Gardiner area community in turmoil over AP’s English summer reading book list


GARDINER – After “concerned” community members complained about a summer reading list for students choosing to take an advanced English course at Gardiner Area High School, officials at Maine School Administrative District 11 have chosen to eliminate it.

Instead of choosing from a list of 33 books offered by the school district, students will be allowed to choose for themselves a non-fiction title for summer reading.

The issue was raised at a special MSAD 11 school board meeting on Thursday evening, Superintendent Pat Hopkins read letters from community members in the Gardiner area. Some of them were written by parents with children enrolled in college courses, some had only high school students, and others were taxpayers without children.

The letters of complaint alleged that the books on the list would teach students critical race theory, which is an academic concept that has been around for decades. The main tenet of the theory is that racism is a social construct that is rooted in legal systems and policies, and not just prejudices or individual prejudices.

MSAD 11 program coordinator Angela Hardy said Thursday evening that this was “not the intention” of the list, and that critical breed theory was never described in course descriptions.

However, due to community feedback, Hardy and the high school English teachers reworked the class goals and eliminated the list of 33 books. Instead, students will be able to choose a non-fiction book they wish to read, which could be one from the original list.

“The AP course is a college level course, optional for students,” said Hardy. “The introduction has been rewritten to focus on learning objectives, the type of books that should be read, and allow self-selection that reflects that.”

AP Language and Composition is an elective course at Gardiner Area High School and an equivalent course in college. Learning standards are set by College Council, a national non-profit organization. In AP Language and Composition, the national course standards require students to “learn elements of argument and composition as you develop critical reading and writing skills.” At the end of the course, students take an exam for the chance to receive college credit.

The course focuses on rhetoric, which, according to Hardy’s description of the class, is “the study of effective speaking and writing used to persuade audiences.”

In the original GAHS course description, students were given a list of 33 texts to choose from and were asked to think before reading, how they would define “social justice and racial calculus,” “anti-racism and racism. structural “and” white privilege and authority. . “After reading, they were asked to answer a series of questions related to how the author wrote the non-fiction book they chose from the list.

Some of the original texts included course material from a University of Maine level English course, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Brian Stevenson, “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin and “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Talk About Racism,” by Robin DiAngelo.

Students were encouraged to research the texts before reading and were given a list of resources, such as Goodreads, The New York Times, and Kirkus Reviews to help them make up their minds on what to read.

“In a developmentally appropriate manner, our students will engage in learning experiences where controversial topics may arise,” said Hardy. “In these cases, the role of the educator is to make sure that students will examine varied perspectives, have the skills to discuss the topic with others using evidence, learn to listen to opposing points of view and develop their own opinions.

“A common goal of our educators is to equip students with the skills and tools to move forward effectively in this process while facilitating respectful dialogue,” she added.

In the updated course description, recommendations were made to choose texts like scientific writing, nature writing, and dissertations, among others. He also noted the type of books the College Board would approve – books on “issues that might, from a particular social, historical or cultural perspective, be considered controversial, including references to ethnicities, nationalities, religions, races, dialects, gender or class, can be covered in appropriate texts for the AP English Language and Composition course.

James Cook, associate professor of sociology at the University of Maine, said social scientists can “study race and not be a critical theorist of race.” He himself is not a critical race theorist but studies the politics, gender, and sociology of social media.

“People working on Critical Race Theory projects are not equal to all race scholarships,” Cook said.

To break down the critical theory of race in layman’s terms, he gave the popular example a job application – identical in all respects with respect to work experience, location, education with the only difference being race – statistically the white person will be hired over the black person.

An outspoken member of the community on the subject is Jon James, who is an MSAD 11 alumnus.

James has an on-air radio show where the original list of books was a topic of discussion. He has no children in the district, but said he learned of the “dangerous” summer reading list for the AP English option when a parent contacted him. James then shared the snapshot of the 33 pounds on Facebook, but not the course instructions given.

He has not read any of the books on the list, but alleges, in the parents’ opinion, that the books deal with “critical race theory.”

“Students would be better served on both sides, not just one side,” James told the Kennebec Journal. “Then they can choose, but they didn’t have that option, they got one with different books, but the same baseline being told.”

The responses Hopkins read from community members align with James’ position of being “completely against” the book choices.

Matthew Marshall, who heads the school board’s program committee, plans to meet with Hardy monthly until school resumes to “continue to review the curriculum and educational resources developed by the district” and “start the conversation. on equity in the educational space ”.

The first meeting will take place at 4:30 p.m. on July 12, which will be open to the public via Google Meet.

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