Make Utah history teachers post their material online? Sounds like stalking, George Pyle writes

Lessons should be transparent but teachers don’t deserve to be micromanaged.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Heather Blakley, a Rose Park Elementary sixth grade teacher, raises her voice in a group cheer at the Utah Capitol, Feb. 28, 2020.

If Utah teachers object too loudly to a proposal from a state lawmaker that would mandate they post materials for their history and social studies classes online six months ahead of time — so that parents can scope it out before their tender-hearted children are exposed to it — they risk looking like they want to grade their students without being graded themselves.

That they can dish it out but can’t take it.

And maybe there are some educators out there who would benefit from feeling what it is like to be a student, having someone breathing down your neck, ready to pounce on you for saying the wrong thing or putting your ideas poorly.

But, as any good teacher would tell you, context is everything.

There’s no academic discipline in which there are facts that always stand all by themselves. Words and expressions shift from dull to profound to vulgar depending on the words that surround them. Stories turn on the narrative and character development that lead up to a climax. History, government and current events make no sense unless you know stuff that led up to it.

Even in supposedly hard subjects such as math and science, getting the right answer depends on keeping track of any number of variables and understanding, as much as possible, how they interact.

My economics professor in college said he would teach us one thing that we really needed to remember. So I remembered it. It’s that economists have a saying — “ceteris paribus” — which is sort of Hogwarts sloppy Latin for “all other things being equal.” So, if interest rates go down or wages go up or the coffee crop in Brazil is ruined by an early freeze, an economist can predict that certain things will follow. Ceteris, that is, paribus. All other things being equal.

The thing you need to know, my professor said, is that all other things are never equal. Nothing happens in a vacuum, all by itself.

So it matters that the idea to make history teachers ruin all their spoilers months ahead of time comes from state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, a Republican member of the Utah Legislature and a sponsor of a legislative resolution that was sold as a ban on teaching critical race theory in the state’s public schools. Even though it doesn’t really do that, because the specific things it implores the Utah State Board of Education to squelch — teaching racial superiority or inherited racial guilt — aren’t critical race theory at all.

CRT is the graduate-school concept that racism is cooked into the DNA of the United States, especially our criminal justice system, and needs to be recognized and, when possible, exposed, opposed and denounced. Another term for it might be American history.

So considering the source of the idea, the context in which it has been raised, it is fair that Utah teachers assume that Fillmore’s game is one of public school gotcha.

That his plan is to get parents and educators mad at one another, to encourage families to stalk their children’s teachers, to raise campaign funds and win votes by promising to protect the tender reeds of Utah childhood from the fiendish plans of left-wing teachers to make Bambi-eyed white kids feel guilty about their heritage and prostrate themselves on the altar of anti-racism and reparations.

Fillmore says that’s not his motive. But he has to know that, even if that really isn’t what he wants, it is what many people, allies and opponents, are going to think.

All of that paranoia assumes, of course, that students listen to their teachers that closely, that children are sent to school as total blank slates, with no inkling of their families’ principles or beliefs, and that parents have no access to their children’s textbooks, worksheets and online lessons.

Going through a long and involved pre-approval process half a year in advance is too much. It doesn’t allow teachers to call an audible at the line when current events or students’ interests and needs require it. And it does smack of a feeling that teachers can’t be trusted to act professionally and have to be micromanaged, lest they actually say something interesting.

It is a good idea, though, for the process to be as transparent as possible. Educating a child properly should involve the whole household. And it is just as likely that a progressive or minority family would be offended by teaching materials that, say, minimize the brutality of slavery, ignore the genocide of Native Americans or skip the violence used to put down the labor movement.

So, yes, students and teachers, share your history and psychology and sociology lessons with parents. From the sound of it, some of them have a lot to learn.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, was raised by educated parents who would have been horribly disappointed if their children didn’t learn things their parents didn’t already know.


Twitter, @debatestate