GUEST COMMENTARY: 11th-hour rejection of books shows lack of respect for educators
May 11, the Mingus School Board decided to reject new English textbooks. They adopted mathematics and social studies texts, concerns for the social studies texts notwithstanding.
The back story, as noted in the board meeting minutes and in this newspaper, is that teachers and students have been using English textbooks that range from 15 to 20 years old and that do not support updated Arizona Standards adopted in 2016.
During this iteration of textbook adoption, the English teachers began the review process in late October with each teacher and grade level team reviewing four textbook series including the texts and associated resources for use with special populations including Honors, Special Education, English Language Learners and so on. Bear in mind that the English teachers have the background, training and experience, including state required credentialing, to perform this critical task. I would hazard a guess that they are also invested in serving their students and their community well.
As noted by Mingus Superintendent Westcott, board members had opportunities early in the process to review the textbooks, to ask questions and/or pose concerns. In addition, all the texts were available for community members to review on their own. No public comments were noted during the formal public review period.
At a presentation to the board in April, as per the board minutes available on the website, the questions and concerns noted were addressed by an English teacher and not one Board member intimated the possibility of impeding the adoption.
Teachers were not apprised of concerns until the 11th hour and, given the history of routine textbook adoption at MUHS (no bans ever on teacher recommended texts and associated resources), the outcome was unexpected, giving teachers no chance to revisit the other textbook options. Teachers’ professional judgment and expertise in their field was not validated by members of the School Board. The lack of respect and courtesy for professional educators is shameful.
I won’t assume that Mr. Babcock and Ms. Cox were grandstanding, but both shared specific concerns about the textbooks at a point when they must have known it was too late to address those concerns in a productive manner. In general, the comments of those Board members, again noted in the Board minutes, related to political and social ideologies. Both stated that those topics don’t belong in classroom-based discussions. Those topics should be discussed at home with the family.
Given that students these days are exposed to social and political ideologies daily via social media and other venues, perhaps a moderated discussion in a structured classroom environment is the venue to help students learn to interact productively with others who have different viewpoints than theirs.
Mr. Babcock further stated that he believes the ABCs and 123s are what students should be learning at the high school level. Ms. Cox stated that “this is not what we need to teach our students. Not this type of social issues; that is not basic English.” Perhaps a review of the adopted Arizona Standards for high school curriculum is in order.
Mr. Babcock hopes for respect for his view. I hope he understands and respects my view that public education is grounded in the aspiration to serve all children and their families. Therefore, his obligation as a Board member serving a diverse constituency is to acknowledge other parents and community members when making decisions for all of us.
The Mingus Union High School District serves the entire Upper Verde Valley, which is a diverse community. There is a wide variety of political preferences, religious views, ethnic heritages and other demographics, which apparently some board members who serve our community prefer not to recognize. I, for one, acknowledge the complexity of our society and believe that students at the high school level need to be ready to engage in the world where there are so many competing interests.
Whether a student is preparing for post-secondary education opportunities or the world of work or both, learning about different perspectives and learning to negotiate the various conflicting world views is a critical skill required to live in this day and age.
Banning textbooks is not respectful to teachers who engaged in the adoption process in good faith nor to the members of the community who do not subscribe to the viewpoints of individual board members.
Janet Loy is a resident of Cornville and former faculty member at Mingus Union High School.