Kentucky teachers are being encouraged to use "inquiry methods" to indoctrinate students in Leftist attitudes
See for yourself: biased Kentucky teacher training materials for social studies

More misuses of inquiry learning to propagandize K-12 students

Quiz

On Monday I wrote about how the Kentucky Department of Education's training materials for helping teachers implement the state's inadequate social studies standards are deliberately designed to promote a left-wing bias in students. Two days later, a Lexington television station reported on how an online quiz given to a Fayette County Public Schools 5th grade class deliberately portrayed Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake as "victims of police violence."

The Kentucky Peace Officers Association justifiably objected to this biased characterization of those events, but amazingly the district defended the teacher, claiming that the quiz was "taken out of context" because it was tied to a lesson on NBA players boycotting games as a protest of the Jacob Blake incident.

The protests and violence that ensued after the shooting of Jacob Blake are definitely appropriate topics for social studies classrooms (though fifth graders may be a bit young for engaging the full complexity of this issue and these events). What is not appropriate is teaching students to view those events through only one perspective. Portraying Taylor and Blake as "victims of police violence" clearly implies that they were innocent and the police were in the wrong.

The police may, in fact, have been wrong in either or both of those cases. Investigations are still underway and evidence is too preliminary for anyone to reasonably make that judgment. As David Deavel argues, justice is not the prerogative of mobs:

No matter how much people shout for “justice,” it is not possible to reach justice by rendering a sentence before a verdict is found taking into account all the evidence. Nor is it possible to reach justice by getting revenge on Peter to stick it to Paul. Much less by burning down the city the alleged victims and perpetrators both live in.

Nor is it the prerogative of this 5th grade teacher to impart her own opinions about these matters to her students as if they were fact.

Sadly, beyond Kentucky we are seeing other examples of ideological bias seeping into K-12 classrooms under the guise of inquiry learning. Even the National Geographic Society has gotten into the act.

Vicki Phillips, fellow Western Kentucky Hilltopper and now chief education officer for National Geographic, wrote last week for Edutopia about using project-based learning to engage students in current events. Like with inquiry learning, PBL is driven by a question or set of guiding questions. Phillips suggests some:

What effect does racial injustice have in my community? Why is it happening there? What can we do?

These questions are more subtle that the blatantly biased questions in Kentucky's Inquiry Read modules, but still are based on a clear assumption that students are supposed to take for granted: Racial injustice exists in this community and it is the student's job to root it out and confront it. Our community is unjust, and that injustice needs to be made right.

Again, this is a worthy topic for inquiry, but the way questions are framed makes all the difference in whether students can arrive at their own, independent conclusions, and whether they will be exposed to a wide range of sources and perspectives to inform those conclusions. Why not frame the questions this way?

What racial inequities exist in my community? Where do they come from? What can or should we do about them?

Racial inequities are an indisputable fact in virtually every community. But injustice is a judgment. It may in many cases be the correct judgment, but it should not be the starting point for this kind of inquiry learning. It could be a potential outcome. More importantly, though, is thinking critically about what can and should be done to address the inequities, rather than focusing on seeking out villains to blame.

Inquiry learning has so much promise, but only if it is done extremely well and with the great care that students can really uncover the rich complexity of political, social, economic, and cultural issues. Drew Perkins, host of the TeachThought podcast, saw my post last week about the problems with Kentucky's Inquiry Ready modules. In a quick series of tweets Drew rewrote every one of the poorly worded guiding questions in the Kentucky training materials:

Drew demonstrates how any of these topics are potentially appropriate for inquiry, but don't have to be presented from one definitive ideological standpoint. 

I would take the issue of income inequality even further with my own set of guiding questions: Where does income inequality come from? What are its consequences? What would be the reasons for, and potential problems with, various strategies to address income inequality?

Questions like these allow students to arrive at a multitude of conclusions and proposed action strategies. But how many Kentucky teachers are using inquiry learning poorly, or with an ideological intent? It is imperative for parents, school administrators, and local boards of education to find out, and insist we do better.

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