To live in a society without disagreement is to embrace banality. What we consider to be “facts” can and should be challenged by new evidence and analysis, a practice that has been valued in education historically. Even the progressive academic establishment recognizes that disagreement has intrinsic value, and is a core component of a small ‘l’ liberal society.
But for many school districts around the country, conformity is king. To openly disagree with administrators or curriculum protocol invites trouble, and that trouble can substantially affect an educator’s career. Former Draper Park Middle School (DPMS) music teacher Sam Crowley learned this the hard way.
Crowley’s concern stemmed from Canyons School District’s introduction of the Second Step social-emotional learning curriculum. While Crowley thought that the program was well-intentioned, he was concerned with a portion of the program that he saw as being anti-family.
“I cannot, in good conscience, present the material to my students; material which teaches students that their parents are ‘roadblocks’ to their goals; material which contains propaganda, and encourages students to become activists, among other things,” Crowley wrote in an open letter to the DPMS community.
When Crowley presented his concerns to district personnel, he ran up against the one thing that prevents any meaningful dialogue in public schools: bureaucracy.
“My concerns were listened to, and a group at the district have taken the time to look at the relevant content to understand my concerns. Unfortunately, in the end, district personnel kindly told me that my concerns are unfounded and that I was seeing what I was ‘looking for.’ They further indicated that the program, as applied in other schools through the district, is working well and helping achieve what they want. I was told that, as a teacher in the district, I am required to teach the concepts from the provided ‘Second Step’ curriculum,” Crowley elaborated in his letter.
The district did offer Crowley a “compromise” that would have allowed him a little bit of flexibility in his instruction of Second Step but no matter what, Second Step would be in his future. Crowley elected to resign rather than compromise his beliefs.
What have our public schools come to if the only options for a good teacher who disagrees with protocol are to conform or leave? Districts act as if their schools are test labs for EdTech companies and academic institutions rather than houses of learning. If a teacher has concerns that the curriculum they are required to instruct from is harmful, they should be able to express those concerns without essentially being told to “deal with it.”
Hopefully, Crowder is able to find a new job soon. In any other time period, a teacher willing to stand for what they believe in would be premier hiring material, not a liability. We long for a day when that is so again.