There was a lot going on in West Bend last night as I was sitting on my arse watching that awesome College Football National Championship Game. Last night the West Bend School Board responded to the use of a Privilege Test in the classrooms of Badger Middle School several weeks ago. First, a little background…
The Washington County Insider broke the story last month that Badger Middle School English Language Arts students in 8th grade were given an optional “Privilege Test” that asked the students things that many consider inappropriate for a government official/teacher to ask kids – particularly without parental consent. You can follow the link to the original story to see the actual survey.
Some parents complained to the Principal and to the School Board. Last night a couple more parents spoke and the board shared their response to the controversy.
Overall, the school board got it right. The said that it was wrong for the teacher to issue the privilege test, discontinued the use of the test in the future, and have instructed the district administration to review the district policy regarding controversial subjects with the staff. This is the appropriate response from the board. I do have some lingering concerns.
The role of the West Bend School Board is to set and direct policy. The board approves curriculum, but teachers are allowed to supplement the curriculum as they see fit without board approval. This is an appropriate balance. In this case, the survey in question was presented as optional supplemental material for a part of the English curriculum.
The rub comes in from the fact that the survey introduces controversial material. The introduction of controversial material is permissible, but there is a specific board policy that addresses the introduction of controversial material. In that policy, it explicitedly states that they may study controversial subjects, but the staff is not permitted to inject their own opinion. In short, they can help the students think about the subject, but not tell them what think. It’s a classic Rousseauian educational approach.
But the policy does not leave such decisions to the teacher. The policy instructs, “Consultation with the principal shall precede the study of controversial issues…” It is not clear to me in this case if the teacher reviewed this survey with the principal prior to doing it or if the teacher was out on his or her own. What is clear to me is that the district administration and teachers involved either don’t view this survey as particularly controversial, or they outright support its use in the classroom.
Badger Middle School Principal Dave Uelmen, Assistant Superintendent Laura Jackson, and others have all expressed to various media outlets that while they can see that the material is controversial, they don’t oppose its use. Uelmen spoke at the meeting last night not to apologize or acknowledge the error, but to give a shout out to his staff. Uelmen’s wife spoke up at the meeting to chastise the parents who complained for setting a bad example for their kids. After the meeting last night, reporter Judy Steffes asked board member Joel Ongert about it and he said in respect to the specific teacher involved, it’s “a personnel matter – but the teachers are taking this hard.” That tells us that the teachers are upset that this teacher is being called out for using the survey.
And if I add into the mix some of the statements we read in the chats from the four fired English teachers at the West Bend High Schools where one teacher introduced controversial supplemental material and said, ““F*** it, there are other things parents can complain about. It would just make them look stupid,” the evidence indicates that there is a pervasive culture in the West Bend School District – particularly in the English and Language Arts departments – that wants to use classroom time for liberal social engineering instead of education. And they get really angry when parents disagree.
That’s a problem.
As I said, the School Board got the response right, but I fear that this is not the end of this issue. The staff is going to fight them on this and I suspect we will see controversial (always from the liberal perspective, have you noticed?) material foisted on the kids again.