Wake County parent Dina Bartus garnered national attention recently for exposing a controversial assignment given to her child and other 10th–graders at Heritage High School in Wake Forest.
The “diversity inventory” assignment was a worksheet that inquired about the gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexuality, ability, religion and socio-economic status of students and their classmates, teachers, close friends, doctors, household, and neighbors. In an interview with Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, Bartus observed that asking teenagers to reveal details about their private lives to their classmates put them in “very uncomfortable and possibly dangerous situations.” That’s the kind of foresight and common sense her son’s teacher apparently did not possess.
It’s not known how the teacher planned to use the information or why she believed it was necessary to collect it. Bartus believed the English teacher wanted to use the information for a lesson on “privilege,” the notion that physical characteristics, material circumstances, and other factors impart unearned advantages at the expense of those who do not possess those attributes.
The 10th grade English Language Arts Standards for North Carolina public schools certainly don’t ask teachers to incorporate sensitive personal information into reading and writing instruction, nor do they direct teachers to explore the issue of privilege. Perhaps those who drafted the standards naively assumed that educators would exercise good judgment and adhere to research-based methods for boosting literacy and fluency.
Much like their counterparts in higher education, certain English teachers in middle and high schools believe educators should use their position to advance progressive social and political ideals.
“My primary goal as a teacher is to combat unjustified cultural, racial, and socio-economic stereotypes within the high school setting,” another Heritage High School English teacher proclaims on her school website. “My second goal is to lead my students in identifying and strengthening their individual voice and reasoning skills. I view teaching literature and writing on a daily basis as a perk of the job.”
Perhaps the state needs to specify that teaching literature and writing on a daily basis is more than a perk of the job. It is the job.
Online comments revealed that a troubling number of North Carolina public school teachers endorsed the goals of the “diversity inventory” assignment, even as many took issue with the way that the English teacher delivered the lesson. One teacher declared, “And I certainly agree that the field of education has become obsessed with what parents want from educators, rather than what educators know is best for kids.” A subsequent commenter directed his comment to Ms. Bartus’ teenage son. “Toughen up, snowflake! Adulthood is two years away! And it’s a lot more stressful than a questionnaire.” “Sounds like a case of White Fragility to me,” another teacher observed. “This looks like a good activity for creating awareness.”
The activity created so much awareness that the Heritage High School principal asked the teacher to discontinue the lesson and released a statement about his commitment to inclusiveness, privacy, and parental involvement.
Drew Cook, assistant superintendent for academics, and Rodney Trice, assistant superintendent for equity affairs, later told Wake County teachers that students “should not be asked or encouraged to reveal information about their identity or other sensitive, personal information. Students should not be asked to complete any surveys without the approval of the principal and only in compliance with applicable law.” That includes the federal Protection of Pupil Rights, or Hatch Amendment, a law passed by Congress 41 years ago restricting the collection of certain information from minors without parental consent.
I suspect most parents would not consent to high school teachers using scarce classroom resources to impose their social justice ideology on impressionable students. They simply want their children to acquire the academic skills and knowledge needed to be successful after graduation. But a majority of high schoolers are falling short. Last year, only around 39% of 11th-grade students met the ACT performance benchmark in English. Even more concerning is the fact that only one-third of high school juniors met the ACT benchmark in reading, while just under 30% met writing standards.
Heritage High School students fare better than state averages on the state-mandated ACT tests. Even so, only around half of all 11th–graders at Heritage High met the performance benchmark in English. Six out of every 10 juniors at the school failed to meet the ACT benchmarks for reading and writing. Roughly eight out of every 10 black, Hispanic, and low-income students who took the ACT tests last year failed to meet reading and writing standards.
The field of education is not obsessed with what parents want from educators. But it should be. Thankfully, parents like Dina Bartus are speaking out and standing up to a public school establishment that seems to have forgotten that parents, not educators, know what’s best for their children.