On June 21, I published my son’s summer reading list for AP Government to a Facebook group asking the question, “Is it just me, or does anyone else have a problem with my son’s AP Government choices for summer reading?”
Within a few hours, I had spoken to the school and the story went viral and then more viral. The list was retracted as an assignment. For the record, I did reach out to the individual teacher. He never responded.
Nine days later, I, and everyone on the Baldwin County Board of Education email list, received an email from the superintendent of the school district. He indicated his lack of concern for the content of the list, opined that he doesn’t care what people in California and Illinois think and even acknowledged he would like to read some of the books on the list in question.
On the evening of July 4, I wrote to Mr. Tyler asking for a meeting to discuss the contents of his email further and to address my concerns as a parent living in Baldwin County. Here is my email:
I am writing in response to your email on Friday regarding the AP Government reading list. I am the parent who originally complained about the list. I would like to request a meeting with you to discuss what I believe is an important issue in this class.
As a parent living in Spanish Fort, not in California as you referenced in your email, who believes this list is inappropriate for any AP class, I do not understand why you did not address my concerns as a part of your response. There are many in Spanish Fort who have concerns and your email seems to assume that is not the case.
I would like to understand why you are unconcerned about the content of this list. To me, the content of any academic class is of utmost importance. The fact the the contents of this list included zero academic or scholarly options is critical to me. This is an AP Government class. It is not a class on politics. There is no opinion about the formation and foundation of our government. There is theory. There is perspective gained from other governments in historical context as well as comparative context.
I would also like to know if you asked Mr. Ponder any questions other than whether or not he had the list approved. Did you ask the context of his using these readings? Did you ask why all of his supplemental resources and presentations consisted of the same type material? Did you ask him or his students if he taught his class from this political perspective? These are important questions. Did you ask if any students ever heard him using derogatory names for liberals after class or in the hallways?
Have you considered how a student who is outside Mr. Ponder's political ideology would feel sitting in his class?
Also, you stated there is a policy for vetting books. I would like to see that policy. I would also like to see your policy regarding LGBT in school and their treatment and rights to protection and inclusion.
Please contact me as soon as possible to arrange a meeting so that I can better understand how to move forward.
By Monday, July 10, six days later, I had not received a response. I sent a follow up email asking if he intended to respond to me and I left a phone message asking for a return call. On July 11, a week after my initial contact and several hours after he received a formal complaint filed with the Mr. Tyler’s office (which I signed) I received the following:
Ms. Denham, the email sent out from my office addressed the failure of the teacher to follow the established procedure for gaining approval for additional reading materials for his students. In the future, I expect this procedure to be followed. In the email, I also stated my position on our students being exposed to as much information as possible from all sources, and for them to be allowed to make up their minds as to their beliefs. The email included my opinion, and it was intended to inform. Likewise, you, and anyone else, are free to form their own opinion. To your comments about communication and transparency, expressing my opinion on the matter and pushing that opinion out to stakeholders is the ultimate form of communication and transparency. I do not intend to meet with you to discuss my email communication. Pursuant to your request, attached is the curriculum procedure for reading selections that are not on the county-approved reading list. In response to your email, you are also welcome to review the Board Policy Manuel, a copy of which is linked to the Board’s website. See specifically policies 105 and 934. Have a nice day.
I find this whole situation incredibly perplexing and bothersome. If Mr. Tyler believes his opinion is relevant in this situation, I fear he does not understand his role as superintendent. His opinion should not be a factor in enforcing policy and equal protection for our students. When students feel marginalized and/or intimidated by the forceful expression of a teacher’s personal ideology, how can they feel protected?
Mr. Tyler also does not understand that he is and should be accountable to his “stakeholders,” students and parents alike. If he refuses to meet with a parent in order to find resolution to an issue that many have expressed outrage and concern over, where is the accountability? Do we, as parents, have no right to question his policy and procedure to ensure our students are not without a voice at school?
I am perplexed that the content of this list did not provide the impetus for further questioning of a teacher who would produce it. It begs so many questions. Was the class taught from that perspective? Was a personal viewpoint advocated by the teacher? Were students intimidated or marginalized by the tone of the class? How much of the supplemental material was used in daily class time? How much of the curriculum was presented in the context of the list and the similar supplemental resources and presentation materials listed on the website? Will there be a review and a corrective plan made so that this teacher understands the problems with this material?
I have spoken to a student who has heard this teacher use the word “libtard” after class when speaking to conservative students. Why on Earth would we support a teacher who influences his students to name-call and perpetuate divisiveness? And how do students with different beliefs feel when they walk by and hear such language from a person in a position of power?
If Mr. Tyler refuses to speak with concerned parents, what is our recourse? Our recourse is to ask for a fair hearing of our concerns and an earnest review of the formal complaint. Our recourse is to ask for a formal review of policy related to this situation and the others listed in the complaint. There are many issues listed in this complaint. I have personal knowledge of a least a few.
I would encourage you to participate in the effort for change and respectfully ask that your concerns be heard. I would have preferred a meeting, but in the alternative, I will continue to express my resolve to effect change in our local culture that diversity of thought and experience not only be accepted, but encouraged.
If you would like to have your voice heard, Mr. Tyler’s email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In case you missed Mr. Tyler’s original email to the county, please see it below.
With the 4th of July Independence Day weekend in sight, I find myself reflecting back over the events of last week centered around a 12th grade social studies summer reading list that was posted at one of our schools.
A teacher posted a summer reading list without first presenting the list for approval by the social studies departmental committee at the school. The list was withdrawn, but almost immediately people started complaining and assuming that the reading list was removed because it was comprised of a list of conservative authors.
Responses posted to websites like the Huffington Post and other social media outlets from California and Illinois started complaining that we, the Baldwin County Public School System, were circulating right wing propaganda to our students.
I can honestly say that I am not losing any sleep over what the folks in California think about what we are doing in the Baldwin County Public School System!
As I looked over the list, I recognized several of the authors. In fact, there are a few books on the list which I’d like to read. The content of the list might be of concern to some people, but it wasn’t my concern. The failure of the teacher to follow the process was my concern.
The Baldwin County Public School System has a process for approving books that are not on the approved reading list.
Even if the books were authored by other well-known people such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi, I would have reacted in the same manner. The problem wasn’t the list, the problem was that the list had not gone through the proper vetting process. After speaking with the teacher, he admitted as much, and I appreciated his honesty.
I encouraged the teacher to read all of the books on the list and if he so chooses recommend the books he feels are important for students to read to the social studies departmental committee for review at the appropriate time next year. If he does not think that the books he submits receive a fair review, I have asked him to contact me to discuss any concerns he may have with the review process. However, I believe that any books placed before the social studies departmental committee will be given a thorough review by those educators.
ALL of our students need a healthy dose of both sides of political arguments and viewpoints, both conservative and liberal. Exposing our students to different thoughts and asking our students to consider differing points of view is what education is all about!
This social studies list does not worry me. What I worry about is exposing students to a book on Jack and Jane showing up in a 2nd grade classroom with inappropriate pictures and talking about a subject that might be offensive to parents. I do not want this to happen. When we don’t adhere to a process for vetting an official reading list we find ourselves in jeopardy of placing inappropriate material in the hands of students. It is my job as superintendent to not allow this to happen at any grade level!
I am very proud of our teachers and the work they do! I want our teachers to push our students to think outside the box and consider many perspectives before arriving at the truth for themselves. I ask that teachers challenge their students and expose them to different ways of thinking! While I encourage this, we have to keep in mind that there is a process in place to allow that exposure to happen. We must ensure that our efforts are appropriate, peer reviewed and approved.
Many complain that public education relies on too much liberal indoctrination. I do not believe that to be the case in Baldwin County Public Schools. I encourage our teachers to balance their teachings of political philosophies so they appropriately reflect the real world we live in today. As superintendent, I want our students to have a balanced education.
As we pause to celebrate our 4th of July Independence Day, please take time to appreciate that we are free to discuss ALL of these ideas. We should be able to celebrate those things on which we agree as well as argue against those on which we disagree.
This is a testament to the awesome country we live in. I am proud of what we teach our students in the Baldwin County Public School System. We want students to be proud of our country’s history and to be able to intelligently engage in discussions on politics.
I am Eddie Tyler, Superintendent of the Baldwin County Public School System and I am BALDWIN PROUD!