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December 4, 2003 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Teacher sues over limits on history curriculum. "A seventh-grade social studies teacher in Presque Isle [Maine] who said he was barred from teaching about non-Christian civilizations has sued his school district, claiming it violated his First Amendment right of free expression."
posted by sarajflemming (34 comments total)
Still trying to grok this one; it makes my head hurt. According to the article, Gary Cole (the teacher) has taught a broader cirriculum in the past, but it doesn't say whether he was reprimanded then. If he wasn't, why now?
posted by sarajflemming at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2003

Saraj, possibly the curriculum changed since those days, so shouldn't hurt your head that much. Particularly (speculation) if the guy's been teaching for a couple of decades.

I can see how a small district could do this--though it's the opposite of what I would specify personally--but to think that it would pass muster with a state DoE review seems difficult. Maine? Now if this was Kansas or Louisiana...

I wonder if the legal argument will pass muster though--why would the teacher's 1st amendment rights come into play when by law the curiculum is set by the district? If the teacher wins, what happens when another teacher sues for his right to teach Intelligent Design?
posted by billsaysthis at 1:44 PM on December 4, 2003

This is the kind of stuff that scares the bejesus out of me. Where did Christianity come from? well it dropped off a tree. No, it was a sect of Judaism.

This is the kind of stuff you hear happening in the beautiful (and mildly neurotic) south, but rarely above the Mason Dixon line.

It just shows you how fundamentalism (be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or secular) is a bad thing.

Go Darwin Go!
posted by eljuanbobo at 1:46 PM on December 4, 2003

IANAL, but it seems like his freedom of expression argument won't fly, while his establishment clause argument (later in the article) will. Public school or no, a teacher is there to teach a curriculum, not freely express him or herself (and no, I'm not saying teachers must rigidily adhere to curricula, just that if the curriculum forbids something, that's the end of it, according to my own internal logic; I concede that there may actually be a case in this argument). However, if the contents of the curriculum violate law, well, they're illegal.
posted by aaronetc at 1:54 PM on December 4, 2003

Good point, bill; I wondered about that (the teacher's 1st amendment rights). I suppose one solution for the teacher would be, "well if you don't like the cirriculum, go teach somewhere else." But that feels terribly wrong.
posted by sarajflemming at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2003

Let's keep everyone ignorant so they won't even be able to conceive of any other belief system.

American Taliban, indeed.
posted by bshort at 2:08 PM on December 4, 2003

I've never heard of a curriculum that *forbid* anything. I was on the student curriculum review board when I was in school, and I reviewed a lot of curriculum documents, plans, suggestions and wild-ass ideas and I never, ever, not even once, saw a curriculum statement that forbid the teaching of any topic. Maybe things are different in the US, but that's just weird.

Only requiring that students learn an extremely limited set of subjects (only Christian civilization) would be offensive enough. Actually banning the study of non-Christian civlization is truly disgusting. Banning the study of pretty much anything is truly disgusting.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2003

Did anyone notice that the article says, the curriculum has been "developed by teachers across the district and adopted by the SAD 1 School Committee."

As far as school committees goes, this is definitely a sad one.
posted by mmascolino at 2:29 PM on December 4, 2003

This seems so unlikely.

How the fuck can you not teach about China?
posted by the fire you left me at 2:40 PM on December 4, 2003

How the fuck can you not teach about China?

More to the point, how the hell can you not teach about ancient Greek, Rome, and Egypt?
posted by kindall at 2:45 PM on December 4, 2003

I don't think the "free speech" argument is going to get far, but it might have been the only way he could think of to get this out into the public eye and put pressure on the school district. Personally, I think if you are teaching world history, you need to teach about the world as a whole and not just pick and choose which areas you want to talk about. How can you teach world history without an entire hemisphere? It's ludicrous!
posted by Orb at 2:46 PM on December 4, 2003

My sister-in-law is from Presque Isle. She's taught her children that evolution is a lie, and that the the world was created exactly as described in Genesis - in 7 days, and so on.

She's a nice person too. I just don't talk with her about religion or evolution.
posted by troutfishing at 2:47 PM on December 4, 2003

By the way, this seems an appropriate time and place for me to recycle this comment of mine, from a recent thread, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica thread:

"The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica is the major pillar of this Christian Home schooling curriculum, developed by Arthur B. Robinson, who says "My advice to homeschool parents is to teach geography, history, and government largely from books which were written in the 1950's and earlier."

Mr Robinson is a member of the "Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine" which conducts research into life extension, prides itself on being the only institution currently researching nuclear war survival skills/civil defense (they sell a DVD set on this subject) - [ "the Institute is now the most reliable remaining source of civil defense educational materials in America. Work continues on the improvement of these materials." ] and also has played a significant role in attempting to discredit the science of Global Warming, including through sending out a petition misleadingly designed to look like a mailing from the US National Academy of Science (which was roundly condemned by the US scientific community).

Robinson developed this christian home schooling curriculum out of the need to teach his own six children after the tragic death of his wife at an early age, which left him a single parent."
posted by troutfishing at 2:56 PM on December 4, 2003

I'm not sure this is a First Amendment case though. Is he expressing himself or is he expressing the beliefs of the system that he was trained to instruct?

Regardless, I think its appalling that they would deny those kids any exposure to any history that's non-Christian. Maybe there's some idiot juice in the town's water supply?

And creationism? Anytime someone tells me they are a creationist, I find a way to get the hell away from them ASAP because they are either incredibly stupid, incredibly ignorant or blind to reality, in any case, they have virtually no "information" I have any interest in hearing.
posted by fenriq at 2:58 PM on December 4, 2003

"I'm not sure this is a First Amendment case though. Is he expressing himself or is he expressing the beliefs of the system that he was trained to instruct?"

yeah, fenriq, that is the big question isn't it? is a teacher an individual or just a tool of the system? does a teacher have *any* individual rights within this system? (assuming there's a will to supress them)
posted by muppetboy at 3:55 PM on December 4, 2003

Don't feel bad. Even "liberal" Minnesota appears to be moving to controversial, idealogically-driven programs.

related info
posted by infowar at 4:02 PM on December 4, 2003

Here's a radical idea. A complete, *interactive*, multimedia curriculum. Real teachers, the best that can be found, give "documentary-like" performances at particular grades and subjects. And multiple, different versions of the same course, rated by other teachers for quality, to choose from. Serious productions, like a high-budget BBC documentary.

For example, "5th grade biology. Six different courses to choose from: remedial, standard, advanced, multi-lingual, Creation Science, and evaluation only." So everybody gets what they want.

But it's not just movies.

Put it on a DVD. Give the students networked keyboards, so during the multimedia presentation they are intensively interacting, being evaluated, learning new information and reviewing, all at the same time. The "live" teacher conducts the class like a symphony conductor. Everything a student does is recorded for when they go into individual study. Far more material then even a great teacher could disseminate, and at greater depth.

"General" material, all students in a class do at the same time, but then students go to individual computers and get more into the subject material--as fast and as deeply as *they* *individually* can. (Slow students no longer hold back fast ones. And "live" teachers can spot problems early on, for extra help.)

From that point on, the student would see a "tree" of the subject, hierarchically arranged. The MAIN topics would all be mandatory. But once they were learned *and evaluated*, the student could choose between a selection of secondary topics to pursue, based on their interests. And BEST OF ALL, tertiary topics, not required, would be there if the student WANTS TO KNOW.

Students would *never* be tested on subjects they had not studied--tests would be tailored to the individual student--but must include ALL main topics and that selection of secondary topics the student chose, with extra credit for correctly answering tertiary questions.

So what does this all mean, other than a "high-tech" school? It means that parents with prejudices can select the curriculum for their child to a much greater degree; and not just *bad* prejudices, either. Let's say a parent lives in an area that rejects Darwinism. They could get an entire *scientific* biology course for their child, so the child wouldn't have their intelligence insulted in an otherwise reasonably good school.

If a school has a "weak" department, say math (a major problem today), then let the machines teach it. And with some standardization of DVD formats, schools could make their *own* interactive curriculums, for special subjects of local interest and extracurriculars.

And this last point is a good selling point. Schools are strictly limited in their curriculum to "basic" topics. But with a system like this, even elementary schools could have serious language courses, electronics, computer science, photography, etc., ad infinitum, beyond the budget of any school.

Censorship and the twisting of the truth by commission and omission *only* exists if the parents want it. If parents want their child to soar like an eagle, they can.
And the computer will always insure that the student keeps up on *everything* they have to.

The bottom line is to remember how many really good teachers you had going through school, compared with how many "mediocre" or "bad" teachers that you just didn't connect with. Imagine if you had liked and learned from all your teachers, and 10 times as much as you did.

"The worst sin of all is to waste a student's time."
posted by kablam at 4:03 PM on December 4, 2003

Skyway Middle School Faculty Page - scroll down for a picture of Gary Cole, the teacher in question, with the seventh grade team.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:50 PM on December 4, 2003

What is left to be taught? You cannot teach WWII because of Japan. You cannot teach either of the Gulf Wars. Israel? Nope. Hell, you can't even teach the Crusades!
posted by mischief at 5:37 PM on December 4, 2003

There are schools where students design a major and classes and coursework. There is a huge variety, I went to a Friends school in 9th grade, we had no grades just end of semester reviews. It should be a free choice what kind of school you want. Instead we get one size fits all McEducation.
posted by stbalbach at 5:38 PM on December 4, 2003

Hell, you can't even teach the Crusades!

Come now, stamping out Islam in the name of gold and child slaves Jesus?

Teach on!
posted by the fire you left me at 6:03 PM on December 4, 2003

I hope he wins. I think the post/newspaper article is a flawed though, he's not arguing about freedom of expression from the 1st amendment, he seems to be arguing that it "constitutes an illegal establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment." At least that's the part of his arguement that I agree with.

From the 1st amendment "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." One of the main targets of religious conservatives in the US has been local and state school boards. This sounds like another example of that bad trend. They've won, then lost before. I hope the latter continues. Usually they've been voted out. I've never thought of Maine as a battleground for this before. Mainiacs are an odd bunch, though. Too close to Canada. Can't trust 'em.
posted by superchris at 7:56 PM on December 4, 2003

eljuanbobo : what would secular fundamentalism be?
posted by MrLint at 9:01 PM on December 4, 2003

Maine? Now if this was Kansas or Louisiana...
I've never thought of Maine as a battleground for this before.

See, that's because even Mainers forget that Aroostook County (i.e. The County) exists, and even when we remember we usually want to forget again pretty quick. The population has dropped by 15% in the last decade, the medical care is at least that many years behind the rest of the country, median income is US$10,000 below the state median, military bases that used to support thousands of jobs are nothing more than ghost towns, and the farms have been literally drying up. I'm not saying any of that excuses the sort of backwardness, but after two years as a transplanted student in Limestone (about 20 miles north of Presque Isle) it hardly suprises me.

The image most everyone has of Maine is based on the sourthern (thriving) third of the state, and within about 30 miles of the coast. Things get very different very quickly once you move out of postcard-perfect Down East, especially once you get up to The County where high schoolers still get two weeks off in the fall for the potato harvest. My family actually lives in one of those tourist coastal towns, and the difference between two regions of the same state (albiet seven hours driving apart) is astounding.

The problem is, as mentioned above, nobody remembers or thinks about Aroostook, so it does get left on its own long enough that ways of doing things are pretty entrenched, or they want to be entrenched. The people are as friendly and proud as northern Maine winters can make you, and yes they are more than mildly close-minded. Again, I'm not excusing, we just need to understand the part of Maine where this backward step is taking place. It's a shame really that this has become the sort of thing people talk about, when they do talk about the County, as it's such gorgeous big-sky country.

To wrap up this lengthy tangent (apologies): I do hope this teacher gets somewhere with raising a worthy stink. Presque Isle is what passes for a city up there, they should be acting like it.
posted by nelleish at 11:25 PM on December 4, 2003

the SAD 1 School Committee

I too have always thought the School Administrative Districts here in Maine could have chosen a better set of initials. Speaking of other, more national problems with education, this recent article lists a lot of reasons why the No Child Left Behind plan "may go down in history as the most unpopular piece of education legislation ever created."

on preview: nelleish certainly is right about big sky country. It is beautiful (and deserted) in The County.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:31 PM on December 4, 2003

[i]More to the point, how the hell can you not teach about ancient Greek, Rome, and Egypt?[/i]
Only if you attach value to them as actual ancestors to American civilization. Completely aside from that, teaching these only also ensures the status quo - that is, an "educated" populace that is still ignorant and racist. Consequently, the general populace is as well.
posted by firestorm at 1:46 AM on December 5, 2003

More to the point, how the hell can you not teach about ancient Greek, Rome, and Egypt?

Only if you attach value to them as actual ancestors to American civilization. Completely aside from that, teaching only these of the non Christian civilizations also ensures the propagation of the current status quo - that is, an "educated" populace that is still ignorant and racist. Consequently, the general populace is as well.

Metafilter should adopt a practical editing system
posted by firestorm at 1:48 AM on December 5, 2003

Only if you attach value to them as actual ancestors to American civilization.

Well, some might argue that learning about the Greeks and Romans might lend a student a certain understanding of the foundations of the democratic (small 'd') system. Demos (the people) Krateo (rule). And it's not just the "American" civilization we're talking about -- the foundation of modern Europe (nations, balance of power, capitalism, etc.) has its roots in Greek and Roman ideas. This cannot be said for (example) China, where the system of government has not changed much in over 3000 years. The names are different, the espoused ideology is different, but the fundamental political method is the same.

The truth is, regardless of how many would like to deride our "Anglo-centric" educational system, most students have practically no sense of their country's political roots, let alone any general American History education. Ask your average man-on-the-street (in the US) where Greece is on a map and I'd bet more than 50% of the time they'll get it wrong. I'd be thrilled if American students had a strong education in Greek and Roman history. I'd be elated if you could tack on 19th century Europe to the list. I'd be floored if the average American student could list the major battles of the American Revolution, or the Civil War. Yes, it's important to learn about other cultures, but most kids haven't even gotten a grasp on their own yet.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:53 AM on December 5, 2003

Ban television.
posted by troutfishing at 7:26 AM on December 5, 2003

trout, what does television have to do with a school district pretending only xtians exist?
posted by MrLint at 9:07 AM on December 5, 2003

Secular Fundamentalism i would define as someone who is so gung-ho about removing any trace of religion. E.g. people that want to remove "In God We Trust" from the dollar bill, etc.
posted by eljuanbobo at 10:57 AM on December 5, 2003

MrLint - Strictly speaking, not much It was a rogue, elliptical reaction to Civil_Disobedient's "They ain't got no sense of history !" complaint. (which is largely true.)

But I think there something to the argument that the degradation of shared public discourse in America - blame for which can be, in part, heaped at the foot of the Television God - has opened up a void which allows this sort of Christian solipsism to exist. Check out the "Christian Home Schooling Curriculum" links I posted up this thread......Holy Crap, Batman! - the main textual source is the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica? Well, I guess the 20th Century is just plain 'ol satanic. Better not teach kids about anything which happened after 1911.

Somehow, I think this stance might be even more extreme than attitudes of the day among Christians at the time of the Scopes trial.
posted by troutfishing at 11:30 AM on December 5, 2003

eljuanbobo : well considering those things were put on there by religious lobbyists im not sure why it would be secularly fundamental to go back to the original format. Besides you should have some kinda of distinction of the beliefs of "fundamentalists" vs "regular" secularists. otherwise you are just making up BS terms
posted by MrLint at 9:08 PM on December 5, 2003

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