Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Little pawns in politics

I'd already heard about this story, but Ari Kaufman gives a splendid rundown of the Wisconsin school district that was very surprised that it wasn't supposed to use its third graders to help its teachers protest the Iraq war. Here's the basic story (with hyperlinks omitted):

The day before Thanksgiving, third-grade students at the Frank Allis Elementary School in Madison, Wisconsin, were given a curious lesson in civic responsibility. They were told to write letters to their congressman and various media outlets calling for an end to the war in Iraq. Parents were sent a letter justifying this political indoctrination as a social studies lesson. “The Frank Allis third grade will be writing letters to encourage an end to the war in Iraq,” the letter explained. “The letter writing will teach civic responsibility, a social studies standard, while providing an authentic opportunity to improve composition skills and handwriting. If the war has not ended by the 12th day [of the letter writing campaign] we will start the whole sequence over again, writing to students in middle school, high school, and college.” Signed by the “third grade staff,” the letter in closing asked parents to fund ten postage stamps and 12 envelopes for the project. As a “courtesy,” the teacher gave parents the option to opt out of the assignment – as if that excused the school’s attempt to recruit impressionable third-graders into the service of “antiwar” movement and mold their views on the War on Terror. At first, school administrators saw nothing wrong with the project. School principal Chris Hodge initially signed off on the project after being approached by the third-grade teachers. But when news of the project sparked controversy, Hodge began to back peddle, acknowledging that, on reflection, it may have been in violation of school district policy after all. Nevertheless, she said she wanted to check with administration officials before taking action. As it happened, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the letter-writing project was indeed in contravention of district policies – several policies to be precise. According to district spokesman Joe Quick, not only did the project run counter to a ban on teacher promotion of their personal political beliefs to students, but it was also in conflict with a policy that requires teachers to address opposing views when presenting controversial topics.
The rest of the article discusses the reaction of politicians, and the school district's eventual decision to back down. I was particularly charmed by this paragraph (with my emphasis added):
Not everyone was pleased with that decision. In the aftermath, Sharon Johnson, Frank Allis Elementary PTA president, said she was disappointed to see that the envelopes and stamps she sent to school with her daughter, as requested in the assignment, were returned last Tuesday. “I got the letter, and I had no objection,” Johnson told the Journal Sentinel. She had hoped that the antiwar project would prove revelatory for her daughter. “Her world is pretty much made up of the Cartoon Network. I thought it was a good idea to get kids to open up their eyes,” she said. But while Johnson, a Democrat, approved of the assignment, she admitted that had the campaign been in support of the war, she would have taken umbrage.
I have to say, I didn't find the article at all surprising. My 3rd Grader regularly comes home spouting liberal cant about wars, poverty and Tookie executions. I usually use simple Socratic questions to get my child to realize that the teacher's views are illogical, or onesided. I consider these teaching experiences, but I really shouldn't have to do it. (And no, I don't complain. I love the school in every other way, and it's not a public school.)