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Tag Archives: York High School

By Ron Brzoska

In the past couple of weeks national attention was once again brought to our educational system through the Chicago Teachers Union strike. I won’t get into the issues and resolution to the strike. That has been discussed ad nauseam, and I have nothing new or enlightening to add to that topic. I won’t be discussing the Lake Forest teachers strike either. That strike was simply about money. There are no pretenses about ideological issues. What I would like to discuss is the more local picture…because a lot is happening right here in my little piece of Illinois. Things that are happening that have nothing to do with public sector unions or collective bargaining. Things that as parents we must wake up to and become active participants in the education of our children.

The first issue to be discussed is a speaker, Jessica Ahlquist, that was brought on a speaking tour of DuPage County area high schools during the past week in celebration of the 225th anniversary of the Constitution. Ms. Ahlquist was sponsored on this tour by the Citizens Advocacy Center. The problem with this speaking tour was that its intentions are a little less than transparent. The controversy is described in this article.  http://elmhurst.patch.com/articles/jessica-ahlquist-athiest-york-high-school. The parents received permission slips that did not explain the content of the presentation or the sponsor group, the Citizens Advocacy Center. The parents were expecting a presentation on the Constitution and its importance in our government, but instead their children received a presentation on why prayer in school is wrong. While that is a healthy discussion for debate, and a healthy debate for our young people, it was presented as a one-sided lecture. This lecture was also given under false pretenses as evidenced by the lack of information on the permission slip. The responsibility for this lack of transparency should be laid at the feet of York High School. In addition to the flip/flop and murkiness on the requirements of the permission slip and whether the presentation is curriculum or not, they may guilty of not simply doing their homework. The Citizens Advocacy Center is a progressive activist group. Please take a look at them at www.citizenadvocacycenter.org. This organization was founded by Theresa Amato, who ran Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader’s presidential campaigns…twice. For those that are not in the know, the Green Party is for people that think the Democratic Party is too conservative. A list of the links to other organizations they recommend on their website has many progressive organizations listed.

Progressives believe that the Constitution is an outdated document. They believe that it is open to interpretation and change to address the situations and challenges that they believe the founders could never have thought of. Progressives believe that law is dynamic and relative to the situation. They also believe that as man evolves, we no longer need checks and balances in government. Those get in the way of action. Man is better and smarter now. We don’t need checks and balances. The government can be trusted. Dictators like King George no longer exist. They believe that government can be used as a tool to solve just about any problem. You don’t have to believe me. This is not my assessment. Please feel free to read the works of Woodrow Wilson. I’m only paraphrasing his words. Taking our children out of class on Constitution Day and bringing them to a progressive presentation is equivalent to bringing a group of students to a David Duke lecture on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Being a parent, I want to know what is part of the lesson plan. We are entrusting our teachers with our children for up to eight hours a day in some cases. We are owed this transparency.

In Hinsdale High School District 86 there is an issue regarding the showing of certain movies in an elective film class. A parent has raised objections to the showing of Brokeback Mountain and American Beauty in an elective class, Film as Literature. The debate here is the same as the one waged during our generation and our parents’ generation over what books are suitable for students and what values are out schools trying to teach our children.  A story from the Patch is linked: http://darien-il.patch.com/articles/highly-controversial-movies-being-shown-in-class-has-d86-parent-concerned. I had made a comment on this story below:

I’m not clear on what the purpose of the class is. I have seen American Beauty, Brokeback Mountain, and two other films on the syllabus, The Graduate, and Old School. The name of the class is Film as Literature, so I suspect movies are to be broken down like when we studied books when I was in high school. Each book and a theme that we were studying. So what is the theme of Old School. Is there really anything to be learned by the movie Old School? Don’t get me wrong; I love the movie and this story will probably get me to dig it out and watch it again, but it’s just a fun time. There is nothing intellectual about it. I think if the lesson plan were more transparent, many parental concerns could be relieved.

As for the commentors that feel the board should not have approval rights over what is in class or the summer reading lists, please remember that movies, music, and summer reading are all a part of the curriculum. You can’t say one media (textbooks) is ok to screen and others are not. This is especially true today with the way many teachers are looking at alternative ways to teach our children as a way to reach and stimulate our children’s’ minds. Textbooks are gradually going by the wayside. We elect our school board members to spend our tax money wisely and make sure our children are prepared for college and their adult lives. The board is supposed to represent us. Teachers should never have cart blanche as to what they teach. What if the class had movies such American History X, Birth of a Nation, or that stupid Innocence of Muslims movie? Wouldn’t parents have a right to be concerned and upset then? Sure they would.

Is there a chance that Mr. Casini is grandstanding? Sure. In my opinion, I think this elective is a fluff class that has very little academic merit, but that is my uniformed opinion based on the things I can see and not on what I don’t know about the class. Transparency would help us parents a lot. I think that the focus on the objection to Brokeback Mountain and American Beauty distracts us from the real issue of what kind of say do we have in the education of our children.

Since posting that comment, I have seen the course syllabus. (HSHS Film in Literature Syllabus 09 19 12 (1)) I have to take back my statement that Film as Literature is a fluff class. The class is not about sitting through movies and coasting through class. The class has nothing to do with interpreting themes of each film. The class deals with concepts in film creation and adapting text to film. It also teaches how film can communicate in ways that written or spoken word alone cannot (examples: comedy and surrealism). I do not see any value or moral lessons being taught. This doesn’t invalidate my earlier statement about transparency help allieve the objections of parents however. While I do think that movies that would be less prone to objection could have been used for the class, I don’t believe any moral positions are being promoted. I still believe the greater issue is do we as parents have a right to a say in our children’s education? Yes we do. Not only a right, but an obligation. No one loves your child more than you do. We need to remember that. I stand by my comments that a school board as our elected representatives should look at all forms of curriculum. I think that the class is fine and the protest is much ado about nothing, but the school board is justified in having a discussion about evaluating the additional learning materials. The argument should not be about what has happened in regards to this class; it should be in regards to protecting our children in the future. What if a teacher really was using their position as a pulpit? Left or right, it is still wrong and there should be a check and balance system in place.

Now that I have given kudos to the District 86 school board, I have to take them right back. District 86 has one of the lowest transparency ratings (source: http://illinoispolicy.org/news/article.asp?ArticleSource=4959). While the district can boast some of the best schools in the area, they are not free from criticism, even within the ranks of their own school board. I have attended some of these school board meetings and have seen how uncivil they behave toward each other and the residents of the community. To say the discourse from the board to members and residents that disagree with the majority is toxic is an understatement. In response, someone has created a website, www.hinsdalehighschools.com. This site is extremely critical of the school board and its superintendent, Dr. Nicholas Wahl. The board members being criticized believe that the website is sponsored by the one or two members of the board that are in the minority on most issues. The school board is so upset about this site that they have debated sending a cease and desist notice to them on a number of occasions and will being trying so again in the coming week. On what grounds can you try to silence a website that criticizes you? The school board believes that they have proprietary rights to anything called “Hinsdale high schools.” They contend that the site critical of them confuses people into thinking the statements on the site are sponsored by the school board. The charge is incorrect. Anyone who cannot distinguish the difference between the official school district site and www.hinsdalehighschools.com either failed to read the disclaimer on their site or is the recipient of a poorer education than the one provided by District 86. Regardless of who is right or wrong in this school board civil war, the interests of parents and students would not be served by a one sided argument. The First Amendment is about the freedom of dissent, whatever the level of government involved. Due to the previously cited lack of transparency, it is important for critics to have a forum. I am not submitting that everything that is said on the website is correct, but it should raise questions that the school board should not be too shy to answer. These are questions about the education administered to our kids and the spending of our tax dollars. We have a right to know.

The theme of these three stories is that parents need to stay involved in their children’s education and not delegate the responsibility to administrators and teachers. In many cases, our schools are doing a good job, but we should never take that for granted.

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