New West Lafayette superintendent: Curriculum bills ‘disturbing,’ worth fighting
Plus, STEM faculty at Purdue join fray on ‘Where are all the men?’ as students plan march Friday. Alpine Clinic closing. And plans for MLK Day.
Today’s free edition of the Based in Lafayette reporting project is sponsored by Purdue University’s Presidential Lecture Series, featuring an upcoming conversation with Kenneth R. Feinberg, who oversaw the historic 9/11 victim compensation fund, and President Mitch Daniels. For more details, scroll to the end of today’s edition.
NEW WEST SIDE SUPERINTENDENT JOINS CALL TO STOP CURRICULUM BILLS AT THE STATEHOUSE
Shawn Greiner, incoming superintendent for West Lafayette schools, jumped in more than two weeks before he starts at West Side, calling out “the disturbing effects” of a raft of bills aimed at teachers and school curriculum.
In a statement sent on district letterhead Thursday, Greiner said he was compelled to share his “deep concerns” about what the measures could mean for West Lafayette schools, “as well as communities and schools across the state.”
In particular, a pair of bills looking to put curbs on what can be taught or presented in Indiana classrooms made news this week – and not just when they caught the attention of late night host Stephen Colbert.
House Bill 1134 and Senate Bill 167 have similar, controversial aims, giving parents more tools to oversee what’s being taught in the classroom and finding ways not to allow issues of white supremacy and assorted political concepts to wind up in lesson plans. House Bill 1134 made it out of a House committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 167 was stalled this week when Sen. Scott Baldwin reported had to isolate due to a COVID exposure.
For closer looks: Here are several takes, among many, from the Statehouse press corps with more about how the debate is unspooling – via links from WFYI’s Jeanie Lindsay and this one from Indianapolis Star’s Erika Herron and one more from Eric Berman at WIBC.
Greiner, who starts as superintendent the week of Jan. 31 after nine years as Southmont’s superintendent, warned that the bills would prohibit teaching accurate historical facts and general sociology concepts, would threaten to criminalize teachers and would “redirect time and money … away from classrooms and student learning to meet increased government bureaucratic requirements.”
(Similar points appeared in a letter Wednesday from Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer, according to a report in the Indianapolis Star.)
Greiner said he stood by West Lafayette’s curriculum review process and that the added oversight recommended in the bills was unnecessary and would potentially demoralize teachers. He wrote to the community:
“Education legislation written without wide input from actual educators and with little understanding for how it will actually play out after put in place often has the potential to create unnecessary and distracting problems for educators who need to remain focused on the goal of educating all children. I urge you to speak with the teachers and school administrators you know to understand how this proposed legislation may impact their work.”
Earlier in the week, Randy Studt, who teaches German at West Lafayette High School, urged the school board to rally against the bills. He said teachers, including himself, would be “out of here” if they had to navigate the measures in the bills. He said, and Greiner repeated, that West Side parents should contact legislators to protest.
To read Greiner’s full letter, here’s your link.
Not directly mentioned by Greiner, but of note: HB 1134 was amended this week in committee to essentially say teachers would still be in bounds, if the bill passes, to tell students that Nazis were not good and worth condemning. If you haven’t heard about why that sort of language was necessary and why national publications honed in testimony over Senate Bill 167, here’s how comments Sen. Baldwin made during testimony last week, played out on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
STEM FACULTY CHALLENGE DANIELS THIS TIME
Students and alumni in engineering and science fields have been coming at Purdue President Mitch Daniels in the past week, since he riffed in his annual letter about national trends in enrollment, asking “Where are all the men?” In open letters and social media call outs, the Society of Women Engineers and other campus professional groups dedicated to women in STEM fields have called Daniels’ take, as one alum put it, “a huge slap in the face to every single woman that has graduated from Purdue, especially women in STEM.”
I had a look the other day at the back and forth between Daniels, who defended his comments and asked critics to read what he wrote again to understand what he was saying, and alums and students who were demanding an apology. Here’s a link to that account.
This week, 51 women faculty members in engineering, aeronautics and astronautics, agriculture and other STEM fields sent an open letter to Daniels about what they considered “a disheartening message to our current and potential future women students in STEM fields at Purdue who are currently a significant minority within the STEM departments/schools.”
Another 600 people, including men who are faculty members in STEM fields, signed as “allies.”
“Female students in their classes look around at their classmates and do not see many women – they are clearly a minority, and yet a strong focus of your Open Letter was focused on recruitment of male students,” the faculty members wrote to Daniels. “Your message is heart-wrenching for women in STEM because it shows that you clearly do not understand their experiences.”
Alice Pawley, a professor in the School of Engineering Education, helped organize the letter, delivered Wednesday.
“Of course we have read his remarks again, indeed multiple times,” Pawley said Thursday. “I had to re-read them initially because I found them so shocking, and I needed to see if I had misread them. I know other colleagues have done the same. … For a short section in his letter, there were so many missteps and inaccuracies. Certainly, someone should have been re-reading it.”
Over the lunch hour Friday, members of six professional societies devoted to STEM fields have scheduled a march from Armstrong Hall of Engineering to Hovde Hall, where Daniels’ office is. As advertised, the protest will be efficient: From 12:20 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. “No chants, profanity or posters,” the callout says.
ALPINE CLINIC CLOSING
This story is a big one, out there first in Lafayette media from WLFI report Joe Paul, but already simmering for clients and mental health professionals stressing in recent days since a note went up on the Alpine Clinic door and letters went to patients about its imminent closure in early February. From Paul’s opening lines in a story posted Thursday: “Mental health resources in the area are already stretched thin, and it could get worse.” The mental health clinic serves about 3,000 patients, according to Paul’s reporting. Look for more on in the coming weeks. And if you’re affected by this, feel free to drop me a note. My address is at the bottom of this edition.
MLK EVENTS NEXT WEEK
Here a couple of ways to mark Martin Luther King Day next week.
Monday: The Tippecanoe County Public Library will move its Martin Luther King Day event to the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 111 N. Sixth St., in downtown Lafayette. The 11 a.m. Monday event will feature a keynote address from Natalie Murdock, music led by James Dekle of the Purdue Black Cultural Center and a poetry reading by library director Jos Holman. The event will be livestreamed on the Tippecanoe County Public Library’s Facebook page.
Tuesday: Purdue will host David K. Wilson, president of Morgan State University, will give the keynote on the West Lafayette campus’ Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture. The lecture will start at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18, in Loeb Playhouse at Purdue’s Stewart Center. The free event also will be livestreamed. Purdue’s Black Voices of Inspiration will perform. Wilson has been president of Morgan State, a historical Black university in Baltimore, since 2010.
A FINAL NOTE … ON COVID
For those keeping up, this was from Thursday’s report from the Indiana State Department of Health:
Thanks, again, to Purdue University’s Presidential Lecture Series for sponsoring today’s edition. For details about Purdue President Mitch Daniels’ Feb. 1 conversation with Kenneth R. Feinberg, who oversaw the 9/11 victim compensation fund, click the graphic below.
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