District 51 board member suggests change in textbooks
District 51 School Board member Jeff Leany hopes to introduce texts into local schools that fill what he sees as a need for more instruction on the U.S. Constitution and early American leaders. Some local parents, though, are questioning the political message in at least one of those books.
Leany said he scoured civics books used in the school district, local online K-12 programs and Caprock Academy and was “not too pleased” with the district’s books.
A District 51 curriculum specialist in social studies and science will update all board members at Tuesday’s school board meeting on what texts are used to teach U.S. history, government and the Constitution in the district and explain when and how the subjects are taught. Leany said he wants that curriculum to change.
“I think we spend way too much time learning what doesn’t make our country great,” Leany said. “I’ve been seeing what’s out there and looking for better alternatives.”
So far, Leany’s reading list has included “The 5000 Year Leap” by W. Cleon Skousen, “Seven Miracles That Saved America” by Chris Stewart and Ted Stewart, “The Real George Washington” by Jay A. Parry, “1776” by David McCullough, “What Would The Founding Fathers Think?” by David Bowman, and “Our Constitution Rocks” by 14-year-old Juliette Turner. He bought copies of the books for himself and for other board members in hopes of persuading them to consider adopting some or all of the titles into District 51 curriculum.
Although he would like to see that adoption happen right away, Leany acknowledged he hasn’t gotten much response from fellow board members yet.
Board President Greg Mikolai said Friday he hasn’t yet had a chance to read the books. Any hope for adoption would depend on if the books meet state curriculum standards, he said. Board Vice President Leslie Kiesler said she has not had a chance to read the books either and said the board has not discussed the texts as a group.
Board member Ann Tisue said she’s in the same boat of not having a chance to read the books yet, but said she supports the idea in general of students learning “the principles our country was founded on…that more freedom equals more prosperity.” Tisue said she has been impressed with the book “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand and would find it appropriate for high school classes, but she has not pursued the idea.
Board member Harry Butler said he has skimmed over the books and doesn’t have a problem with what he’s seen. On a personal level, Butler said he would like to see the Bible included in literature instruction and likes the idea of having more books about the Constitution in schools.
“What harm can it do?” he asked.
A local parent group is asking the same question after Jessica Mulvey, a member of Save Our Students, received a copy of “What Would The Founding Fathers Think?” from Butler that had been given to the board member by Leany.
Mulvey said she was shocked by some of the illustrated book’s content, which contains repeated warnings about wealth redistribution and emphasizes a link between religion and virtues and values.
“I’m responsible for my kid’s belief system, and it’s not the school’s job to over-step that,” Mulvey said.
Save Our Students board member Rob Pierce said he feels the book is inappropriate and focuses more on political issues than facts about the Constitution. Pierce said he’s not saying constitutional law shouldn’t be taught more in local schools, just not with a book that he feels endorses either conservative or liberal politics.
“Government shouldn’t tell our kids what to believe or not, or who to vote for or not,” he said.
Group member Randall Reitz, who has kids ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade in the district, said he has been impressed with the books he has seen the district pick for his kids.
Like other Save Our Students members, he isn’t sure the books will reach a board vote.
“My thought is it’s probably not going to go anywhere,” he said.
Leany said he is hoping for that vote because he wants students to learn more about the lives of the Founding Fathers and their intentions for the Constitution.
“I think we are very lax on the cornerstone of what our country is,” he said. “I’m just trying to teach kids what made us great and appreciate how awesome our country is.”