Classrooms across America are reportedly becoming hyperpartisan and overpoliticized.
I cannot speak to how widespread this is, and what its long-term impact will be. But I can say that we have experienced it in the Peoria Unified School District.
There are no do-overs and we only get one shot with our kids’ education. That’s why we as concerned parents need to find out what’s being taught, and when the instruction becomes inappropriate, we owe it to our children to push back.
My family’s story is a good illustration why.
Teachers were free to set the curriculm
Our 13-year-old daughter was in the seventh grade at Sunset Heights Elementary when on one January afternoon in 2020, she brought home a photo that she had taken of the whiteboard.
Rather than being taught about the Civil Rights Movement, our daughter’s class was exposed to politically charged current events discussions about race, where much of the conversation echoed controversial critical race theory elements.
The Black Lives Matter movement was being lumped in with historical figures like Rosa Parks. That’s how we first became aware that there were some highly politicized and questionable lessons being taught.
We decided to become better informed. We started by reaching out to the teacher and asking her for a copy of her curriculum. When she ignored us, we got the principal involved. We sat down and had meetings with her; ultimately, the only thing we came away with was pushback.
We pushed back. They were told to tone down titles
Still, we remained persistent. We met with the district superintendent and after weeks of pressing, district officials finally admitted that the district didn’t actually have any written curriculum. Instead, it was allowing teachers to develop their own curriculum by pulling links from websites.
We already knew that school and district officials didn’t take our questions or requests seriously. But we later discovered a lot more when we requested pertinent emails from the district using the Freedom of Information Act. When we read emails from the curriculum director, we realized how deep the issues ran. We were shocked.
Instead of providing transparency, the curriculum director provided the teacher with advice on hiding topics from us, such as to “tone down” titles or “use the same title” for multiple days. The school staff also projected annoyance and frustration for having to engage with parents who had dared to ask to see curriculum. One of them wrote, “I am going to lose my mind.”
The last straw came with a child labor assignment
The final straw for us came in March 2021, when my husband and I reached out to the school regarding an assignment we believed to be violent and inappropriate for middle school students. It was about deplorable conditions some children faced to illustrate the horrors of America’s industrial revolution.
The teacher instructed the students to select an excerpt that described the deplorable conditions at the time of child labor. Examples included slitting and bleeding out animals in slaughterhouses, and ears literally falling off because of freezing conditions.
The students then had to construct and draw a book cover of one of those conditions. We felt it was emotionally inappropriate for our child and that it didn’t serve a purpose in her education. We asked to have her opt out, which is permitted under Arizona’s Parents Bill of Rights.
In response, the teacher acknowledged our concern and offered to give our daughter an alternate assignment to complete. This would have been a satisfactory outcome to us. But we later found out that the teacher discarded our agreed-upon solution and gave our daughter the original assignment.
Pay attention, know your rights as a parent
We decided that this was not a safe environment for our child anymore. Once the teacher breached our trust, we couldn’t in good conscience send our daughter back. So, our eighth-grade daughter started at a new school this year.
The message we’d like other parents to take from our story is to pay close attention. Brush up on your state’s Parents Bill of Rights, if there is one, and exercise it to the fullest.
Our children’s education is crucial in determining their future, and we owe it to them to ensure that it isn’t being traded for political indoctrination.
Amy and Shawn Souza are parents to two schoolchildren and live in Peoria. They wrote this in coordination with Free to Learn, which advocates for K-12 education free from pressure or activist curricula with a political agenda. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Critical race theory is one reason we pulled our child from her school