No one can reasonably dispute that vocabulary is an important part of a child’s education. So what’s wrong with creating a bit of synergy on a vocabulary test?
The mother of a St. Augustine High School student said she’s concerned about the political wording of a question on a vocabulary exam her son took Monday.
Reanna Parham and her son Logan said the question was part of an advanced English exam, and Logan said many in the class were talking about the way it was worded.
Question seven read: “Right when it appeared the nation was becoming increasingly tolerant of alternative lifestyles, immigration, and minorities, the vocal and angry right wing forced the nation to make a complete ________, embracing bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism.”
Neither mother nor son found this question educational. Even though it’s unmentioned in the article, there were some other questions involving dubious messages.
Who isn’t “baffled” at how the __________ is “cozened into supporting the financial elite in elections”, amirite?
“It leads people to believe that anyone who leans toward the right — they’re a sexist or racist or a bigot,” [Parham] said. “That happens a lot of times. We hear those kinds of things. We are not, and this doesn’t help.”
Or one might read the question as being a bit more direct, asserting quite affirmatively that anyone who fails to embrace one side is quite evil, “embracing bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism.” There is no good way to spin these characterizations otherwise.
This isn’t a college classroom at Oberlin, but a high school classroom in St. Augustine, Florida. The teacher is certainly entitled to believe whatever she wishes, and at the deep end of the academic freedom pool, she gets to teach using whatever means she believes best. But does she get to indoctrinate students to her severe politics in the process? Even worse, upon pain of a bad grade that will do her students little to gain admission to Harvard?
The question was put to the St. John’s Public Schools whether this sort of question was part of their pedagogy.
“The school’s administration was not aware of the content of the test specifically, and have addressed this internally,” said spokeswoman Christina Langston.
In other words, they had no clue what their teacher was doing until some parent raised the question. Is this a serious problem or just an overzealous teacher seizing the opportunity of a vocabulary test to make some point that students may, or may not, find agreeable? Whether test questions like this serve to indoctrinate any student to the radical left is disputable; one would hope most students are capable of recognizing the flagrant bias inherent in this question for what it is, and similarly capable of laughing it off as the agenda of one unduly passionate teacher.
But then, how comfortable would a student in civics class be to speak out in favor of a less than progressive position on, say, immigration? No, this wasn’t a history class, and it’s quite possible that the history teacher takes an entirely different view of political discussion than this English teacher. Yet, for a school to allow a teacher to indulge in such blatant efforts at indoctrination might give students reasonable pause to not make themselves come off as conservative pariahs among their classmates.
One horrible question, one bad test, one over-zealous teacher hardly makes the public school system a dangerous place for heterodox thought. But it does remind us that the need to keep that one teacher who lacks the impulse control to infuse her politics at every opportunity into her teaching from messing with kids’ heads. High school students are young and impressionable, and tend to be influenced by such things as being called mean names, especially by a teacher.
We regularly discuss free speech and thought as being so valuable in light of who is in control of government, who will get to decide what words and ideas are “worthy” of discussion. Progessives aren’t on the winning side of that battle at the moment. This is what I call the “low hanging fruit” of the free speech argument, as it’s easy to grasp that leftists really don’t want to put Trump in charge of forbidden words.
But there is a more substantial argument, that not every non-radical, non-progressive idea is wrong, and only by hearing and considering all ideas can one reach a reasoned decision as to beliefs and values. High school isn’t the place where the “discussion” dies because anyone who isn’t far to the left embraces “bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism.” Give the kids a chance to learn before you do your best to denigrate all beliefs but yours.