to the public about what it involves. Do parents think finding out the answer to this is going to solve their education problems though? You can fight your way through the statehouse to change your curriculum, sure, but your kid is still going to be taught by a gender fluid millennial with purple-striped hair and face piercings that is going to encourage them along in every bad life decision possible. Did you win? Do you get a prize?

Anyway, the latest iteration of this argument is the most hilarious of all – curriculum transparency is a threat to free speech. The free speech of whom? School administrators? What stakeholder in this situation has the exclusive “right” to “speak” through the universe of educational resources that are mandatory for school children to consume? What do they even think this means?

From NBC:

As state legislatures kick into gear this month, Republican governors and lawmakers who have fought to limit discussions of race in public schools are lining up to support a new aim: curriculum transparency.

Lawmakers in at least 12 states have introduced legislation to require schools to post lists of all of their teaching materials online, including books, articles and videos. The governors of Arizona, Florida and Iowa, who have previously raised concerns about how teachers discuss racism’s impact on politics and society, called for curriculum transparency laws in speeches to their legislatures this month. 

“Florida law should provide parents with the right to review the curriculum used in their children’s schools,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said in his State of the State address last week.

Some conservative activists say the effort — which has come under fire from Democrats, teachers and civil liberties advocates — is a potent strategic move to expose and root out progressive ideas from schools. It’s the next move in a fight over critical race theory, the academic concept typically taught in college courses to examine how laws and institutions perpetuate racism, which some conservatives have used to describe ideas and books that they believe are too progressive or political for the classroom. 

In a series of tweets this month, Christopher Rufo, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute who has been instrumental in drawing opposition to racial sensitivity training, said shifting from pushing bans on teaching critical race theory to pushing curriculum transparency bills is a “rhetorically-advantageous position” that will “bait the Left into opposing ‘transparency.’” 

“The strategy here is to use a non-threatening, liberal value — ‘transparency’ — to force ideological actors to undergo public scrutiny,” Rufo said. 

The push for curriculum transparency policy emerged after at least seven conservative think tanks publicly called on legislators to enact such laws over the last year. Two of them, the Goldwater Institute and the Manhattan Institute, have published model bills, policies and resolutions for legislators and school boards to use as templates.

“People are going to disagree on a lot of these issues,” said Matt Beienburg, the Goldwater Institute’s director of education policy. “Transparency is something I think that at least allows for that conversation to know what is being taught. Everybody should be able to rally around the fact that we shouldn’t be teaching something in secret.”

But teachers, their unions and free speech advocates say the proposals would excessively scrutinize daily classwork and would lead teachers to pre-emptively pull potentially contentious materials to avoid drawing criticism. Parents and legislators have already started campaigns to remove books dealing with race and gender, citing passages they find obscene, after they found out that the books were available in school libraries and classrooms. 

“It’s important we call this out,” said Jon Friedman, the director of free expression and education at PEN America, a nonprofit group that promotes free speech. “It’s a shift toward more neutral-sounding language, but it’s something that is potentially just as censorious.”

So… We are worried that children will not be sufficiently exposed to ideas that are out there in the world? I’m totally cool with my kid being exposed to a litany of ideas I do not agree with, because she’s an autonomous individual, because it’s a good thing to know what a wide range of people genuinely believe, and because that makes for a lot of fun conversations and debate. I think most parents share that approach too, notwithstanding fringe elements of society, but those are also the least likely to want their kids in public school.

What they cannot defend themselves against, one imagines, is the lack of balance or actual substance in their curriculum. That’s the criticism they can’t take and don’t want to take.

But somehow their response is “you can’t see what we are teaching your kids”? In what world do these people think this is going to turn out well for them?

5 thoughts on “Curriculum transparency

  1. Good Lord. This “education-ese” and “educators” culture just continues. “Transparency” – what Newspeak. They think they are superior to the parents because of their credentials, which mean almost nothing. (I speaks as one who has them.) It’s a type of utopianism. And/or — Plato’s philosopher king. It’s been going on since John Dewey in this country. As a teacher, not an “educator,” I respect your right as a PARENT to determine the philosophy YOUR OWN children will grow up with. Can we please just get back to respecting each other, and to the supposedly American ethic of doing this and allowing each other the freedom to do so!!! No, that would involve having to work at it. Good article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seriously, where did these fights even come from? When I was a kid, I can’t remember there ever being an adversarial attitude between parents and schools.

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  2. Interesting. I think it depended on where you lived. My dear mother was in this fight from early on, in the S.F. Bay Area, CA. The Bay Area was the “cutting edge” of all of this experimentation based on Dewey – who brought it on due to his influence at Columbia College, begun decades earlier. It’s the whole “expert” philosophy. If you are an “expert” you should determine the future of OTHER people’s children. My own husband (from Bay Area) could not read until I taught him after we were married, and both his parents, living in the Bay Area but originally from rural Texas, told me later that they just assumed the teachers, “the experts,” in “sophisticated” California, knew what to do when he had problems reading as a child. What’s funny is that his dad did the the math for the Gemini and Apollo gyro systems – and was a prof at Stanford and worked at Lockheed – and he couldn’t sort out what was going on with his own son. To his credit, he told me later about this, and thanked me for teaching my husband/his son to read.

    It’s the fallacy of the “experts” mentality of this country, now. It began with Dewey and then expanded from there. People are trained now not to think for themselves. In spite of all of the talk to the contrary, public schools (any many private) are just “about the facts.” The schools where you get your teaching credentials are rife with it. So no matter what the weaknesses of our homeschooling or small private school educations of for our children (and they are considerable), many of us are, at least, teaching our children to think for themselves. What they do from there – that is their story to tell.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an incredible story. One of these days, I am going to lose it and write about how horrible the pragmatic philosophical tradition in America is in general. It’s not just Dewey’s idea of progressive education – more or less all his ideas became the platform for the 20th century Democratic Party. Irrelevance of the family, religion as group therapy, all of it goes back to Dewey and the sway he carried in postsecondary education.

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