Friday, August 21, 2020

Why did you vote no on the ELA curriculum?

 because "why did you vote no" is a headline I've used before...

Among the roles of the School Committee in Massachusetts is approving curriculum under MGL Ch. 71 sec.50 (aside: it requires a two-thirds vote). Due to the vote to open the year remotely for the district, there was administrative concern over lack of high school English materials, so we were asked to have a special meeting Thursday evening just to review and approve a proposed curriculum for this year: StudySync from McGraw-Hill. You can read the Telegram & Gazette coverage here.
The request was for a single year of this curriculum at a cost of $256,500.

We received access to the materials Wednesday night for Thursday's meeting. This presentation was given at the meeting.

While it was nineteen years ago this past spring that I taught my last high school English class, if you hand me high school English curriculum, I'm going to approach it as a high school English teacher, as it's what I was trained as. My first question, likewise, was how high school English teachers were involved in the selection of this "modified pilot." They...weren't, is the upshot. The district did pilot three curricula last year in the middle school, and the equivalent curriculum from McGraw-Hill was selected for that, so, it was explained at the meeting, the district decided to use the parallel high school curriculum for this year. 

From my perspective--and this is my perspective--anthologies are there as a resource; they're where the literature is. I strove (did not always succeed, but I tried) not to be the "read the chapter, answer the questions" kind of teacher; you have a short story or a poem, and you read it, and you discuss it, and students write about it. Vocabulary lists and end of chapter assessments and such...they're not the main reason we have the anthology.
Again, that's my perspective.
The first thing I ask, then, is what's here? What's the actual written material that's in the anthology? Does it give the breadth and depth needed for getting students reading and giving them access to good writing and thus get them engaged in why we read and write at all?
And the answer for me is that...this could be better. If you review the presentation, you'll see that there's a chart that measures out how many authors in total, how many are women, and how many are authors of color. At least the question is asked. What I continued to run into as I reviewed, though, was whose voices are emphasized; if long works are still mostly the white men of the classic Western canon, have we made any change? 
There also continue to be works included that trouble me. This does not, please note, mean that I think we bar or ban these books or works. Works, though, need to earn their space in the classroom. When we measure the limited time in a classroom, and the limited dollars we have to get works into the classroom, and we consider what it means to have a work taught, what does it mean that we give time and space to writers of British colonialism, when our seats are filled with children whose family history bore the worst of its exercise of power? Or when the stories of Native Americans or Black families continue to be told through white eyes? There are better uses of the time, space, money, and emphasis.

Don't get me wrong: there is writing from across the spectrum here, and these are not the anthologies they would have been twenty years ago. Part of the job of the Committee, though, as it makes purchases and sends those to the classroom, is to ask given the resources available, if this is the best decision. Can we push harder on this (and, given Worcester's buying power, on the vendors)? 

I think we can, so I voted no. 

If you want to see what I said at the meeting, I'm posted the video below, cued to my questions

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for continuing your thoughtful insights on school committee votes. I appreciate that you looked at the proposal through the lens of an educator. Can you suggest ways for more educator/community input on these decisions?