It was the final farewell for three members of the Douglas County Board of Education. One of their last decisions: rejecting a call to punish teachers who don’t provide enough competing viewpoints on politically charged topics.
Board member Jim Geddes sponsored the resolution, innocuously titled “Balanced Instruction and Critical Thinking,” which touched on an issue he’s pushed in the past: making sure students hear conservative viewpoints.
Geddes’ latest resolution for DougCo came after he saw a student project at a high school social studies fair. One student focused on the Japanese who died when the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Geddes said the student explained that the United States had committed a serious war crime against the Japanese, analogous to the Nazi extermination of the Jews.
The student hadn’t heard the other side of the story, said Geddes, who proceeded to lecture the student about the deaths at Okinawa: 15,000 Marines, 150,000 civilian casualties, and 130,000 Japanese military casualties. The total number of U.S. casualties, Geddes said, from all battles in the Pacific in the effort to defeat the Japanese, approached 800,000. Geddes said the number of deaths from the bombs were far fewer than that, about 100,000 military and civilians each, and that the Japanese emperor could have prevented the second bomb at Nagasaki had he surrendered.
“I tried to be as objective as I could and give him a little history lesson,” Geddes said, in recounting the story. He found out later that the teacher who reviewed the project had a history of not asking students to look at the other side.
Geddes shared another incident, where a parent had complained that her daughter was being indoctrinated by a teacher at one of the district high schools who was championing the election of Democrat Hillary Clinton as president.
Geddes also showed a slideshow explaining white privilege that was used in a sixth-grade class, arguing the other side, presumably white persecution, had not been presented.
While most teachers “would never do this kind of thing,” Geddes said, these examples are egregious and stymie quality education. “This kind of indoctrinating behavior” is an insult to the teaching of critical thinking skills, he said.
Geddes’ resolution would direct teachers to provide a balanced approach to controversial topics, one that would “avoid teaching students to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs.” Such topics would include religious, ethnic, racial, economic, political and philosophical subjects, “for which a reasonable teacher will anticipate may lead to concern in the school community should a balanced discussion/study not occur.”
Teachers who repeatedly violate the policy wouldn’t be punished until properly notified and counseled on initial violations, Geddes explained.
But his fellow school board members weren’t having any of it.
Board Vice President Doug Benevento wasn’t present but submitted a statement that got buy-in from everyone on the board except Geddes. The district has processes in place to deal with complaints, Benevento’s statement said.
“I fundamentally disagree” that this issue should be legislated by the board, especially with a resolution with a “vague” standard that would subject teachers to discipline, including being fired, “if they don’t hit the mark.”
Benevento also said such a policy would suppress discussion of controversial subjects, or require teachers to figure out just how many different points of view should be included.
Community members applauded the board’s review of the issue, and that included at least two incoming board members. David Ray said he didn’t think he would often agree with Benevento in the future, but he did in this case. He indicated the board had fairly and appropriately reviewed the resolution and the issue. But he also complained that teachers had been excluded from the discussion.
The resolution appears to be “a poor solution in search of a problem,” according to Parker teacher Brian White. He pointed to a 2014 article in Colorado Peak Politics in which Geddes said a similar resolution he pushed as a University of Colorado regent was part of an effort to advance the conservative agenda.
“Geddes seems to have the same idea in mind for Douglas County,” White said.
Will teachers now be required to teach creationism along with evolution, or that the earth was created only 6,000 years ago? White asked.
“Make no mistake, this is an attack on academic freedom…On November 3, this community let it be known it was sick and tired of the board and superintendent bringing its politics into the Douglas County classrooms,” White added.
New board member Anne-Marie Lemieux pointed out that requiring a balanced approach is not always appropriate. Concerning some topics, the other perspectives could be illegal. But she also complimented the board for its robust discussion. “That shows we’re already taking a step in the right direction.”
The resolution never got to a vote. It failed when no other board members would second it for that purpose. Geddes, a surgeon, wasn’t around for the final decision. He left midway through the discussion to handle medical duties.
“We seem to have struck a nerve of agreement tonight,” quipped Board President Kevin Larsen.
Photo credit: Blondinrikard Fröberg, Creative Commons, Flickr.