Andrew Heppelmann: The fix was in
Last month, the Steamboat Pilot & Today ran an article about the controversy of a Steamboat Springs High School class reading Ginsberg’s poem, “Howl.” As the article stated, the poem contains “lewd language and graphic sexual references.”
Parents appealed to the school district, and a meeting was held where an appeal committee ultimately chose to retain the poem as curriculum. Superintendent Brad Meeks issued a tepid explanation yesterday, calling the issue a simple oversight and lack of policy understanding. But this isn’t about the poem so much as the callus treatment of the parents and a process that was neither fair nor unbiased.
In accordance with the school board’s policy, I-9-E, Director of Teaching and Learning Jay Hamric handpicked an eight-person appeal committee and supplied them with background material to review. I interviewed both a parent and a member of the committee who provided me with a complete copy of the materials and email sent out by Mr. Hamric.
The assistant who assembled the material for Mr. Hamric noted, ”you’ll see that book burning is still in practice. In my opinion, should give us all pause.” Despite the parents’ chief concern that the book is not age appropriate, there was no research provided on that issue.
That same assistant was also on the committee — clearly, not an unbiased juror. In fact, 45% of the committee members were district employees.
At the meeting, the parents voiced their concern that the poem is not age appropriate. Then, Mr. Hamric argued in defense of the poem. It’s art. Freedom of speech. Censorship. Then Mr. Hamric took his place on the committee, and by a vote of 8-1, the poem was retained as curriculum.
Sounds fair to me. Wait … the same guy selected the jury, provided the jury with background material not addressing the parent’s concerns, presented the argument in defense of the case, then sat on the jury?
Consider this: Parents suggest the district erred in selecting teaching material. We turn over the entire process of appeal to the district and trust that we’re getting a fair hearing. I think the above example demonstrates just how far we are misguided.
The system is rigged, and you have no chance of a fair hearing that considers our community standards. They don’t care. When the high school PIC meeting heard this material, I think almost everyone in the room felt it was inappropriate. Clearly, the community didn’t have a say.
I would offer a new system: Nine parents of students are randomly selected by lottery from the school where the material comes from. They meet, the district presents their case, and the parents present their concerns. A decision is made.
If you feel like the community has a right to decide what material is taught rather than the district, write to your school board members. Go to the board meeting and make your voice heard. District Policy I-9-E needs to be changed now.
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