Youngkin’s Education Email Hotline Is An Unwarranted Step Back
By Amanda Creasey
Last December, I stood in front of 13 high school students. One of them had failed my course the previous year. But that day he was sitting in the front row, a copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Looking at God.” in his hands.
His shoulders shook with laughter as he read. At that time, I felt “happy teacher”. I was watching a struggling student engage in literature in which the characters look and sound like him, literature that addresses struggles and issues he can relate to.
Now, reflecting on that “happy teacher” moment, I wonder if my name will end up on the McCarthy-style hotline Governor Glenn Youngkin has set up for parents to report to teachers for having explored “dividing content” in their classrooms. I wonder how a teacher can possibly teach history or literature without touching on something that someone might consider divisive. Although no teacher should defend any particular position in the classroom, the classroom is a safe space where students can explore diverse perspectives and belief systems and learn to hold productive, thoughtful conversations about sensitive topics.
It is a place where students can learn to think critically about controversial issues and decide for themselves what they believe.
I think back to September when I told my students about McCarthyism before we started reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I think back to October when, as we were preparing to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” we talked about John Scopes, arrested and tried for teaching evolution in the 1920s.
I never would have thought that the present could look so much like the past. I feel a sudden kinship with Scopes. I’m one of the teachers trying to hold my ground in front of Senator McCarthy. The demagogue helped ruin the careers, reputations, and lives of many blacklisted actors, librarians, writers, and teachers for allegedly being communists or communist sympathizers.
Fear ruled the ship then, and seems to be driving the ship again today, only I don’t quite understand what people are so afraid of.
Education is probably more seamless today than it has ever been before, with many students having been virtually homeschooled for so long and technology allowing parents to view school materials online. Parents are more involved now than I’ve seen them in my nearly two-decade teaching career, and that’s a good thing. Parental involvement promotes student success. But it is imperative to remember that teachers are professionals and we are quickly robbed of our autonomy, creativity and individuality in the classroom, making us less effective at best, driving us out of the profession at worst. en masse. We have become scapegoats for a divisive political atmosphere that we did not create, but in which we must navigate our programs as skilfully as possible.
Parents have always been able to question a curriculum, a teacher’s tactics, or a school’s policies. I have been asked to explain my methods more than once, and each time the result has been the same: parents realize that we can work together, so why is this hotline necessary? Teachers welcome parents who participate in the education of their students. Many times, I have improved an assignment thanks to a parent who shared ideas with me that I appreciate and that I apply.
Parents are always welcome to voice their concerns, but does it have to be done in this accusatory, inflammatory and impersonal way? From biblical times it has been advised that “if your brother has sinned against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Wouldn’t it be more productive to talk directly to a teacher about parenting concerns, than just talking to them? Communicating with educators often leads to an incredibly helpful parent-teacher relationship that cannot be facilitated by a third-party email hotline.
As teachers, we care about our students. It is not necessary to oppose the parent to the educator. We share a common goal: to raise productive, capable, and well-adjusted people ready to live in a diverse and ever-changing world that will challenge them to think differently and creatively, to ask (and answer) questions that don’t bother us. didn’t come to mind yet, work in areas that haven’t been created yet and solve problems that they haven’t caused. For that, they will need all the tools we can provide, and we will continue to work hard to fill their toolboxes, because we are teachers, and that is what we do.
Amanda Creasey is a 16-year-old veteran teacher. She lives in Chesterfield County and teaches in Colonial Heights.