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Allentown Area

"It's woke" complaint spurs debate over new social studies curriculum in Allentown

Allentown Birks school board meeting
Sarah Mueller
/
LehighValleyNews.com
Acting Allentown Schools Superintendent Carol Birks runs December 2022 meeting.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown School Board is expected to vote Thursday on updates to the district's curriculum for math, literacy, science and social studies. But the social studies changes face opposition from at least one school board member.

  • Allentown School District is updating its curriculum in math, science, literacy and social studies
  • Under the proposal, history would be taught in themes instead of chronologically
  • ASD Board Director Phoebe Harris called it woke and opposes the change

The new 2023-24 Program of Studies courses stem from recommendations in a 2018 audit that found the district’s curriculum lacked internal consistency and equity and was not aligned with state standards. The content was developed through meetings held from September through December.

Brandy Sawyer, executive director of curriculum and educator supports, said some meetings are continuing as they decide on additional recommendations.

    School board members were presented with the final recommendations at an education committee meeting on Jan. 12. The proposed social studies course curriculum would be organized and taught in themes instead of chronological order.

    Program of Studies by LVNewsdotcom on Scribd

    Shannon Salter, partnership coordinator for Building 21, said teaching history chronologically doesn’t give students a deep understanding of the subject.

    “That chronological checklist has always been very limited in whose history is taught,” Salter said. “What parts of the world are covered, what parts of our community are represented. And bluntly it has been overwhelmingly a very dead-white-male perspective.”

    Under the proposal, Contemporary American Studies would replace U.S. History I, and Contemporary World Studies replaces World Cultures. Contemporary Issues in Civics and Government would be substituted for U.S., History 2 and Financial and Economic Studies would swap in for Economics. Testing would consist of writing tasks or projects that reflect students’ critical thinking skills.

    “That chronological checklist has always been very limited in whose history is taught. What parts of the world are covered, what parts of our community are represented. And bluntly it has been overwhelmingly a very dead-white-male perspective.”
    ASD Building 21 Partnership Coordinator Shannon Salter

    Salter said if the theme was social change, the instructor might start with Mahatma Gandhi, then move to Martin Luther King Jr. and to Nelson Mandela, while also discussing other groups who learned from those leaders’ strategies.

    However, School Board Director Phoebe Harris said the changes sounded like “hippy-dippy woke stuff.” She said the switch to a thematic approach seemed more like a theory than fact and could leave students without a foundation to understand larger concepts.

    “I’m not going to brainwash our kids because that’s what it feels like, feels like a little bit,” she said during the committee meeting. “Because it’s woke and I’m not necessarily into that.”

    Brandy Sawyer, executive director of curriculum and educator supports said they engaged about 3,000 parents through the process of developing the new courses. A survey was also sent to parents and students.

    “Which is well over last year’s number I think was 200 — and some parents,” she said. “So we’ve really worked hard to make sure that we are connecting with parents and we’re getting their feedback.”

    Board members were also given research to support the move to teach history thematically. Harris said her mind has not changed since last week’s committee meeting.

    “I am not going to go along with some white, liberal guilt crap,” she said. “That’s not how we’re going to do this in Allentown.”

    “I am not going to go along with some white, liberal guilt crap. That’s not how we’re going to do this in Allentown.”
    ASD School Board Director Phoebe Harris

    Harris said she is going to try to convince five other board members to vote with her Thursday. Two new board members, Evelyn Santana and Andrene Brown are scheduled to be sworn in that night.

    The program of studies is also suggesting changes to Math and science offerings to include career pathways to prepare students for after graduation. The Information Technology Academy was revamped and a game design class was added. The district also plans to offer certifications in areas such as cyber security and graphic design. Two additional teachers would be needed to teach science and technology classes.

    The literacy courses have been updated to align with the new social studies classes.