In Trump Piñata Case, Greeley Tribune Shamefully Blames Victim for Threats

What’s crazy is not that a Colorado teacher let his students smash a piñata with pictures of Donald Trump and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto on it; that was merely foolish. What’s crazy is what happened after that, culminating in a local newspaper blaming the woman who publicly complained about the incident for threats of violence made against her and her daughter. Continue reading “In Trump Piñata Case, Greeley Tribune Shamefully Blames Victim for Threats”

Ban Spanking at School

Should Colorado legislators ban spanking in public schools? Absolutely.

First my own experience: I grew up mostly in and around the peach orchards of Western Colorado, where my grandfather was a farmer. But then my stepfather went to flight school and started working his way up the pilot seniority ladder—and that meant moving to some less-desirable places. During my grade school years in the early 1980s, we moved to Muleshoe, middle-of-nowhere Texas.

In my pleasant and comfortable Colorado schools, it never occurred to me that teachers or school staff might beat students. It occurred to me in Muleshoe right away—because teachers and staff beat students with wooden boards on practically a daily basis, sometimes in private but often behind a thin screen where other students could hear. Frankly it was terrifying. Continue reading “Ban Spanking at School”

“Let the Human Species Die Out”—Colorado Students React to Environmentalist English Class

Benjamin Dancer believes “the most important issue we have to tackle as a species” is “the unintended consequences of continued population growth.” And that’s a lesson he taught to his English class at Jefferson County Open School, a public “option” school. (See update at end.) Continue reading ““Let the Human Species Die Out”—Colorado Students React to Environmentalist English Class”

Roundup on Jeffco Schools

jeffco-protestI’ve written four articles (three for other sites) about the protests and union-board fights in Jefferson County, Colorado:

1. Jeffco’s Julie Williams Seeks to Replace One Brand of Activist Teaching with Another

2. Political Chaos in Colorado’s Jefferson County Schools Illustrates Problems of Government Control

3. The Leftist Biases of the AP U.S. History Course

4. A Lesson on Censorship and Civil Disobedience for Jeffco Students, Teachers and Observers

What’s more, I interviewed three participants in an October 3 protest in Westminster; here’s the video:

In other news, a video from an outfit called “Jeffco Truth” indicates that at least some of the protesting students had no idea what they were protesting. And a video from Corey Scott shows that at least one of Julie Williams’s supporters wished to use the proposed review curriculum to promote religious ideology.

Jeffco’s Julie Williams Seeks to Replace One Brand of Activist Teaching with Another

julie-williamsRecently in Jefferson County, Colorado (my home county), teachers have staged “sick outs,” and students have staged walk-outs, largely to protest a proposal by school board member Julie Williams “to create a Board study committee on Common Core Standards, PARCC assessments and Advanced Placement U.S. History.” The board met on September 18 to discuss the proposal; see the “Agenda Item Details” for that meeting. (Williams’s proposal was just that, a proposal; on September 23, Jeffco schools superintendent Dan McMinimee stated that “no decisions have been made regarding the curriculum committee.”)

Unfortunately, many of Williams’s critics have badly misrepresented what her proposal states and implies (more on this below). That said, what it states and implies is highly troublesome for anyone concerned about political propagandizing supplanting a sound education in tax-funded classrooms.

Here is what the proposal actually says about how the committee should handle its curricula reviews, starting with “a review of the AP US History curriculum and elementary health curriculum”:

Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.

Aspects of these statements are unobjectionable (and pointless); for example, who would disagree that a presentation of history should be “accurate” and “factual”? It’s not as though anyone is chanting, “Hey, ho, factually accurate history has got to go!” Of course, the questions of which facts are accurate, and how facts should be interpreted, make for rougher going.

Other aspects of Williams’s statements are nonsensical. For example, what does it mean that “theories should be distinguished from fact?” No one confuses a broad theory, which integrates many facts, with an isolated fact. Perhaps what Williams has in mind is that she wishes the committee to distinguish true theories which are supported by facts—as examples, the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution—from propositions or hypotheses which are not supported by facts or which are only partially supported by them. But there is the rub: Why should anyone expect a board-appointed committee to rationally evaluate such things? A controversial proposition is not going to become less controversial because some committee blesses it as a “theory” or a “fact.”

Consider another example: What does it mean for materials to “promote citizenship?” Legally, either you are a U.S. citizen, or you are not. I take it that Williams is not here concerned with persuading people without U.S. citizenship to seek such citizenship, nor with promoting legal changes that would grant U.S. citizenship to more people. What, then, is she proposing? Apparently by “citizenship” she refers to certain attitudes and beliefs that typify a citizen. But what might those be, and, again, why should anyone expect a government committee to rationally determine such things?

Other aspects of Williams’s statement clearly call for advocacy “teaching”; that is, the promotion of ideological views over the presentation of historical facts. Specifically, “Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.”

So here we have a “conservative” school board member asking a government-appointed committee to instruct government-funded teachers to “promote . . . respect for authority” among their students. Students are supposed to respect the “authority” . . . of what? This niggling detail is left to the imagination, but the most straight-forward reading is that government schools should promote “respect” for the authority of government. Remarkable.

Consider another aspect of the proposal. I am a full-blown capitalist, but I do not want teachers in government schools “promoting”—and what can this mean other than propagandizing in favor of?—the “free enterprise system.” Even to the degree that teachers correctly identify what the “free enterprise system” is, history teachers have no business promoting one ideology over another. Instead, history teachers should concern themselves (and I know this is controversial) with teaching history.

Of course, part of teaching history, depending on the era at hand, involves discussion of the Industrial Revolution and capitalism, and the social and economic effects they have had. The problem is that how one evaluates such things, and what facts one sees as relevant in considering them, depends very much on one’s ideology. This is obvious; to see the point one need only contrast the writings of Marx and Mises on the matter. In such cases, what I hope for in teachers, whether they work in government or private schools, is that they fairly present the major lines of thought in the field, along with the relevant facts. For example, it would be wrong of a teacher to discuss only the pollution caused by the Industrial Revolution, without also discussing industry’s profound effects on rising standards of living.

Although teaching is a complex art, the basic point here is that history teachers should teach history, not promote their own (or the school board’s) particular ideological views (beyond the broad views that facts and intellectual honesty are paramount).

If there is to be a committee to review curricula, then, its purpose should be to weed out indoctrination in tax-funded classrooms, not to impose some new type of indoctrination.

Although I oppose Williams’s proposal, some of the criticism of it are far off base. Consider three examples. Jefferson County PTA President Michele Patterson said of the proposal, “Does that mean we’re going to eliminate slavery from class discussions, because that wasn’t a particular positive time of our history? Hiroshima didn’t necessarily look great.” MoveOn.org urged people to “stop public school boards from outlawing historical events such as the Civil Rights Movement, Native American genocide, and slavery.” And Caitlin MacNeal claimed at TPM that Williams’s proposal would “remove the teaching of ‘civil disobedience’ in the AP U.S. History curriculum.”

Those are ridiculous misreadings of what the proposal says. The proposal does not say that materials should not cover historical episodes involving “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law”; it says “materials should not encourage or condone [among students] civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” Further, the proposal says that “instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage,” not that they should exclude negative aspects of them.

It should be needless to say, but obviously the point needs to be explicitly stated here, that misrepresenting what Williams’s proposal says does not promote rational discussion of the matter.

Williams’s proposal is bad enough when read straight; why many of Williams’s critics also feel compelled to fabricate “facts” about it is beyond me. Political activists have no more business fabricating “facts” than history teachers do.

Of course, if we employ the “critical thinking” skills the College Board (the creator of the AP history test) is so eager for us to employ, we will note that, just because Williams’s proposal is substantially misguided, doesn’t imply that all of Williams’s concerns are misplaced or that either the College Board or the teachers’ unions are guided exclusively by the angels. But those are topics for another day.

Student Arrested for Writing about Killing a Dinosaur with a Gun

Image: Marcin Polak
Image: Marcin Polak

Here is today’s not-an-Onion story: “A 16-year-old Summerville High School student says he was arrested Tuesday morning and suspended after writing about killing a dinosaur using a gun,” WCSC reports (hat tip to the Daily Caller). As Abby Ohlheiser reports for the Washington Post, police claim the student became “irate” when they questioned him and searched his belongings. But getting angry at such an absurd abuse of police power is entirely warranted. Who should be suspended in this case isn’t the student, but the administrators and police officers responsible for the boy’s unjust persecution.

The “Lower Expectations” of Common Core Math

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Berkeley mathematics professor Marina Ratner writes for the Wall Street Journal that California’s Common Core standards “were vastly inferior to the old California standards in rigor, depth and the scope of topics. Many topics—for instance, calculus and pre-calculus, about half of algebra II and parts of geometry—were taken out and many were moved to higher grades. As a result, the Common Core standards were several years behind the old standards, especially in higher grades.” Ratner goes through several examples of absurd problems and approaches that are part of the Common Core approach. Hat tips to Breitbart.com and Warner Todd Huston. See also my article for the Objective Standard, “Common Core’s Nonsensical Math Problems Undermine Students’ Confidence.”

The Real Story of Caprock Academy

Caprock AcademyA student at Caprock Academy of Grand Junction, Colorado, shaved her head to show solidarity with a friend fighting cancer. On that part of the story, everyone agrees.

Then, as the story goes in many popular accounts, the school callously kicked the student out of school, relenting only after media exposure and nationwide outrage forced it to. That part of the story is false.

Those interested in the real story—and that seems to be very few people indeed—may read on. Part of the real story is how irresponsible reporting fed a despicable witch hunt.

True, part of the real story is how a young charter school wrote an ill-planned dress and hair code and then substantially botched a public-relations crisis.

Let us begin with Caprock’s rules. Caprock has an extensive and rigorous dress code. It states, for example, “Clothing should not be excessively tight, or body hugging.” Although the school doesn’t require official uniforms, it does require uniform dress, specifying even the color and type of clothing that may be worn at school. The section on hair reads:

Ladies’ Hair: Should be neatly combed or styled. No shaved heads. Hair accessories must be red, white, navy, black or brown. Neat barrettes, headbands and “scrunchies” are permissible. Hair should not be arranged or colored so as to draw undue attention to the student. Hair must be natural looking and conservative in its color. Radical changes in hair color during the school year are unacceptable.

Personally I think this is overly demanding; if a girl wants to die her hair bright orange, I have no problem with that. But it’s not my school, and, within reason and within Constitutional limits (it is a government-funded school, after all), I think Caprock should be able to formulate its own policies.

The intent behind the “no shaved heads” rule seems to be to prevent shocking or gang-like behavior. Surely I do do not need to point out that head shaving is also part of the ritualistic practices of some very nasty sorts of people (hence the term “skin heads”).

But the rule does not adequately take into account the fact that people can shave their heads for perfectly reasonable reasons—as to undergo cancer treatment or to support a friend with cancer.

The rule book does take this into account to a degree. The rules (of which I have a copy) explicitly mention the concern with gangs—and they also explicitly allow for “medical or religious” exemptions:

Apparel advertising tobacco, alcohol, illegal substances, and/or offensive slogans are not acceptable attire at school- sponsored activities. Clothes making statements with sexual innuendoes are not allowed. The wearing of clothing, jewelry, or a style of grooming that is identified with membership in a gang will not be tolerated in school or at any school-sponsored activity. Apparel that interferes with or endangers self or others while participating in school or school sponsored-activities is not allowed. Dress will not be worn that causes or is likely to cause disruption of the educational process. The final decision as to the safety or unsuitability of the clothing, hair or jewelry will be left up to the Deans of Students. Anyone who cannot follow the dress code for medical or religious reasons should contact the Headmaster.

As has been correctly reported, the school issued a waiver to the student in question on precisely these grounds. The problem is that the rule’s default position is to allow no shaved heads; the default position should be that a “religious or medical” condition is presumed in cases of shaved heads (I mean, it’s not like there’s a racist “skin head” problem among young Grand Junction girls). The school should change its rules to explicitly allow for religious and medical exceptions, sans waiver. [March 27 Update: After more consideration, I think the school should add the following line to its rules: “Exceptions to this dress code may be made for bonafide religious, medical, or humanitarian reasons, as evaluated by the headmaster, acting headmaster, or school administrators.”]

It might come as a surprise to many reading about the story to learn that the mother of the student in question is quite supportive of Caprock—although she sensibly argues the school should tweak its rules. Yesterday that woman, Jamie Renfro, posted the following on Facebook:

I would just like to say, from the bottom of our hearts…thank you! We never expected any of the support that we have received regarding Kamryn and Delaney. We are pleased with the decision that our school made to let Kamryn back in school today. She got up, got ready, and held her head high as she walked into her classroom this morning. To say her dad and I are proud, is a total understatement. Nate and I are so humbled from the outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and strangers. Our goal was just to get the shaved head policy at Kamryn’s school revised, and let her back in the classroom. That goal is on it’s way to being reached, with a meeting by the board being held this evening, as well as an invitation for Kamryn to return to school today. At no point during this ordeal was Kamryn’s school not supportive of her decision, nor show compassion…they just made a decision to enforce their dress code, which we were asking to be changed. They responded to all of our requests, and have treated us with nothing but respect the whole time. Now that we have seen just how much 2 little girls can change the world and touch so many hearts, we are asking for all of this attention to embrace awareness of childhood cancer. There are so many blessings that have come to light for our family the past couple of days, and we would like to use this as a platform, along with our best of friends…Delaney and Wendy, to remind everyone that Delaney is still in the fight of her life, and needs as much love, support and prayers as she can get. Thank you! Love, prayers, and hugs from the Renfro’s

Contrary to various media reports, at no point did Caprock try to deny the student a waiver. [January 27 Update: On Sunday, March 23, Jamie Renfro claimed that “the school” forbade her daughter to return to school until she grew her hair out. It is unclear to me whom Renfro contacted or what those parties discussed. On Monday the school’s administrators announced the exemption hearing; it is unclear to me when precisely they reached the decision to hold a hearing. See the notes below.] Indeed, as Renfro points out, the school was consistently supportive of the student. What the school did do is follow its stated policies and pursue a waiver.

Following is the statement that Caprock sent out March 24:

It has come to our attention that reports have been circulating concerning a Caprock Academy student who has shaved her head to show solidarity with a friend who is fighting cancer. Caprock Academy does have a detailed dress code policy, which was created to promote safety, uniformity, and a non-distracting environment for the school’s students. Under this policy, shaved heads are not permitted. Exceptions, however, are sometimes made under exigent and extraordinary circumstances. While we cannot discuss the specifics of this situation, the Caprock Academy Board of Directors is calling a special meeting March 25, 2014, at 6:00 PM. The Board is expected to discuss this matter in executive session (discussions concerning individual students are conducted in executive session). We expect the Board will vote regarding a waiver of the policy following that executive session.

Catherine M. Norton Breman,
President and Chair of
Caprock Academy, Board of Directors

Although inanrtful, Breman’s remarks distinctly point to the waiver process already underway.

Unfortunately, various “journalists” quoted Breman out of context.

For example, a New York Daily News story from yesterday quoted included only this much: “In a statement released Monday, administrators said ‘shaved heads are not permitted.'” Okay, but the statement also discusses the exception waiver. Such “creative editing” is simply bad journalism. (The News‘s opening paragraph also wrongly implies that the school relented only in response to national outrage.)

Likewise, a story in USA Today quotes only part of Breman’s remarks, ignoring the part about the exception process already underway.

There is a lesson here for consumers of media: Do not assume that the story told by newspaper is the complete (or even an accurate) story, even if it appears in one of the most prestigious papers in the world. It is said that “half the truth is a great lie,” and the reporters for the New York Daily News and USA Today (among others) told only half the truth.

Thankfully, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel has been basically responsible in its reporting; see a first and second article there.

It is worth relating Caprock’s second statement, released yesterday:

Compassion and selfless acts of courage are to be commended and encouraged – in children and in adults -and we apologize that our policies and following our process for exceptions to those policies has, in any way, suggested that supporting any one’s but particularly a child’s, brave fight against cancer is anything less than an extraordinary cause worthy of our highest regard.

The Caprock Academy Board of Directors held a special meeting tonight to discuss a waiver to the dress code policy per the parents’ request. The Caprock Academy Board of Directors voted to approve the waiver to the dress code policy.

Although Caprock needs to tweak its policies, nothing the school did justifies the seething rage directed at the school by swarms of social media personalities. Some people literally called the school to threaten its teachers and the teachers’ children. Such behavior is reprehensible. Shame on the people conducting themselves in such a way, and shame on the “journalists” who are irresponsibly fanning the flames of this witch hunt.

To summarize, Caprock acted within the constraints of its written policies to expeditiously grant an exception to the girl who shaved her head for a good cause. This incident illustrates the need for Caprock to tweak its policies so that, in religious or medical cases, a waiver is not required. That is obvious.

Unlike almost all of the critics of Caprock, I actually know something about the school. Someone I know teaches there, and my nephew goes there. I have been to his basketball games at the school. I have seen his hand-written letters and heard his reviews of his classroom exercises that assure me he is getting a good-quality education.

Caprock certainly deserves criticism over its ill-thought-out rules, and it should fix its rules as quickly as possible. Caprock also deserves praise for acting quickly to grant an exception to its big-hearted student and for offering an exceptional-quality education to its students. As always, a sense of context goes a long way.

5:22 pm Update: As the Denver Post notes, the girl with cancer at the base of this story, Delaney Clements, is receiving care at Children’s Hospital. That facility has treated a number of children whom I personally know, and it is excellent. Please donate now.

Contra Amendment 66 Supporters, CO Doesn’t Lag in Education Spending

According to supporters of Amendment 66, Colorado “isn’t keeping up” with education spending relative to “nearby states.” But these supporters have a funny idea of which states are “nearby” and which are not. They also use a dubious “adjustment” for “regional cost differences.”

When you look at actual per-pupil spending, Colorado spends more than do most other “nearby” states. Read my entire article over at Complete Colorado.

Of course, in this article I address only one tiny sliver of the debate over Amendment 66. Even if Colorado spent radically less per pupil on government-run schools, that would hardly count as a reason to spend more money on them. That’s a discussion for another day. But, at a minimum, I figured, those advocating higher taxes for government-run schools ought not use misleading statistics to make their case.

A Conversation with State Senator Nancy Spence

Last week I saw State Senator Nancy Spence at an Independence Institute event. She agreed to sit down for a video interview. Mostly we discussed “public” education and Colorado politics.

Obviously I don’t always agree with Spence—and there are quite a few tough questions I did not ask during this interview—yet I appreciate Spence’s long-standing commitment to Colorado politics. I wish her well as she leaves the legislature and begins new projects.