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Please Don’t Send a Class of Little Eddies on an Occupy Denver Field Trip!

Stop for a moment and picture a classroom of 20 little Eddies and Edwinas (girls, I know, yeck). The nice teacher one day gets up in front of the room and hands out permission slips for a field trip. “Field trip? Yay!!!” we shout. “Where are we going? The zoo? The science museum? The fire station?”

After she finally gets our class settled down, the teacher says: “No, this is going to be a great new kind of experience. We’re going to go hang out with Occupy Denver! ….”

Huh, what? This imaginary scenario must take place in Denver Public Schools (DPS), because of some very real new language being used to evaluate teachers. High-achieving DPS instructors may want to keep their “distinguished” rating by encouraging students “to question and challenge the dominant culture” and “to work for social justice”? The newly-revised evaluation framework makes these items a priority for DPS teachers in 2012-13.

Perhaps now you can understand what would upset my Education Policy Center friends so much:

On Wednesday, August 29, Education Policy Center director Pam Benigno told Denver 9News education reporter Nelson Garcia that it’s an “abuse of power” for Denver Public Schools (DPS) to rate teachers in a way that can “promote a political agenda.”…

“What does this mean?” Benigno said on 9News regarding the evaluation criteria. “Does this mean that a teacher should take 4th graders out on a field trip to Occupy Denver?”

Fourth graders? Well, I was envisioning a class a little bit younger, but either could be a possibility since the evaluation framework is for all DPS teachers K-12. That’s part of why one DPS teacher was willing to step forward and question the dominant school district culture for telling him and his colleagues to create social justice activists, as he told 9News reporter Nelson Garcia:

When John Peterson teaches U.S. History at East High School, he wants his students to be critical thinkers. But, he says the new standards in Denver Public Schools are crossing the line.

“I really don’t think it’s the right place for the school district to expect teachers to push students to become activists,” Peterson said.

A fair point. It’s one thing to encourage students to challenge their thinking and not accept everything they’re told at face value. But promoting potentially extreme political agendas through student activism? Mr. Peterson is definitely right about that. Then there’s the whole problem of priorities when nearly half of DPS students don’t read proficiently.

But like so many issues, this one for me boils down to giving parents more educational freedom. Is that too much to ask?