What do they teach at school?
Education | A day visiting schools, asking questions, and making secretaries nervous
by Andrée Seu Peterson
Posted on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, at 1:11 pm
“I wonder what they do teach them at these schools,” Professor Kirke muttered to himself in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And I wondered that too, because the nation doesn’t seem to be going so well, judging by the “Watters’ World” segments on The O’Reilly Factor. So I got in my car and drove off to visit schools for a day.
I started with the one my four children first attended. I honed my question: “I live in Glenside and I wondered if I could have a look at one of the history books you use?” The school secretary replied, “We don’t let just anyone come in here like that.” I asked, “Does it make any difference that I pay $4,415 in school taxes?” She turned to her associate and said, “Jill, could you help out here?” Jill looked up from her computer and said, “They don’t use books; they use handouts.” They suggested I try the administration building.
Glenside, Pa., like Jerusalem, is “a city that is bound firmly together” (Psalm 122:3), so it was no trouble to stop at our new 80,000 square foot, $14 million, K-4 facility on the way to the administration offices. This time I began on a more propitious note: “That is one gorgeous chrysanthemum!” I gasped, looking over at the counter. Then I followed up with: “I live in Glenside and I wondered if I could have a look at one of the history books you use?” The secretary seemed nervous. I find that most things make people nervous nowadays. Though I tried to act nonchalant, I could feel the emergence of large letters on my forehead spelling out TROUBLEMAKER.
A fourth grader appeared moments later with a book for me to peruse in the office waiting room: Smithsonian’s Children’s Encyclopedia of American History. I asked the boy quietly, “Is this the book you use in class?” “No,” he said. “We don’t actually use it.”
Off to the administration building, feeling like Officer Krupke getting the bum’s rush in West Side Story. I popped my rehearsed question. The gatekeeper gave me a list of email addresses of curriculum people, whom I emailed and have not heard back from yet.
To the high schools! It was lunchtime by now, and I zeroed in on two girls on a bench outside, but they were not inclined to talk, though I had dressed nonthreateningly in my cheery yellow sweater. But they did volunteer this much: For history they use a combination of textbooks, handouts, and videos. I thought to myself that even if the books are solid, the devil may be in the handouts and websites. Inside the building, another nervous secretary scribbled more email addresses and looked relieved when I left. I drove uptown to the other high school, where I was told, “You’re not allowed to interview teachers.”
To the city! I crossed out of the burbs to a girls’ school founded in 1848 under the motto Vincit qui se vincit (“She conquers who conquers herself”). The building was locked up tight like Fort Knox. I neglected to get a pass at the office and was told by the frightened teacher who saw me roaming the second floor that I needed to leave. “If they catch you, we will all be held responsible,” she exclaimed.
I was about to give up for the day when I decided to take in one more place: Olney Charter High School. Despite the metal detector at the entrance, the security guard was more laid-back and let me in. (Must have been the yellow sweater.) I found a history teacher named Mr. Alexander who talked to me in his classroom from 3:45 to 5:45, when I finally announced I had to go home and make dinner. I asked about revisionism. He smiled and showed me all his primary sources. He happened to mention that he doesn’t use history class to teach social justice.
It was a good day at school after all.
Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.