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January 30, 2023
Vol. 80
No. 5

A Plea for Respecting Community Input and Diverse Viewpoints on Curriculum

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    A Plea for Respecting Community Input and Diverse Viewpoints on Curriculum
      In developing a common curriculum, the viewpoints and preferences of teachers involved must be taken into account. I also believe curriculum in public schools should not flout reasonable public and parental standards. Indeed, according to a recent Education Week survey, a strong majority of educators themselves believe that parents "should be involved" in their local school's "curriculum choices" (Najarro, 2021). This doesn't mean we invite citizens to dictate topics. It does mean that as we build or revise curriculum, we should adequately respect tradition and community input. It means educators should eschew what the president of the National Council for the Social Studies decries as "demagoguing" in classrooms (Fortin & Heyward, 2022)—pushing our own views as settled truth. Educators should do their honest, if imperfect, best to maintain a disciplined neutrality on legitimately controversial issues.
      There may be more room for agreement than some educators expect. Nationally, there is unprecedented readiness to amend standards in English, history, and social studies. There is widespread recognition that we should judiciously update (not necessarily "dismantle") the literary canon and that curriculum should include a more representative spectrum of historical figures, voices, and events. A recent poll found that 84 percent of Americans agreed that students should learn about "our best achievements and our worst mistakes as a country." That includes 80 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of independents, and 90 percent of Democrats (Neem, 2022).
      At the same time, new legislation in some states has educators fearing reprisal for including contentious topics and issues in the curriculum. But the instructional implications of such laws are debatable. A New York Times article recently quoted a teacher in Oklahoma who said he intends to continue teaching what he thinks is vital to U.S. history, despite recent legislation in his state that limits teachers from talking about race and history in certain ways. Yet none of the resources or topics he mentions sound unduly provocative. Most prominent in his supposedly controversial curriculum materials is a collection of essays by Black southern writers. I have that same collection, and I would contend that any teacher could draw liberally, and safely, from such an anthology—in Oklahoma or elsewhere. Teachers should indeed be protected from scurrilous challenges to instruction covering tough but necessary topics. But based on indications so far, I believe they still have considerable leeway.

      Educators should do their honest, if imperfect, best to maintain a disciplined neutrality on legitimately controversial issues.

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      The Times article makes clear there had as yet been "no widespread terminations" as a result of limiting state laws (Fortin & Heyward, 2022). One exception was a teacher in Tennessee who was fired for teaching politically charged content he admitted was partisan. His case reveals a key point: If teachers share provocative views with students, they should also share intellectually respectable counterpoints to those views. This teacher lost his job because he rejected his administrators' request to merely provide students with different viewpoints from those he was promoting.
      I think it's worth asking if this teacher's approach was optimal or fair. If teachers wish to provide students with controversial views, don't they owe them the chance to consider legitimate counterpoints—right, left, or center? For instance, if a teacher feels compelled to teach the perspectives of Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi, or Nikole Hannah-Jones, shouldn't they be obligated to provide counter perspectives of people like John McWhorter, Sean Wilentz, or Daniel Bergner? These writers don't represent fringe or alt-right media sources. They are centrist or center-left writers who contribute regularly to publications like The Atlantic and The New York Times. Moreover, they may represent a larger segment of parents and the public than their counterparts do.
      Editor's Note: This is a companion piece to the article "We Need Coherent, Teacher-Built Curriculum—NOW!" by Mike Schmoker.

      Mike Schmoker is a former administrator, English teacher, and football coach. He has written dozens of articles for educational journals, newspapers, and TIME magazine as well as multiple bestselling books for ASCD. In an EdWeek survey of national educational leaders, he was identified as among the best sources of practical "nuts and bolts…advice, wisdom and insight" on effective school improvement strategies.

      Schmoker is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award by the National Association of Secondary School Principals for his publications and presentations. As a much sought-after presenter, he delivers keynotes and consults internationally throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, China, and Jordan.

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