A Lansing parent has removed her high school senior from an English Composition class, contending the materials in the curriculum reflect political philosophy, like Marxism, that don’t belong in a class where students learn the mechanics of writing.

Kirsten Workman objects to the “Social Justice Expository Unit,” a five-week course in which students will study the following materials:

  • The Laramie Project. A play about the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepherd
  • We Should All Be Feminists. A book billed as a non-academic defense of feminism.
  • 13th. Advertised as “a powerful documentary that addresses racial issues confronting America in 2016.”

Workman charges the materials, aside from their content, don’t fit in an “expository writing” class, defined in the Unit’s “expectations” as:

  • Factual
  • Usually presented in a linear format
  • Always presented in a logical format
  • Objective
  • Clear about its purpose

We asked Workman, who recently quit her job as a nurse to home-school her younger children, a series of questions about her effort:

Why did you decide to pursue this challenge?

“My primary reason for challenging this material has to do with the lack of context and the resulting indoctrination.  This is a five-week-long unit on expository writing in a high school English composition class.  Presenting highly biased material (that cites no references) as expository in nature misleads kids about what a well-researched, objective piece of writing should be.  What makes this so egregious is the teacher does not include any material from authors who offer an opposing perspective.  Practically speaking, presenting opinion-based writings as ‘expository’ is the definition of indoctrination.”

For example, the Senior Composition description contains this opinion presented as fact.

The teacher declares that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is “a committee of politicians and corporations influencing laws that benefit its corporate founders and pushing forth policies to increase the number of people in prison and increase sentences.”

The ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force Director, Nino Marchese, says the portrayal of their work is profoundly wrong.

“Our members work vigorously to reduce the number of unnecessary arrests and convictions seen today and increase the opportunities needed to help get people’s lives back on track — so they can become rehabilitated and productive individuals and contributing members of our society, rather than a strain on the system and taxpayer. The Task Force works to counter over-criminalization, enact police reform to better serve and protect communities, implement diversion programs/alternatives to incarceration, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, provide post-conviction relief due to changes in scientific evidence, reduce recidivism rates, and provide individuals with a variety of support systems needed to keep them out the justice system for good.”

In a classical liberal education, all points of view are debated. Is that also the case here, and if so, why do you have objections?

“My biggest concern has been the lack of exposure to diverse opinions on the social justice issues presented in this unit.  Classical liberal arts teaching involves the study of logic, history, and the mastery of language skills.  It stimulates an appreciation for truth, virtue, and critical thinking.  Lansing High School’s “Social Justice Expository Unit” does just the opposite.  The teacher’s “Socratic questions” (a term used loosely) are leading and manipulative.  Even if there were evidence here of critical thinking and a developing appreciation for truth, some of this content is very sensitive and controversial.

“As much as the progressive left wants to say otherwise, these are still children who deserve protection and education in an environment insulated from politics.  We don’t necessarily need to dump the whole world’s very adult problems in their laps before they even finish high school.  Parents should be made aware of their students’ exposure to sexually-charged, violent reading material with vulgar language and controversial religious themes.  And their children should be given the option to an alternative environment that is just as rigorous.”

Here’s another example.  Students are told to read novels through “literary lenses,” or different perspectives that allow the reader to “view” a text.  Marxism is one of the recommended lenses, but a free market lens is not mentioned.

How do you respond to other parents who will say you’re trying to take away educational opportunities from their children by removing these materials?

“I don’t believe that saving the controversial stuff for optional reading is taking away anyone’s educational opportunities.  We live in a free society with lots of libraries.   On the contrary, the only missed educational opportunities here are my daughter’s.  In order to insulate my daughter from the indoctrination that runs counter to our family’s belief system, I had to remove her from the class.  So she sits in the office during that class period, twiddling her thumbs while the district ignores my emails.  It’s also fair to say that since the district won’t require the teacher to teach expository writing, plenty of kids are missing out on quality instruction, and so our whole community loses.”

How do you respond to those who will call you a “book banner?

“That’s an easy way to dismiss a person’s viewpoint about using good judgment with the content we expose our children to and the nature and accountability level of the adults we allow to do so.  After six requests to meet with the teacher to discuss appropriate context and diversity of ideas in the classroom, it is my opinion that the administration corralled me into a curriculum challenge so that I could be categorized as a “book burner,” which would enable them to dismiss my concerns and continue to avoid accountability for quality instruction.

“I’m not suggesting the material be removed from our district’s literature collection.  Am I afraid of my daughter learning about Karl Marx or identity politics?  Not one bit.  As long as she learns the whole story, and not at the expense of learning how to write.“

How do you want this issue to be resolved?

“Most importantly, I would like my daughter to be included in an English composition and a Literature course that offers instruction consistent with professional teaching standards; specifically, in an environment that is mostly free of bias (Adichie & DuVernay), sexually-themed discussions (Kaufman and Theunissen) or artistic depictions that disparage people’s religious beliefs (Kaufman).

“Second, for the sake of truth, I would like the district to officially retract its statement that CRT is not taught in USD 469 since evidence of post-modernism, Marxism, post-colonialism, and gender-based identity politics in our curriculum exists in abundance.  Parents deserve accurate, complete information so that we can be effectively involved with what our kids are learning.

“Lastly, I would like for the district to abide by the parent’s bill of rights and pre-existing district policy that allows parents to inspect curricular materials.  I started asking questions more than a month ago.  The teacher ignored my emails, and the administration gave a few pat responses but then stopped responding, though I’ve been completely respectful and civil.  I had to submit a KORA request to find out what the required readings will be for the upcoming units.   That’s inexcusable.”

Superintendent Daniel Wessel offered this response:

“We are following our Lansing Board of Education Review Policy (called) “IF” on the curriculum challenge.

“I have forwarded the challenged materials to all of the BOE members.  I have reviewed the materials and chose to not remove them during the review.  We will address it at the next BOE meeting and the board will decide if to send it to the review committee.

“We have in policy that Mrs. Workman can address the BOE and the Board can choose to extend that time frame.  It can be found under the citizen’s request to speak under section three of our BOE meetings.  We will have the curriculum challenge information on (sic) the next BOE meeting.”

The next meeting of the Lansing Board of Education will be November 14th at 6:00 pm.

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