Opinion
Curriculum Opinion

As Values Clash, Give Parents Choice

By Lance Izumi — October 11, 2017 4 min read
Lance Izumi, Opinion Contributor

—Photo: Foundation for California Community Colleges


Lance Izumi is a Koret senior fellow in education studies and senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank. He is a regular opinion contributor to edweek.org where he trades views with Bruce Fuller, on the other side of the political aisle. Read Bruce Fuller’s response to this essay.

In their August opinion essay on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website, law professors Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania and Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego decried the loss of universally accepted “bourgeois” values in America, from marriage to patriotism to getting an education necessary for gainful employment. The ebbing of consensus values can be seen in the nation’s schools, where officials, teachers, parents, and students have clashed. This conflict, which often occurs because parents are not included in the decision-making process, argues for giving students and parents more schooling options through choice tools such as education savings accounts, vouchers, or tax credits.

Curricula has been a big source of this conflict. Curricula decisions come down from on high, whether from state capitals or from school district central offices, and these decisions have a big impact on how subjects are taught in the classroom.

In Cupertino, the home of Apple’s headquarters in California’s Silicon Valley, The Mercury News, a San Jose-based publication, reported that the school district formed a task force that recommended a curriculum called “Teen Talk Middle School,” which met a state requirement that students “develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender, sexual orientation, relationships, marriage, and family.”

Yet, who decides what “healthy attitudes” are? The district task force was made up mostly of school personnel, without significant parent representation. The curriculum chosen by the task force included graphic descriptions of vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Local parents exploded. According to The Mercury News article, “More than 150 parents came out to a Tuesday night school board meeting to oppose a controversial new sexual health education curriculum that many said was ‘too graphic’ and ‘not age appropriate’ for their Cupertino Union School District seventh-graders.”

Parent Muni Madhdhipatla said that the curriculum was “too graphic and descriptive, and it’s leading kids in a certain way,” even though he didn’t dismiss the idea of offering age-appropriate curriculum to students. He asked, “My best question to [the district] is whether we are teaching to perform or inform.”

The Cupertino brouhaha goes beyond the simple question of whether a curriculum on sex education is too explicit or not. It goes to the heart of who makes decisions in a time of cultural relativism, where there is no longer a set of consensus values and views on basic issues.

Who makes decisions in a time of cultural relativism, where there is no longer a set of consensus values and views on basic issues?"

Professors Wax and Alexander note that basic cultural precepts, such as getting married before having children and staying married for the children’s sake, reigned for decades. While they acknowledge that there “are always rebels,” even those who deviated from the widely accepted cultural norms “rarely disavowed or openly disparaged the prevailing expectations.” Now, however, there is open warfare over what should be basic cultural precepts.

Cupertino teacher Kristina Everhardt told the local CBS television affiliate that she was shocked that the school formerly showed a movie to 7th graders that implied, she said, that “girls needed to protect their virginity.” Parent Sri Sarma, complained that the new curriculum “was written with too much suggestion.” Who should get the last word on these divergent views?

The same question applies to issues of race. Well before what happened two months ago in Charlottesville, Va., focused attention on how race is addressed in the nation’s classrooms, numerous school districts had hired outside consultants to run training seminars on race

In Minnesota, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that at one such seminar in 2013 teachers were given “a primer on race theory,” focusing on issues such as “Thomas Jefferson’s views on white superiority.” The terms “white privilege” and “whiteness” were used often in the training session.

As it can over the topic of sex education, the actions and goals of the public education system can clash with students and parents who are on the receiving end of changing classroom philosophies.

After a Norman, Okla., teacher commented on the inherent racism of whites according to an audio recording, a biracial student told a local television station: “Half my family is Hispanic, so I just felt like, you know, him calling me racist just because I’m white. ... I mean where’s your proof in that?” The student worried, “I felt like he was encouraging people to kind of pick on people for being white.”

So where does all this leave parents? I recently asked a homeschool mom why she decided against putting her son in a public school. She replied: “Why go through all the drama? It’s this drumbeat for the day with made-up injustices.” In her view, public schools offered her son “more drama than learning.”

Thus, in a time of cultural relativism, with divergent views on basic issues and values, some significant proportion of parents and students will clash with the one-size-fits-all approach of public school authorities. Unless one adheres to a “my way or the highway” attitude, this clash argues for giving parents greater choices in schooling options outside the public system. And as recent national and state polls show, rising percentages of parents and the public want that choice.

Lance Izumi is a Koret senior fellow in education studies and senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank. He is the author of the book The Corrupt Classroom (Pacific Research Institute, 2017).

Follow the Education Week Commentary section on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up to get the latest Education Week Commentaries in your email inbox.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Meeting the Moment: Accelerating Equitable Recovery and Transformative Change
Educators are deciding how best to re-establish routines such as everyday attendance, rebuild the relationships for resilient school communities, and center teaching and learning to consciously prioritize protecting the health and overall well-being of students
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Whitepaper
The Digital Transformation in Elementary Education
This white paper reports on the impact of this digital transformation, highlighting the resources educators are most likely to use, their...
Content provided by Capstone
Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Curriculum School Halts Use of Fictional Book in Which Officer Kills a Black Child
Fifth graders in at least one Broward County school were assigned to read a book that critics say casts police officers as racist liars.
Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5 min read
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alhadeff told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she does not feel like the book "Ghost Boys" is appropriate for 5th graders.
Lynne Sladky/AP
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Whitepaper
Empowering Teachers for Student Success
In this white paper, we highlight 6 best practices for using educational databases and highlight how teachers are effectively using these...
Content provided by Gale