Republican state legislators around the country are proposing to require public schools to post all curriculum materials on the internet as an accountability measure, and the other day they got powerful if inadvertent support from Enfield’s school system.
Enfield’s school administration acknowledged that an eighth-grade class had been given an assignment in which students were instructed to choose pizza toppings as a sort of code to signify the sex acts they preferred. The objective seems to have been to teach the 14-year-olds that sex, like pizza, should be consensual and negotiated.
The Enfield incident, first publicized by a national parents group, was picked up by news outlets far and wide and put the town on the world map for stupidity.
The school administration apologized and attributed the assignment to a mistake of absentmindedness. That is, a different assignment involving pizza choices but without the sexual allusions, also aiming to teach consent and negotiation, was meant to be used. But this account evaded the big questions.
How did the pizza sex assignment get into the school system in the first place? Exactly where did it come from? Why is the school system receiving such material? Who authorized it?
And why, in a state where most students graduate from high school without mastering basic math and English, is a school system using a Family Health and Human Sexuality class to teach students, even without sexual allusions, what they already know from their own experience with pizza and life generally -- that when ordering for more than oneself, the preferences of others must be considered?
It’s all beyond moronic, even if it is the work of people holding degrees in education and drawing at tax expense annual salaries of $100,000 or more.
Responding to the proposals to require all curriculum materials to be posted on the internet, teachers and school administrators around the country insist that they are not hiding anything and that they make curriculum materials available to anyone who asks. But this is evasive.
For having a misplaced faith in schools, few people do ask, and few people might think they need to ask to see any curriculum materials likening pizza toppings to sex acts or imputing to white students guilt for the mistreatment of racial minorities throughout history.
Yet such materials are indeed in use in American schools, precisely because they are not routinely publicized and easily accessible.
Enfield’s Board of Education may appoint a committee to look into the pizza sex assignment and how a recurrence might be prevented. This too is moronic, for the school superintendent already should be able to answer the big questions. It is distressing and revealing that they were not answered at the board meeting when the incident was discussed at length.
The problem here isn’t the sexual prudery of parents or other observers. The internet distributes pornography so widely that Enfield’s eighth-graders already may know more about sex than their parents do. No, the problem is the unaccountability of public schools.
Yes, posting on the internet all curriculum material will facilitate many questions and complaints, and some will be mistaken, arise from prudery, or have bad intent. But that’s democracy, which inevitably is less convenient for government than totalitarianism, a lesson schools should teach -- perhaps most of all to their own staff.
But will any legislators in Connecticut propose a curriculum-posting law and thus risk the ire of the teacher and school administrator unions? (Yes, in Connecticut most school administrators, supposedly managers, are unionized too and so not really managers.)
Any such legislation shouldn’t stop with curriculums. It also should require the posting of school salaries and teacher evaluations, thereby repealing Connecticut’s law exempting teacher performance evaluations from disclosure, the law’s only exemption for evaluations of government employees.
Of course the teacher and administrator unions surely would dissuade the governor and General Assembly from enacting that much accountability in public education. But a discussion of accountability legislation at least might establish that the big problem with public education in Connecticut is that it’s not really public at all.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.