WLS-890 radio host Roe Conn embarked on a rare second day of discussion today about a controversial elective high school class. The course is called Film as Literature, and Conn was joined both days by the Hinsdale father who launched the issue into the local news cycle (covered here in the Chicago Tribune) by complaining about two movies that were assigned to his son: Brokeback Mountain and American Beauty. Both the Hinsdale film teacher and Conn’s co-host, Richard Roeper, praised the intellectual value of the movies (which fall into a genre that might best be characterized as Oscar calibre, navel-gazing, pop psychology cinema). But there was a much more interesting discussion between Conn and the father about just who is in charge of curriculum in American public schools.
Roe Conn feels strongly that the conservative point of view would be for the parents to take responsibility for the content of a particular course, and whether it is appropriate for their child. In this case, the list of films was provided to parents (although after the course had begun), and the parents had to sign off on it. The father countered with the argument that the school board is elected to be responsible for the school’s curriculum – and that curriculum is expected to reflect the values of that community.
There are all sorts of interesting sub-plots in this discussion. After all, why do we have local school boards and not a federally mandated education plan? Answer: local school boards are supposed to represent the community and its values. Local control, and all that jazz. But the most outrageous part of the discussion is Roe Conn’s demonstration that he has no clue what kind of government our American social contract provides. What this system is not is a democracy, where every individual has a vote and 51% wins. What we do have is a Constitutional Republic. Every level of our government (and in Illinois it is an unfathomable number of units) is a Republic. The school board is elected, not just to rubber stamp the teachers’ union salary checks, but to exercise responsiblity for the curriculum – responsibility given them by the voters – so that the voters can go about their jobs and pay their taxes. (And not go over every list of books or other materials in their child’s curriculum to see if it is appropriate for teenagers, etc.)
Kudos to the Hinsdale dad who paid attention to civics back in the day – or who even had a class about American government. Kids today are a lot more likely to be learning how to think critically about their navels.