The following is the letter I sent to my local high school community council today. Here I have redacted all the names, and I don’t normally talk about my location online, but I did leave the school’s name because I want the locals to know what’s going on, and they know who everyone involved is. (to prevent confusion there are two Honors English teachers, the long time one who nobody has any complaints about, my older kids had her and loved her, and this newer one)
My son is in (redacted) Honors English class at Morgan High School (Utah). Recently her teaching methods have caused some controversy. As a professional writer I would like to address her curriculum—which appears to be far more about leftist indoctrination than English skills—and as a parent, the principal’s lackluster response to our voiced concerns.
I became aware of this issue when I was approached by some other parents. They told me that the school’s response had been to “blow them off” as if they were too ignorant to understand what constituted effective English education. They asked if I would attend the parent’s meeting to add the perspective of someone who makes his living writing.
By way of introduction, I am a New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five novels, and three collections worth of short fiction. I’ve edited three anthologies. I’m published in multiple foreign languages, with several million copies in print, eBook, and audio. I have taught creative writing classes for dozens of events and for Weber State Continuing Education. I have been nominated for several prestigious literary awards and won a few of them.
That brief resume is to establish my credibility on this subject, but basically it boils down to the fact I’ve spent the better part of the last two decades learning how to write effectively, and more importantly, how readers process information. So I can say with absolute certainty that the methods Ms. (redacted) are using on our kids are awful. She isn’t just failing to teach them how to write, she’s teaching the antithesis of effective communication.
After I was approached by these parents, I asked my son about this class. To give you an idea how bad it is, (my son) told me that “it sucks”, he had learned absolutely nothing, but he was getting an A because he’s good at “telling the teacher whatever she wants to hear.” My son wasn’t learning any English skills at all, but rather how to play a political game.
I was appalled to hear that they would be spending the entire trimester on a single book, The Great Gatsby. Three months? I have nothing against The Great Gatsby, but to put this in perspective, it is only 47,000 words. My copy is 210 pages. The audio book is only 4 hours long. By novel standards it is extremely short. My smallest novel is more than double that, and my average is triple. Basically I’ve written longer books in less time than this class is being forced to analyze what’s basically a turgid novella.
It doesn’t matter how good a book is though, because tortuously analyzing any book for three months would make it awful.
You might be wondering, how in the world does an honors English class stretch out a tiny book for that long? Easy. You just talk about a bunch of contemporary political issues—which aren’t actually in the book—day after day, all from a biased leftist perspective.
You might think I am exaggerating for political effect. I’m not. My son was happy to show me some of his homework, and the assignments are simply absurd. Here’s an example.
This is actually even more nefarious than it looks, because once you delve into each of those links, even the innocuous sounding ones are pushing a hard left perspective. Most of them are about how society is terrible somehow and you should feel bad for benefiting from it. None of these “lense” help the kids get better at writing or communicating. They are designed to squash dissent and force rigid conformity through public shaming.
What do I mean by that? It isn’t my story to tell, but one of the moms at the last parent’s meeting talked about how her daughter comes home in furious tears because she fails to live up to this teacher’s imposed ideal of feminism.
These “literary approaches” do not promote greater understanding of books. On the contrary they try to shoehorn in a bunch of political nonsense which isn’t in the actual work, and they fabricate messages the authors never intended. The kids aren’t learning to write. They are learning to “deconstruct” writing, which is totally backwards.
The number of readers in America is plummeting. People don’t read for fun like they used to, and why should that surprise us? Classes like this teach kids that reading should be a horrible, dreary slog, where you can’t just enjoy a work, you have to deconstruct it and look for all the secret symbolic meanings which are usually just a figment of some professors’ wishful thinking. Sometimes the curtains are just blue.
To demonstrate how nefarious this leftist propaganda masquerading as English education is, one of my son’s friends, (redacted), asked me to take a look at one of his homework assignments that (redacted) gave a zero. He believed his grade was politically motivated. After taking a look, I believe he’s absolutely correct.
The assignment was another of these deconstructionist nonsense things, where the student was expected to force a work into a proper leftist bucket based upon their feelings. They used a short Hemingway story, and (the student) looked at it through feminist lenses to explain why he felt the protagonist was a terrible person.
Professionally speaking, his sentence structure was clunky, and he couldn’t decide if he was going for colloquial voice or not, but it certainly wasn’t a zero. By the directions on the homework assignment, (the student) not only did it correctly, he also used one of the other encouraged lenses as well, by pointing out she was a vapid consumer with a pointless life, he accidentally used a Marxist deconstruction of the bourgeoise class. That’s nonsense, I know, but this whole thing is nonsense. The fact is this particular kid got zinged for not parroting the correct nonsense.
Meanwhile, my son just made up some crap about how the rain represented sadness and got an A. That’s great that he’s learning how to placate leftists, but I’d kind of like him to learn English in an English class.
None of this enables kids to write better. On the contrary, it creates mushy, indoctrinated, check box writing. Where rather than communicate ideas effectively and evocatively, they walk on eggshells, too afraid of violating some leftist shibboleth to actually come out and say what they mean. We see this in the real world every day, where any ideas which go against the prevailing cultural narrative are met with performative outrage.
That’s all I will say about the ineffectual nature of this politicized curriculum. The other parents have plenty of other examples to share, including male students being treated like garbage for being male, or kids getting up and walking out as they grew tired of the teacher’s tiresome use of “bitches”, or homework assignments being assigned late at night and expected to be turned in the next day (I believe the dismissive explanation for that last behavior was the unnecessary stress was supposed to prepare them for college, which is frankly asinine to anybody who has got a degree).
As for the school’s response, I’m unimpressed. I have now been to two meetings, one for parents, one community council, both of which are held at difficult times for anybody who works a normal job to attend, but even then there was a good-sized group at each. I believe the first one had thirteen parents, and the one at 6:30 AM(!) today I saw many of the same faces.
Both meetings consisted of parents rattling off story after story about this one particular teacher, most of which hit the same consistent themes, and some fun new ones, like how she told the kids not to talk about her lessons with their parents. Gee whiz. I wonder why?
In the first meeting Principal (redacted) listened, and then tried to placate us by talking about the process of picking books and how some books are controversial. Here’s the thing. We don’t care about the intricacies of your bureaucracy or which novel you use. We care that the teacher then spends three months cramming social justice down their throats instead of learning about that novel. The book choice is almost irrelevant in that case. I bet (redacted) could vampire all the fun out of anything I wrote too!
However, that meeting did at least end with him promising to investigate.
Except then the written response to one parent’s officially filed complaint was dismissive and concentrated on the parents’ concerns which were brought up the least. There were a bunch of platitudes and academic speak that basically reads as, we just don’t see the big deal, sorry you parents are so worked up, but you don’t understand our brilliant procedures.
Fantastic. At this point I can see what the moms who first contacted me meant by “blown off”.
Then this morning’s community council meeting was interesting. Once again, parents voiced their concerns about this specific class, but were each allotted only two minutes to speak. Then the Principal spoke, and it was preposterous. He opened by reading us the dictionary definition of “discrimination” and then launched into a whole bunch of platitudes and circular logic, which was basically a thought terminating cliché about how the parents might be the real problem here, because by wanting English taught in our English classes instead of social justice, maybe we are enabling hate and genocide.
Yeah. He actually went there.
One of the moms is emailing me a recording of this so I can relisten to it, because it was so mushy it was hard to follow, but my initial reaction was anger. Nobody complained about “diversity”. There was no bigotry. In fact both meetings I’d been to the parents specifically said they had no issue with other points of view being respected, their issue was the biased, ham fisted, unfairness.
It is infuriating to see people do something horrible, and then hide behind the magic shield of “diversity” that excuses all failings. Even though this is a bunch of white folks in one of the whitest towns in America, lecturing the Azorean by way of North Africa, who grew up in one of the most impoverished and diverse places in the country, that because I want my kid to get educated rather than indoctrinated, I’m enabling genocide? I’ll be sure to tell my grandma the Polish Jew. How many rabbis do I need to get to tell you that excuse doesn’t make a lick of sense?
As far as I could parse, the excuse this morning was that she’s teaching “empathy” and everybody knows empathy is nice. Except that’s a big fat lie. First, it’s an English class, not an Empathy class. Second, why is empathy a one-way street, where only leftist approved views are the ones requiring all this understanding? And third, and most importantly, this nonsense doesn’t create empathy. It creates division and enmity. This stuff portrays a simplistic cartoon version of other human realities, filtered through the lens of liberal angst. Nobody appointed you guys Speaker For (insert minority group here).
This whole empathy schtick is tiresome. Oh no. The same political philosophy which runs most of publishing, Hollywood, the news media, academia, Big Tech, social media, the White House, and Congress, isn’t pervasive enough. Heaven forbid we don’t teach that exact same message our kids are force fed everywhere else in society in English class too.
He repeatedly brought up how teachers must be able to respond when students ask these hard questions about difficult topics. Great. Except I’ve yet to see any evidence the kids are the ones bringing this stuff up. Instead we are hearing our kids complain that she brings this stuff up constantly and beats them over the head with it. It certainly isn’t the kid’s questions that are writing up those homework assignments.
The really particularly galling part about all this is that in the name of “empathy” and “diversity” in order to stop genocide, they need to teach Marxist deconstruction… Marxism? The all-time reigning world champion of genocide? I know this is Social Justice English rather than Social Justice History but give me a break. In order to prevent genocide and truly understand The Great Gatsby it needs to be studied through the lens of the philosophy that gave us the Holodomor and the Killing Fields? Gulags and gas chambers?
Sure, as a writer I look through that sort of lens… When I’m writing the villains.
This kind of nefarious woke corruption of our academic institutions is nothing new. Most of us saw it when we went to college, but it has crept downstream since. What was 300-400 level university English deconstruction nonsense now gets crammed down their throats in high school. Which is why many kids going into college now no longer possess the basic composition skills we used to take for granted, because their high school classes were too busy searching for genderqueer Marxism instead. They can’t write coherently, but by golly they know Sam and Frodo were secret gay communists.
The best thing to come out of the last couple of years is that parents nationwide got to see just how horrid their schools had gotten. It was a wakeup call. Disgust at Critical Race Theory flipped the government of Virginia. The school board got recalled in San Francisco—the bluest big city in America—over this kind of thing. I keep seeing people thinking Utah is fine. Surely we don’t have that here. All is well in Zion!
It’s time for people to quit beating around the bush and be honest. Utah is “nice” in that as a culture we try to avoid contention, but in doing so we abdicate our responsibilities. Our tendency toward conflict avoidance might make us feel good about ourselves, but it is our kids who lose because of it. So I will spread the word about this to every MHS parent I can. If we need to escalate this through official channels and up the chain, great.
Because if we are forced to choose between our kids and your job security, the kids are going to win.