A Trick Question

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.

“Advanced,” indeed.

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.

24 thoughts on “A Trick Question

  1. andrew ottaway

    when I was a child, one of six children at the family dinner table, we would discuss things like this. We would all talk at once. We often had guests. My father would ask my mother: “Now who is that?” not knowing who had been dragged home for supper with one of us kids. We were able to exchange ideas, and you had to be interesting to hold the attention of the group. I think this kind of background is missing nowadays so that people never learn to distinguish fact from opinion. A computer screen does not confront your constant stream of bs. Iron sharpens iron, and a parent should be able to explain to a child the concept of questioner bias.

    1. SHG Post author

      Much as everyone loves a childhood story, since so few of us were ever children, what if mom and dad have a particular political viewpoint they hope to instill in their children that doesn’t necessarily involve distinguishing fact from opinion? It can happen, you know.

      1. Andrew Ottaway

        I was raised Republican Presbyterian and married a blonde Democrat Baptist cheerleader schoolteacher. Guess what happened to my political philosophy?

  2. Patrick Maupin

    Never mind the political. Question 9 should be embarrassing enough. “Median” is a strip of grass, not someone who speaks with the dead…

  3. Kathleen Casey

    Have you ever heard of this? Most of the teachers here in my hinterlands school district wore black the day after the election. This is according to a friend of mine who works as a teacher’s aide at the el school. She voted for Trump. She said the union newsletters were all Hillary all the time. And naturally she was irate. Coordinated indoctrination for sure. I pay taxes to this. Wonder what’s going on now.

        1. SHG Post author

          My first drum set was Ludwig. I miss that drum set. I don’t miss the Jews harp my father tried to get me to play instead.

  4. Random Wine Geek

    I’m baffled that a teacher would treat “hoi peloi” as a singular noun (e.g., “how the [hoi peloi] is cozened into supporting the financial elite in elections”).

    1. LocoYokel

      I was wondering how that question played with her alleged politics since “Hoi Polloi” is generally considered a derogatory term for people not part of the wealthy or educated elite. Not very supportive of the general population, seems her true feelings for the common populace is showing through a little bit.

    2. David Meyer-Lindenberg

      Singular “hoi polloi” is okay. Personally, I prefer the switch from singular to plural in the spokeswoman’s comment.

  5. Fubar

    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.”

    She left out cultural appropriation.

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