Edmonds School District mom shocked by biased AP US History lesson

Mar 29, 2019, 5:55 PM

Mountlake Terrace High School parent Kimberley* is looking for answers from the Edmonds School District after an AP U.S. History class handed out what she found to be a harmfully biased assignment.

Kimberley’s son, a junior, brought home two worksheets explaining broad differences between liberals and conservatives after his class did an exercise in which the students tried to find out where they personally stood on the political spectrum. Kimberley thought that the lesson plan was a great idea, but could not believe what the worksheets contained.

On one of the sheets, liberals are depicted as embracing topics such as “gun control” and “universal health care,” while conservatives advocate for “less funding for social programs.” In an apparent misspelling, conservatives are also shown as advocating for “the right to bare arms.”

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The political spectrum at the bottom of the page bothered Kimberley even more. In the middle of the spectrum sits Hillary Clinton. On the far-Right end of the spectrum is Adolf Hitler; however, the on the far-Left end is not a communist dictator like Stalin, but rather the philosopher and author Karl Marx.

“You have a genocidal maniac identified as the Right wing, and a philosopher/economist as the far-Left wing,” Kimberley said. “It just seems like, if you have kids trying to figure out where they fall on that spectrum, that’s an unfair example.”

On another worksheet (for a more zoomed-in version than the above photo, click here), in which the traits of supposedly typical liberal and conservative families are shown, Kimberley felt offended by the depiction of conservative parents as embodying Machiavelli’s “better to be feared than loved” principle.

“A Left-wing family is shown as having nurturing parents and relationships with their children that are built on respect and trust,” she said. “Whereas the Right-wing family is depicted as — the mom is actually wagging her finger — and Right-wing parents are shown as strict, they have relationships built on respect and fear, rather than respect and trust.”

Kimberley and her husband — who are not even fully Right-wing, but rather consider themselves fiscally conservative and socially “a little more Libertarian” — said they certainly never parented with an iron fist as implied in the worksheet.

What’s more, the same worksheet referred to liberals as fighting for “pacifism” and “diplomacy,” represented by a dove, while conservatives are represented by a hawk and shown as fighting for “aggression” and “militancy.”

An ongoing problem?

This is not the first time that Kimberley has run into seemingly biased social studies lessons in the Edmonds School District.

“I would say that there has been a pervasive issue throughout our time in the district,” Kimberley said. “We’ve been overall very happy with the school district, but there’s been kind of a pervasive political bias that I’ve noticed, all the way back to elementary school … I think a lot of times, this is not even a conscious or intentional bias.”

She did not speak to the school in this instance because she did not want to be a helicopter parent, fighting her son’s battles for him. However, when she has spoken to teachers in the past, she said that “they’ve actually been very receptive.”

Edmonds School District Communications Director Kelly Franson said the documents referenced by Kimberley are “part of supplemental materials” handed out in AP U.S. History classes. The goal of the assignment is to realize that “both sides have the end goal of a stable, functioning, productive society; it’s how they want to get there that’s different.”

“The graphic is introduced with the precedent that these are broad generalizations,” she said. “And the students are asked to critique … to point out the things like that, that could be a misrepresentation of people’s world views.”

Edmonds School District Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab agreed with Kimberley that the characterization of the Left was more favorable than the Right, but said that teachers “wanted kids to understand that these are broad generalizations and gross generalizations.”

“There’s no declaration of personal judgment or personal information where you should land, it’s really just a launching point for a much broader discussion in an AP course,” he said.

However, in a worksheet where Hitler is pictured on the conservative spectrum, Kimberley finds it hard to believe that kids can be free to state their political beliefs without incurring judgment.

“I think it’s very hard to be a child of a conservative family in schools these days,” she said. “I think they are made to feel either embarrassed, or like they have to not be honest about what their thoughts are on certain issues.”

Schwab, who used to be principal at Mountlake Terrace himself, said that he “can attest firsthand” that the school strives to be politically unbiased in all ways.

“We try very hard to present both sides and to present the balanced view … [social studies teachers] are very passionate about making sure that they are neutral and that they present all sides of political issues,” he said.

Respect for both sides of the spectrum is a value that Kimberley said she instills in her children. She wants her kids to develop political opinions while still being able to appreciate where the other side is coming from. It is for this reason that she was so hurt by the worksheets her son received from the Edmonds School District.

“I really try with the kids to always point out the valid concern that is at the root of opposing views, without disparaging it or belittling that concern, because I think that’s important, for kids to be able to develop their own opinions, but respect the root of what is behind the other side’s arguments,” she said. “And I feel frustrated that that is not being reflected in the schools, and so my efforts to try and create a balanced perspective for my kids are, I feel like, being undermined. And I don’t know how we can have any diversity of thought going forward.”

*Last name has been left out at personal request. 

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