*****UPDATE ADDED AT THE END OF THE STORY*****
The Anchorage School District’s (ASD) decision to develop a new educational curriculum for junior high and high school aged student focused on the state’s budget problems is drawing concern from conservative activists.
In a press release last week Governor Bill Walker announced:
“the availability of educational resources to bring Alaska’s fiscal challenge to the classroom. The lesson plans are targeted for middle and high school, and will be presented to 250-300 teachers at an Anchorage School District training on October 16.”
At that training ASD unveiled their educational materials and offered speakers Randy Hoffbeck, Commission of Revenue and Dermot Cole, journalist/columnist from the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN) to provide context for the state’s fiscal situation and how to use the fiscal model the state had developed for people to use in trying to solve the budget issues themselves.
The Governor’s office said that while they were simply invitees to the event they did use the opportunity “to roll out the model in the context of a set of educational resources that teachers could use and adapt in their classrooms.”
This announcement has caused right-wing talk radio to blow up with accusations the Governor is trying to use public schools to indoctrinate school children into his way of thinking. The ultra-conservative group Alaska Policy Forum posted an article on their site titled “Governor Walker Using Public School Students to Promote Political Agenda” where they likened his effort to the book 1984.
So was this a good-hearted effort by ASD and the Walker administration to educate youngsters on a major policy issue their state will face in the coming years or an inappropriate effort to inject their political views into Alaska’s youth?
The lesson plan and materials don’t appear to favor either a pro-cut or pro-revenue argument, and there is the acknowledgement that Alaska was always intended to pay its way through the development of resources. As a matter of fact some of the material seems like it could have been written by industry trade groups. The first line of the page states:
“When Alaskans fought for and earned statehood in the 1950s, it was with the expectation that the State would, over time, be able to support itself with revenue from development of its many natural resources.”
and here are two of the videos to be used as preparation materials for students:
The lesson plans were written by a panel of educators, not the Governor’s office,and they read that way. While anyone could offer tweaks, a review of the lesson plan and materials does not show there to be a concerted effort to “indoctrinate” students to a new-revenue mindset.
The Revenue Model
All of the background material and press information makes it clear the Walker administration sees this initiative largely as a delivery mechanism to get their interactive budget model being used by more Alaskans.
The Governor’s own press release quotes Greg Huff, Alaska Council on Economic Education program director as saying:
“‘Bringing the Revenue Model into the Classroom is an important step in improving economic and financial literacy education in Alaska,”
The problem, as Brad Keithley has written, is the model overly drives users to a “new revenue” conclusion. The materials and lesson plans show no effort to explain this to educators or help them correct for the bias in the model.
On this issue pro-cut conservatives have a legitimate complaint.
While claims that this is an attempt to “indoctrinate our kids” and innovations of 1984 aren’t justified, there are legitimate grounds for criticism of ASD and the Governor’s efforts.
Parents, and in fact all of society, are protective of our children. If educators or any politician is going to make an effort to take a contentious public policy issue into schools there needs to be a good faith effort to show that effort is balanced and fair minded. No one wants any one politician directing kids what to think, rather than how to think. Even if there wasn’t an active effort to skew the education towards one conclusion, if only one perspective is represented in the preparation and execution of that education it will almost certainly drift towards the bias its authors. This is the very reason we elect local boards of education with arms reach accountability to mayors and governors.
In speaking to those opposed to the Governor on the budget issue, they make it clear no one reached out to them or gave them an opportunity to review the materials and lesson plan or offer changes. The majorities in the legislature weren’t consulted, industry groups weren’t talked to, and budget advocates didn’t even know this was coming.
The Governor and those generally in support of the his position were included. Dermot Cole, journalist and columnist for the Alaska Dispatch News was included in the effort and brought in to speak to educators. That in and of itself raises concerns over the objectivity of Cole and the ADN on the issue. That, however, is frankly another issue for another day. The journalistic integrity of Cole and the ADN isn’t ASD’s or the Governor’s problem.
Had Walker and ASD reached out to conservatives with budget credibility and offered them the chance to offer changes this could have been a great initiative. Just imagine if Ralph Samuels, Brad Keithley, or former local school board members Mike Dunleavy and Lynn Gattis had been consulted and signed off. All of them are reasonable people who likely could have been worked with on this. Their involvement would have signaled the even-handed nature of the effort. Their absence, and the absence of anyone like them, does just the opposite.
Instead ASD and the Governor chose to go it alone and have only his vision reflected. As a result their effort can rightly be viewed as skewed and wrongly, but actively attacked as conspiracy. In the end, both are on them.
Today I received this note from Anchorage School Board member Eric Croft:
“Wanted you to know that Elisa S (Snelling) and I are reaching out to the opposing view points to get an addendum that lists all credible opposing views, i.e. cut more, don’t cut at all, oil taxes, never oil taxes, different oil price assumptions, etc. She is taking the lead and I have cced her.We want all viewpoints represented and want to have kids be exposed to all the conflicting opinions on this issue. The students are going to live with the effects of this issue, so they need to be informed and involved. “