A Florida mom is outraged that seventh-graders — including her daughter — were given a survey to fill out in Spanish class that asked them about their “privilege.” In a Facebook post, Regina Stiles claims that the survey — which asked kids about their skin color, sexual orientation and gender, among other things — served no discernible educational purpose and had no place in the classroom.
Stiles shared the survey on her Facebook page, and you can kind of see what she’s talking about. The entire thing is presented without any kind of context, and if that’s how it was presented to the kids, you can see why this maybe well-intentioned lesson in privilege is riling some people. It’s not necessarily the content or even the concept, but the clumsy way it’s presented. Most middle schoolers aren’t going to want to disclose sensitive things like their sexuality or mental capabilities to their peers, and if these were used that way, then that’s a problem no matter what the underlying lesson might be.
Unfortunately people seem to be taking issue with the content rather than the presentation. An op-ed on Fox News likened it to white-shaming, which, sorry, is not a thing. It’s also being passed around as further ironclad proof that kids are being indoctrinated into the cult of PC, where we guess they learn how to meet the human baseline of decency, which really does sound terribly sinister. Still others are griping that learning terms like “transgender” and “pansexual” should happen at home, not at school, which deserves consideration, but when you’re having a shrieking pee-pants tantrum over a few words on a slip of paper, it sounds at least a little dubious.
That’s all very much a shame, because it takes away from Stiles’ original issue. What is this, what was it used for, and why? Spanish class does seem like an odd place for it.
In seventh grade, where kids are typically between the ages of 12 and 14, they will be exposed to tougher concepts. That doesn’t just include suddenly tossing a handful of letters into math problems. That means tackling social and civics issues as well, and whether you like it or not, part of that does include examining our very poor history of treating people of color and LGBTQ folk as second class.
There is also a place for acknowledging how, in any culture, the majority benefits from that. These are heavy concepts, and they can be taught in an age-appropriate way, so Stiles is not wrong to wonder what context this survey was presented in. For a while she wasn’t getting any answers, but the school later gave a vague reply: The teacher was hoping to use it alongside a talk about characters in some literature they were studying in class. Hmm.
We can appreciate feeling strongly about something, certainly. And we can appreciate wanting to expose kids to multiple ways of thinking and close examination. But not every way of doing that is created equal. If you don’t have the tools or the skills to talk about those concepts in a way that makes sense to the age group you’re addressing and that doesn’t put kids with disabilities and different sexual orientations on the spot, then you might want to step back and keep your lessons limited to conjugating irregular Spanish verbs.
For now, the teacher has been removed while the school board tries to get to the bottom of why this happened and what purpose it served. If the instructor comes back, maybe they’ll consider scrapping the lesson on social justice and moving on to idioms and proverbs, like this one:
“El camino del infierno está pavimentado de buenas intenciones.” (“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”)