By Ryan Rarick
Originally published as a Letter to the Editor by the St. George News, February 2022
OPINION — The 2022 session of the Utah Legislature kicked off in the middle of January. Amid the multitude of tasks the legislature hopes to accomplish before adjourning in March are a variety of education bills. Two specific bills, HB 234, proposed by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, and SB 114, proposed by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, are creating quite the controversy among teacher circles.
The Utah State Legislature website and other media outlets have more extensive information on the contents of the bills than what I include here. However, in the interest of common understanding, a quick summary is that both of the bills would require teachers to publish curriculum materials anywhere from 5-30 days in advance for consideration and approval from parents.
Teuscher’s bill bore the brunt of media attention over the past two weeks. So much so that he has decided to pull the bill from the floor and “press pause” for now. Fillmore’s bill, which received a favorable recommendation from the senate sub-committee on education, is still under consideration.
The driving factor behind both Teuscher’s and Fillmore’s bills are to increase “curriculum transparency” in public education.
One problem: Curriculum transparency is not an issue.
Neither of these bills are necessary, and both bills will actually cause teachers to be less effective, more overburdened than they already are while dealing with how to recover the lost learning resulting from the pandemic and ultimately hurt student learning.
There are three primary reasons the bills are unnecessary.
- The curriculum is already transparent.
If any parent in Washington County School District feels the desire to see the curriculum their students will encounter, they can simply check Canvas, Schoology, Powerschool or email a teacher to see exactly what their children are learning in school at any given time.
2. Education professionals are the most qualified people to choose curriculum.
While parental involvement in education is absolutely crucial to student success, their participation in the selection of curriculum is not crucial. In fact, at the secondary level especially, the content becomes so specialized that teachers must be content experts to effectively select and deliver the best possible curriculum to students.
Teachers earn degrees and participate in years of professional collaboration and training to ensure the existence of a curriculum that both meets the Utah State Core Curriculum Standards and the needs of students at each grade level. Asking parents to become content experts in every area of the curriculum is unreasonable. Not to mention the fact that many parents will have multiple children in school at different grade levels simultaneously — thus requiring each parent to become an expert at each content and in each grade level. This is too much to ask of parents. Allow teachers to shoulder this task.
3. Challenging curriculum must be delivered by a caring adult.
One of the driving forces behind the “curriculum transparency” push is for parents to have some influence on how potentially “challenging” curricula is delivered to students. Instead of removing the challenging content from the schools, allow it to stay.
After all, when the content is delivered at school, a caring, loving adult is carefully planning the best way to introduce the concepts to young minds. Teachers receive training on educational psychology and cognitive development — they can expertly introduce the “hot lava” topics with students in a safe environment.
If the challenging content is removed from schools, that does not mean the students will no longer encounter the “challenging” issues. Nope — it simply means that students will encounter the “challenging” issues on a platform like the internet or one of the plethora of social media outlets. These places have no pity, empathy, care or love for the kids — teachers do.
The bottom line is this — public education curriculum is not shielded from the eyeballs of concerned parents. There is no nefarious plot to secretly teach students subversive content in order to ignite a cultural rebellion.
The primary issue with public education curriculum is nowhere near that exciting.
The primary issue with public education curriculum is that not enough people are looking and talking about what is already available to be viewed. Teachers across the country, our own county included, spend their time figuring out how to help students learn at high levels.
How do I help a student with a learning disability learn high level math?
How do I help a student with a 3rd grade reading level comprehend an 11th grade text?
How do I help a non-English speaking student learn Medical Terminology in English?
How do I help an intentional non-learner find intrinsic motivation to attend school?
These are the questions that swirl around the minds of teachers everywhere. We would absolutely love if parents, guardians, community members, business owners and any other concerned adult helped reinforce the value of our curriculum into the minds and hearts of our students.
The bills proposed by Teuscher and Fillmore are unnecessary and overbearing. Parents and teachers can already interact right now through email, phone calls, Schoology, Canvas, Powerschool, et cetera.
Encourage teachers and parents to utilize the opportunities they currently have.
Once relationships are established, parents and teachers develop mutual trust to divide and conquer the enormous tasks of raising children. Teachers introduce new and intriguing ideas. Parents talk to their kids to help wrestle with the confluence of new ideas and established family values. This is learning.
As the old adage goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” The value of the village is the diversity of perspectives the child encounters through interactions with each member of the village. Each village member has a different skill set to contribute to the collective. Parents are absolutely the foundation, but teacher expertise is integral to the growth and development of our youth.
Let’s do this together.
Submitted by RYAN RARICK. Rarick is an AP Language & Composition teacher and learning coach at Snow Canyon High School in St. George. He is a 2021 Utah Teacher Fellow for the Hope Street Group and a doctoral student in the TEAL Program at Utah State University.