Saturday, October 23, 2010

Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of the Tipp City Exempted Village School District

Last night I came across a news article about a teacher criticized for teaching about banned books in her high school English class. I was frustrated to the point of tears upon reading it.

This morning, I came across the report of the incident from the Court of Appeals. In 2001, the subject, Evans-Marshall, taught a unit on censorship, assigning Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 and Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. The next assignment was for the class to break into groups and choose another book to read and discuss together. Two groups chose the children's book Heather Has Two Mommies. Around two dozen parents complained at the next school board meeting, raising the issue to the community and media. (It should be pointed out that one parent asked for an alternative assignment for their child and was given an option of three other books.) The principal and teacher fell into bad terms, he gave her a poor evaluation, and at the end of the year the school board voted unanimously to not renew her contract. Evans-Marshall appealed the non-renewal to the board, testified, and another vote was held with identical results. She then took her case to court under a First Amendment (Freedom of Speech) claim. The court reviewed three similar cases, particularly the 2006 Garcetti v. Ceballos decision that employees in the public sector are not protected by the First Amendment because their actions are to be "pursuant to" their duties. The court declared that the school board is responsible for making decisions, "legitimately giving it a say over what teachers may (or may not) teach in the classroom" (United States Court of Appeals, Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of the Tipp City Exempted Village School District).

Law states that the school board is ultimately in control of the curriculum in any classroom. This frightens me--I am on the path to licensure because I believe in teaching students important things, things that they may or may not be learning in classrooms today. Things that parents and school boards may or may not think they should learn. Things like censureship.

When I read the news article and became practically inconsolable thinking about the all the things I would not be able to teach my future students for fear of backlash from parents and how thin the thread of having a license may be, my husband attempted to comfort me in the exact same way the last pages of the Court of Appeals case report pdf does: If one teacher can choose the curriculum for her classroom, think of all the other teachers that now want to as well. Specifically, conservative teachers--those on the other end of the spectrum as me. Those that want to teach extremist theories as the fact. If a teacher flaunts her First Amendment rights, what's stopping principals and superintendents from doing the same to support contrary opinions?

So yes, ultimately, the decision should rest with only one group of people, the school board. If one wants to teach a different curriculum than what is being taught, they have every right to apply for a position on the school board.

I feel still feel a little sick thinking about this case and the ones prior that it relates to, but I also feel somewhat relieved. It isn't a matter of not being able to teach what I want, it's a matter of the law, I suppose. As my husband tried to assure me, I can still make a difference in the classroom, and my foremost goal is to spark curiosity. What will, in fact, make more of difference than if I am able to teach a curriculum I feel covers important topics is teaching a lifelong love of learning. They can always learn the important things on their own, after all.

But that's not that I can't merely touch on the topics I feel are important...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pledge to Guide Today's Students--draft 1

About a year ago, I realized that the content of the curriculum taught in America's schools today has been the nearly identical since the creation of the American education system. It's been quite some time since the 17th century, and the world is a very different place. I've tried the political/activist route of provoking change, and there is a lot of talk about education reform in the news these days, but still, little seems to be getting accomplished. One place I know I can evoke change is in my own (future) classroom. Students need to learn about the world as it is today, not as it was when the lessons we teach were created, and I will be the one to teach them.

As a soon-to-be teacher, I began writing a pledge to myself and to my future students a year ago. It's still in its draft stages and probably will be until my first day with my own classroom. However, while reading the news today, I came across an article that struck a chord with part of my pledge. I decided that I should put my pledge, work-in-progress it may be, out for others to see.

Teachers often complain that there is not enough time in the school day to teach everything they want as thoroughly as they want. I know some may scoff at my pledge and claim that I won't find the time to fit more lessons into an already overflowing schedule, but I am passionate about my pledge. I KNOW my students need be taught these things and that they probably won't get it from anywhere else. I WILL find a way.

Pledge to Guide Today's Students
I pledge to guide my students in learning about the world they live in.

Respecting and honoring others
-Learning about cultures and societies across the world

Respecting yourself
-Self concept, eating well, exercising

Respecting the Earth and the environment

Living in the age of technology and information
-Respect and honesty while using the internet
-Critical thinking skills when learning from any media

Seeing the big picture of life
-The universe and how we fit into it
-The Earth and its inhabitants

Respecting and honoring others is the most traditional part of my pledge. The Golden Rule has been taught since the beginning of recorded history, and it will continue into my classroom. Having respect for others is a discipline every human needs to have. Where the differences begin is in the honoring. I hope to teach my students that students in every country are the same, that every human has the same needs, and that at the same time, we share different cultures and histories that are equally as beautiful. This includes sharing stories and photographs (from the internet) of people from all around the world.

Respecting yourself is a trait that many teachers think they are teaching but very rarely have an actual discussion about it. I will teach my students, through conversation, about what it means to take care of their bodies and spirits and how to grow strong and healthy.

Respecting the Earth and environment is where my pledge really starts to deviate from a traditional classroom's curriculum. Obviously, this will include discussions of recycling, but also lessons on geology.

Living in the age of technology and information may be the most pertinent subject for today's generation of students. It's so important to me that I teach my students how to use media and the internet correctly because students today are getting bombarded with examples of how to use it the wrong way. There is a great resource I discovered today on this topic.

Critical thinking skills was my most recent addition to the pledge, and the wording doesn't quite fit yet. What I wanted to get across was that I want to teach my students to question, "Do I think this sounds true? Where can I learn more from another source?" and "Is this a reliable source?" I want them to know what credibility means and how it's determined.

The big picture of life component came from my dabble into Montessori. Cosmic education is a big part of the Montessori style of teaching, some teachers basing every lesson on part of it. As a public educator, I may face great difficulty teaching about the universe, especially in my beginning years. I plan to teach as much as I can without going into anything controversial, hopefully saying just enough to spark the curiosity the leads to further investigation in my students' free time.