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An Experiment on Kindergarten Students Goes Radically Wrong
September 6th 2022 was the start of the school year for the Beaverton School District in Oregon. Unbeknownst to them and their parents, these little kids and their teachers were going to be part of the district’s latest risky experiment.
These innocent, 5 year old children are going to be the first to experience a new Social Science curriculum, hand-crafted by a consultant whose work centers equity, anti-oppressive education, social justice pedagogy, and activism. Kindergarten teachers were given little training and preparation to deliver these new lessons on not-so-typical Social Science topics like:
Gender identity & pronouns
Equity & equality
Ableism & disability justice
The six senses
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Kindergarten kicks off the year with the 1st new Social Science Unit
In the past, Social Science lessons generally came later in the school year. They also tend to be limited as the focus is primarily on reading, writing, and math. This school year was different.
Along with grades 1 through 5, kindergarten teachers were expected to teach the first Social Science unit at the start of the school year. A district administrator said the reason was to help establish the classroom community. This graphic below provides a brief overview of the unit and the state standards it was designed to meet. You can view the entire set of Kindergarten Social Science Unit 1 slides here.
The first kindergarten lesson in the unit, “Who is in our class?”, centered on physical characteristics, name pronunciation, diversity & inclusion, and pronouns. A former kindergarten teacher who reviewed this content said they were surprised at how many activities were dedicated to pronouncing names. They also pointed out how inappropriate the content was for the young age and development of kindergarten students.
After a brief lesson on “needs”, the content takes another radical turn as it moves into the first lesson on “What special needs do each of us have?” This is when the concepts of equity vs equality are introduced.
Here are two of the lesson’s slides describing the two terms along with some kid-friendly examples. The first slide covers equality.
The next slide uses similar examples to explain what equity is. They build on a previous lesson covering “needs” to make their point that equity is better than equality.
Are you confused now? If so, you’re not the only one. A quick search on the web can make this even more confusing. Their definitions and examples are purposefully used to make students think equality is bad and equity is good.
The reason this is so confusing is because the actual definitions of equality and equity are similar. Context is what really matters. For example, in the context of education the definitions are often expressed as:
Equality = equal opportunities (every student has the opportunity be successful)
Equity = equal outcomes (every student achieves the same level of success)
Going back to the equality and equity slides, the description and examples just don’t make sense. How could an expert in the space of elementary education & equity get this simple, kindergarten lesson so mixed up? Was it intentional? It’s an unfortunate example of schools trying to teach kids what to think rather than how to think.
My wife, a K-1 public school teacher for nearly 20 years, gave an excellent description of how they should correctly portray equality and equity.
“Using her first example, equality would be when all students have access to a Band-aid if they need one. Equity would be when one student has a boo-boo, you give every other student a boo-boo too.”
Is this Social Science or Sex Ed?
This kindergarten unit doesn’t just stretch the definition of Social Science, it clearly makes the leap into other subjects like Sex Ed. For example, there are lessons on gender identity, pronouns, and consent. None of these topics are in the Social Science standards.
After reviewing the Current Oregon Health Education Standards, I was able to find references to gender identity and consent. While gender identity is included in the kindergarten standards, consent is intended for 1st graders.
[Kindergarten] HE.4.K.5 Discuss ways to communicate respectfully with and about people of all gender identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations.
[1st Grade] HE.1.1.15 Describe consent as it relates to personal boundaries.
By putting Health/Sex Ed lessons and activities into this Social Science unit, they likely violated their own district policy IGAI which requires them to notify parents and guardians ahead of teaching Health Education lessons. This potential violation is significant because that policy requires schools to inform parents and guardians of their rights to review the curriculum as well as opting their children out of some or all of the lessons. The district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
These are just some of the issues with the first Social Science unit for kindergarten. This also raises more red flags about why the district and school board violated Oregon laws & rules to rush this curriculum into classrooms. In conversations with multiple parents and teachers within the district, some common questions emerged.
Why did the school board vote to approve the curriculum if they knew it wasn’t created yet?
Was this an honest mistake or were district leaders trying to hide this new curriculum from parents?
How can we hold the district accountable to the laws?
This is why it’s important for parents and guardians to build good relationships with their children’s teachers, as they’re closest to what their children are exposed to. It’s also important for them to know their rights as well as district policies on curriculum adoptions and other important topics. They should also understand the Federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), which allows them to inspect all instructional materials used with their children. It’s a lot of work, but the kids are worth it!
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