Saturday, November 26, 2005

Vermont Learning Curve

From our "didn't pay attention in class files," we have the story of a teacher in Bennington, Vermont, who, during one of his Teacher Education courses, must've fallen asleep during the lecture on common sense:
School administrators are investigating whether an English teacher at Mount Anthony Union High School crossed the line when he gave students a quiz laced with a liberal point of view.

But teacher Bret Chenkin said his quizzes are being taken out of context. While he admits he isn't as conservative as some other teachers, he insists that he doesn't inflict his political views on his students.

At issue is whether a vocabulary quiz Chenkin gave students two months ago is appropriate for his high school classroom. The quiz asked students to select the right word for each of 20 sentences.

One said, "It is frightening the way the extreme Right has (balled, arrogated) aspects of the (U.S.) Constitution and warped them for their own agenda."

Another said, "I wish (President George W.) Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, hence insuring him Republican votes."

And the last question said, "The governor (of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger,) should have been (excoriated, coherent) by the press for calling Democrats 'girlie-men' but instead was invited to speak at the Republican convention; it only goes to show what kind of people they are."

Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Superintendent Wesley L. Knapp said all teachers have a certain amount of academic freedom in the classroom. But he said he felt the language on this English quiz was "inappropriate" and "irresponsible" and that he wouldn't want his children to be exposed to that kind of teaching.

"It's absolutely unacceptable," he said. "They (teachers) don't have a license to hold forth on a particular standpoint."

Principal Sue Maguire said she wasn't aware there was an issue in Chenkin's classroom. She said she hoped to speak to whoever complained about the quiz, as well as any students who may be concerned. Maguire said she also planned to speak with Chenkin about the context in which he was using the quiz.

"I feel like this needs to be investigated," she said.

Wolfgang Roxon of Shaftsbury is a parent of two children at the high school who have taken courses with Chenkin. He said he has known Chenkin for some time and likes him, but sometimes he can take his teaching methods a little too far.

A former history teacher, Roxon said one of his children took a film class with Chenkin. Roxon's son told him that Chenkin leaned toward the left and rarely, if ever, showed a conservative side.

In a community and school that's largely Democratic or liberal, according to Roxon, teachers need to be aware of the implications of not offering a politically balanced curriculum.

"The kids in the school who tend to lean more conservative can be ostracized," Roxon said. "In a classroom, you have a responsibility as a teacher to not implement your point of view."
The relatively affluent town of Bennington is the home of Bennington College, which is a private Liberal Arts institution.

Joanne Jacobs
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