I write a lot about not only accepting your reality but embracing it. The good and the bad. The idea is to accept so that you can learn from your life situations and embrace so you can find value even when things feel unbearable. I call it The Gift of the Struggle. It’s what gets me through a lot.
But there are times when you should not accept. Times to stand up and speak out against that which is wrong and unjust. I work hard to teach my five kids to use their voices and stand for their beliefs. This balance between embracing your reality and knowing when it is time to reject it is sometimes a difficult line to walk.
Yesterday, however, the choice was clear. My son, an incoming senior in high school brought me a copy of his AP Government reading list.
“The reading list is pretty bad,” he said. “I think you need to take a look.”
Bad was an understatement. There were FIVE titles from Michael Savage. One from Ann Coulter. One from Sheriff Richard Mack. The list goes on and on – 31 options. They were anti-climate change, anti-liberal, pro-Christian, etc. This is a public school, by the way. Of the 31 choices, there were probably two that I found acceptable and they weren’t ideal. There was not one academic book on the list and zero historical/intellectual options.
Here is my point of view: I encourage my children to read things they disagree with. To listen to those with opposing perspectives. To be open to ideas other than theirs, but to stand up for their beliefs respectfully. This list did not encourage that philosophy. It presented one side. And one side filled with pop culture personalities who spew hate and rhetoric – not intellectual, respected authors who offer well-educated ideas from different points of view. And how is my 17 year-old son, who is the Southeast Regional Director for the State of Alabama for High School Democrats of America supposed to sit in this class and feel he has a voice?
Take a look at the list:
I posted this list in a closed progressive group in which I participate. The reaction was fierce. Outrage. Incredulity. Action. It was intense and it was immediate.
I immediately emailed the teacher and copied the principal on it asking questions. Giving the teacher a chance to offer an explanation. No response. Here is my email:
My son just printed the AP Government and Economics reading list and I have a few questions. The list is predominantly populated with one perspective. A conservative one. I would like to know your reasoning for choosing this list and what perspective you plan to teach these books from. Can you identify the value you hope to offer in terms of choosing this list?
Can you let me know why there are no titles that would offer an alternate perspective or a balance to the list you have provided?
If you had provided both points of view in your selections and had students chose one from each perspective, I would see the value in debating the points of view and showing students the presentation of opposing views. But that is not the case here.
Also, several authors are not those I would expect to see from an academic class. Those chosen are more pop culture type pundits rather than those who would offer academic, intellectual schools of thought on conservative policy.
There are several books on the list written by people I find truly offensive and believe are hateful in rhetoric and philosophy. How will these books/authors be handled in your class?
I welcome your discussion as I was truly shocked at the political slant in your selections.
I believe in giving people the chance to respond before I act. When the teacher did not respond, I called the principal. He said, and I believe he was sincere, that this was the first he had heard of the list and he was retracting the assignment and planned to speak with the teacher. I inquired about what I should do if this teacher taught his class from this perspective, and he told me he wants to know. I believe that.
Here is what I find interesting. As this post went around the internet, there were many who had experienced this teacher. Their children were not surprised about this list. They indicated that he taught class from his right-wing perspective for more than a decade and that this reading list had been used for several years. Many parents were uncomfortable and talked to their children about how to handle his class. But as far as I can tell, no one complained to the school. No one confronted the teacher. If they did, they did it quietly.
I have some thoughts on the reasons for this. I live in Spanish Fort, Alabama. It is a VERY conservative area of the country. I am not conservative at all. When I first moved here from Pensacola, FL five years ago, I did not realize I would not find any like-minded people – because they were all staying under the radar. If you are a liberal here, you tend to just be quiet to avoid conflict with pretty much everyone you know. When you unexpectedly find a fellow liberal, it’s a little private party where you jump up and down…on the inside.
This attitude of hiding has created a culture of a silent minority. Parents seem to hesitate to speak out. I think there is fear of a negative impact on our children if we complain about a list like this. That fear is not unfounded. But is that enough to remain silent?
The silver lining of the hostile political climate we are now enduring is that people are coming together for a cause. Through these closed political social media groups, I have discovered that there are a lot more people like me in lower Alabama than I ever knew. The support and common ground we have found in knowing each other has empowered more and more of us to become active locally and to speak up for our beliefs – even in the face of name calling (which has occurred to my own 19 year-old daughter in the discussion of this list). What has the world come to when a teenager is called names by a middle-aged man for expressing her point of view? Her point of view that the silent minority shared and became the vocal minority for?
I have to say, I am proud of the swift action the community took to right this wrong. And it goes to show that when people come together for a common cause and take action, change can be swift and decisive. Onward.
6/22/2017 11:21:45 am
This school has a history of non-acceptance of any belief system that varies from the ultra conservative, christian, white "norm". Others in the county are slightly better, but just barely. There are quite a few of us out there who think for ourselves. When we speak out we are often vilified. That should never stop us from speaking.
6/22/2017 07:33:45 pm
Please pull your head out of your ass.
6/23/2017 01:11:58 am
Well, comments like that aren't productive. If you take issue with what someone has to say, explaining your opinion goes a lot farther that throwing insults.
6/23/2017 07:16:36 am
Please watch your language. I am sorry that you choose to communicate using offensiveness rather than dialogue.
Bravo! Thank you for standing up for our children, their education and for rational thinking and a rational approach to dealing with opposing views.
6/23/2017 07:17:53 am
6/22/2017 05:59:59 pm
Where should I begin? I think I'll start with the most obvious thing. This course is a college level class. Regardless of your feelings, a college class is going to have some sort of slant. Did your son tell you that in the previous AP class, the teacher had them read from a socialist every night? Did he tell you that the teacher openly promoted the she devil who failed for the third time in a row this past November? Did he personally try to get the list changed? No, he didn't. He came home and whined to his mommy who decided to get up and right something about it. Your son is apparently a senior. A 17 year old should be able to handle his problems without his mother. I've taken Gene's course. If your child had presented an alternative with a good reason, he would have been allowed to use it instead. But unfortunately, the left doesn't believe in a solution. The left only wants to force others to speak in the same way they do. They left could be standing in a fire, and about victory because they were right, rather than move out of a fire. People like you and your son are what ruin the world. You and anyone who is outraged about this list, but is completely okay with the indoctrination of students by left wing garbage, are pathetic. You've raised your son to be a spineless, gutless coward, rather than a man.
6/22/2017 10:29:21 pm
whoa dude. open dialog - no personal insults. We are living in a civilized society, right?
6/22/2017 10:45:46 pm
6/23/2017 12:00:40 am
And clearly taking Gene's course made you a much better person and thinker. Wow.
6/23/2017 07:21:56 am
6/24/2017 10:20:31 am
Hey Noah, I'm not sure what you are trying to accomplish here, but the issue is the reading list. And that reading list is not college level, it is barely "Top 20 Most popular at Barnes and Noble" level. And yes, you can have a class that presents both sides - pretty easily. Being from Alabama I am always surprised by the type of intellectual dishonesty that exists among many of it's residents - the type you espouse here. In short, apparently you are only able to be comfortable if nothing you hold dear is challenged - religion, politics,...you name it. Which is one of the reasons why Alabama is leading (and has always lead) a race to the bottom. Apparently, if the kids read Das Kapital, they are so weak in their up-briging and beliefs that they might become socialists? Of course, if they don't read it, they won't have a clue as to what it is about to even carry and intelligent conversation. More amazingly, you think, apparently, by reading Ann Coulter or Savage (who have no credentials AT ALL, their books are mere opinion not based on scholarship or generally accepted facts) they are going to be uneducated? Jeesh man, toughen up! It sounds like a real AP class would do you some good. And Spanish Fort HS needs to work on it's game too.
6/24/2017 10:49:34 am
7/15/2017 01:54:52 am
Wow, David, you must be so proud of yourself, knowing so much more than your professors and maintaining meticulous objectivity in the face of everybody else being so obviously biased.
7/15/2017 01:46:30 am
OK, so you missed the bit where she explicitly said she'd be fine with one from each perspective, and you missed the bit where she pointed out that these are not academic authors but right-wing hacks, pundits with no credentials to be on a reading list.
7/15/2017 03:45:43 pm
Guy either you did not read my entire statement or your bigotry and prejudice against conservatives and conservative political thought has blinded you to the point that you basically are proving the point that I made in my regional post about my professor at South Alabama. The professor at South Alabama did not actually believe what he said in class, what he was trying to do was provoked somebody into an argument so that they would argue with him. But he didn't want just any argument he wanted somebody that knew what they were talking about could back up their arguments with examples of works that Thomas Jefferson had written and carry on an intelligent respectful discussion.
7/15/2017 05:17:49 pm
I did read your response in full, and calling people bigots because they reject the use of academcially worthless polemical material by unqualified pundits, is not in any way productive.
7/15/2017 05:42:57 pm
You mean the same country that is trying to kill an 11 year old boy because the treatment for his illness is too expensive for their single-payer socialist Healthcare System to pay for thinks that Michael Savage is a racist? Well hell if those are the type of people that think Michael Savage is a racist I need to rethink my opinion of Michael Savage!
7/16/2017 02:26:20 pm
If you mean Charlie Gard, he's 10 months old, he has a genetic condition which has already lead to permanent brain damage, he is deaf, he cannot see, he cannot breathe unaided, he has zero chance of ever getting better, and his doctors believe that continuing to treat him is not in his best interests. This is a child welfare case, it has nothing to do with how the NHS is funded. It also has nothing to do with race. Michael Savage is a bigot, and, more relevantly, his writing has no academic merit. It should not be a set text at this level. It's not my judgement that Savage is a bigot, he is banned from entering the UK for incitement of violence. He is not just a racist bigot, he is an equal opportunities bigot, equally vile to a wide range of different people. He accuses veterans with PTSD of being "weak". I have had PTSD. I do not recommend it. He is an asshole to autistic people. He is an asshole to Muslims. But the problem is not that he's a bigot and an asshole, the problem is that his writings are academically worthless.
6/22/2017 07:32:10 pm
You contradicted yourself within your own writing. "I encourage my children to read things they disagree with. To listen to those with opposing perspectives. To be open to ideas other than theirs, but to stand up for their beliefs respectfully. This list did not encourage that philosophy." How did it not encourage your philosophy when supposedly everything on there is everything YOU disagree with? (I say you because it sounds like YOU are the one telling your kids what to believe in. You want them to be "like-minded" like you.)
6/23/2017 01:37:27 am
There is a huge difference in academic works that present a sourced and reasoned argument for political theory and political propaganda pieces that use emotional appeals and logical fallacies to promote a political belief over others. The problem with the reading list is that the vast majority of the selections were propaganda rather than academic, and all were heavily slanted to one side. Schools should present facts and reasoning for several different viewpoints, and cultivate critical thinking and discussion on those merits.
6/23/2017 07:28:22 am
7/15/2017 02:06:03 am
Silent majority? I don't think a majority of Americans, silent or otherwise, buys into bigotry of the type Savage promotes.
6/22/2017 10:16:35 pm
When I came across this on flip board I assumed someone from outside the area must have submitted it to a national site! I knew, theoretically, that there must be other people who found sf schools to be unapologetically regressive but as you mentioned, it's not something one brings up in public here!
6/22/2017 10:39:26 pm
Good teachers should give reading lists which include varying positions, not promoting only one side. The goal is to teach students differing viewpoints so that they can make their own intelligent decisions and form their own opinions. This teacher's reading list did none of that. He was short-changing his students by assuming they needed someone to tell them how to think. Students deserve better than that.
6/23/2017 01:53:11 am
I'm a student at SFHS and I couldn't agree more. I've grown to absolutely despise the school in just the couple years I've spent here, due to being called "liberal dyke" , "feminazi" , "Killary Supporter" , etc.. My encounters with Mr. Ponder have been brief, but I can say I'm not shocked by the reading list. I attended one of his meetings for the Young Libertarians Club, just out of curiosity. I was one of the two girls there. He spewed his opinions on gay rights, Obama, liberalism, global warming, gun control, etc., and I knew quite fast I didn't belong there. Of course there will be white boys defending Ponder as if he's a "great man" like yeah, he probably was a "great man" to you. You're a straight, white, male who shares his views. If I were to be asked about my blunt opinion on SFHS I would say I'm surrounded by white rednecks and I feel totally alone there. Knowing there are others with my same views in SF, laying low and avoiding conflict, is comforting. Still doesn't mean I'm not counting down the damn minutes until I can get out of this town (lol).
Thank you so much for this. I am a teacher and am appalled at this reading list. With the exception of "Lies My Teacher Told Me," there is not a remotely academic title on that list. I would welcome works of differing viewpoints from conservative to moderate to liberal, but most of these are just seedy, knee-jerk alt-right propaganda. I know it took courage to stand up for your child and call out this travesty of the educational process. Please know that others of the silent minority, of which progressive thinkers most certainly are in the Deep South, feel very appreciative.
6/23/2017 07:14:39 am
Thank you so much!
6/23/2017 07:20:09 am
I've lived in Daphne since 1997, and I can tell you as a liberal I often feel like a man on annisland surrounded by sharks. It's not just that we are often a loan blue voice in a sea of red. It's the visceral hate that gets spewed our way on a daily basis (normally not to us specifically, but to liberals in general) it's the clearl and present level of both disrespect, distrust, and distaste for anything but a conservative position. I've lost friends because of my political beliefs. I get everyone else's ideas of liberals projected on me all the time, none of which are true of me or the liberal ideology as a whole. I've never been the silent minority. I've been very very vocal in my political beliefs for as long as I can remember, but it does no good. I started debating politics around the age of 18 or 19 (the Bush/Kerry election) trying desperate to convince people of the benefits of a liberal ideology, or at least find some common ground. People weren't mean or hateful then, they just wouldn't listen. During he obama administration something changed. Suddenly democrats were unamerican, anti Christian, anti capitalism and hell bent on destroying our country. I tried to explain (till I was blue in the face) how this was just a bunch of propaganda spread by right wing blogger and right wing talk radio show hosts, and of course Fox News, but no one would listen. It fit into this nice near narrative, once where everything was clear, black or white, right or wrong, left or right. No in between, no middle ground, no shades or grey. I've seen people proudly praise republicans for voting NO to every single thing Obama supported, and then in the same breath call democrats obstructionist who were unwilling to compromise. I've seen peopl who spent 8 years saying "obama wasn't their president" absolutely lay into people for saying Trump wasn't theirs. In the last 12 years I've never changed a single heart or mind on the issue of politics. For this reason I've recently started trying to give up politics. I know where I stand, I know how I will vote, but I see no reason to waste the time or energy trying to show these people thr benefits of liberalism or the pitfalls of conservatism. It simply does no good....
6/23/2017 07:46:00 am
Amen to all of your sentiments. I still hope to get more involved and see change. I have five children, and I try to hold on to the fact that I must lead them to believe that they can find and use their own voices and make some small change in the world. As defeating as that goal can feel...I keep on truckin'. Onward.
6/23/2017 02:14:59 pm
This was just posted to al.com, and the link to your blog included. You may want to make this private before the lynch mobs show up.
6/23/2017 04:24:35 pm
This article reeks of liberal pompousness and condescension. Please Elizabeth, I mean no harm in my comment, but you have to understand that "tolerance" also means tolerating people who are Christian, conservative, and white (the latter is not by choice, obviously). I actually attended SFHS where I was introduced to a variety of new ideas. In 11th grade, I was assigned to read several chapters from A People's History of the United States, a book by Howard Zinn, a self proclaimed socialist. Did I complain? Absolutely not. The worst thing you can do to your child is shield him from the opposing side's opinions. In fact, I read quite a bit of leftist rhetoric because it strengthens my counter arguments in debate. Ignorance of the opposition only closes your mind to the vastness of political discourse. Your son may not like the books on the list, but publicly humiliating a man and trying to ruin his livelihood is quite disdainful. I know Gene, and he is anything but a bigot. He often challenges my conservative values simply to make me examine whether my arguments are rational or not. Please, all I ask is that you conduct a little introspection to see if this campaign you are running against a good man is worth it. Is it worth destroying a man's livelihood just so your child does not have to read a book with which he disagrees?
6/23/2017 05:10:46 pm
Bravo to you for speaking up and out on behalf of your son. To the haters here who say, 'Your son should stand up for himself, what a mama's boy, etc'? Naff off. Teachers have power: power to fail, to taunt, to make a student's life miserable. As adults and parents, it is our obligation to stand up for our kids while they're in school.
6/23/2017 05:34:48 pm
I wanted to take a minute to write you because I am a personal friend of 20 years and a former student of Coach Ponder. As a matter of fact I helped run his campaign for lieutenant governor back in 2010.
6/23/2017 05:42:01 pm
Mr. Ponder is an outstanding teacher with scrupulous values, a love for teaching his students and an incredible concern for educating students. He will be successful whether you like him or not. He offers a class full of debate, and both sides of politics are addressed. I have personally received emailsas well as phone calls from this man concerned about my child's progress and love for government. He has done more for my student than anyone at that school. Clearly you have a misguided impression and unfortunately acted without just cause. #mrponderforpresident
6/24/2017 11:14:43 am
6/24/2017 06:53:37 pm
"I posted this list in a closed progressive group in which I participate."
It is unfortunate that so many people are attacking you and/or your approach to parenting. It is even more unfortunate that they think that is an acceptable way to treat someone for disagreeing with their politics (if this were a liberal teacher and a conservative speaking out, I highly doubt there would be so much support for the teacher.)
6/26/2017 06:04:09 pm
Let me ask you something? Why is it important to you that there are other Democrats in Alabama? That is exactly the groupthink on both sides of the political spectrum that is ruining the political discourse in this country and ultimately ruining the country.
6/27/2017 10:39:35 pm
I thought we got rid of all you Democrats in Alabama when we got rid of the klan???
6/28/2017 10:28:02 am
I am so proud of you. You did the right thing.
6/28/2017 06:31:14 pm
Thank you. I think there are probably some parents who would have objected to this reading list over the years if they knew about it, and many more who would not have. I'm not familiar with many of the writers on the list but if Ann Coulter is representative of the rest of them, all GIGO. I am a proud liberal Democrat with some Libertarian leanings living in Alabama. I too feel it necessary to keep quiet at times but my family and friends who may disagree with me on many social issues know that I speak from my heart and are proud of me for standing up for what I believe. I read a lot, sometimes I have to have a glass of wine near by, but I read George Will's column regularly, Joe Scarborough when he has time to write one, and a few other "conservative" columnists. If the reading list had been balanced, the teacher might have a point. One of the commenters above made the point the teacher recommended the books he has read. I think the teacher needs to refresh his reading. I am so proud of you.
1/26/2018 09:51:57 am
Thank you for being focus on a balance in teach your child. Teach about what is right and just for all mankind. Train up a child the way he should go. Some of America America America is walking away from it first Love God our creator. some are taping into our human side of 'Hate" and not "Love" Again Thanks for being a watchman for your Child and all men who Love Christ.
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