“Gender Lens” Assignment Leaves Perry High Parents Seeing Red

On any given day, in any given school year, students all over America are given assignments to complete. Parents presume their children are given these assignments for their intellect to bloom as they advance with ease and growth from grade to grade.

A closer look at some of the assignments causes one to wonder if in fact intellectual growth is the goal. Too often, the assignments forward hidden agendas that do anything but foster the individual student’s intellectual growth. Some of these lessons are thrust upon these children, for which they are not mentally prepared.

Perhaps one of the unintended consequences of the #redfored “movement” and recent teacher walk-out/strikes in Arizona, is that parents have become more aware of what is going on in their children’s classrooms. Parents have begun to look much closer at what their children’s teachers are wearing, saying, assigning and even putting up on their bulletin boards. Much to their chagrin, parents are finding horrifying and abusive practices and adult themes being pushing into the minds of these young school-age children.

On Monday, May 21, 2018, two different students from Chandler Unified School District, Perry High School, 10th grade English class, came home after school and shared with their parents the “Gender Lens” Power Point project the teacher wanted them to work on, in groups. The boys lamented to their parents they had no clue what this was all about and they were confused. The parents further encouraged their sons’ to open up about the project and it was revealed the teacher was claiming, “The four most common popular Critical Themes are: Feminism, Marxist, Psychological, and Archetypal.”

Understanding Critical Theory

Critical theory is a social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole, in contrast to traditional theory oriented only to understanding or explaining it. Critical theories aim to dig beneath the surface of social life and uncover the assumptions that keep us from a full and true understanding of how the world works.

Critical theory emerged out of the Marxist tradition and it was developed by a group of sociologists at the University of Frankfurt in Germany who referred to themselves as The Frankfurt School.

It wasn’t until the parents looked over their respective sons’ work product that they became horrified and stunned by what they found. Their sons were researching and comparing the novel they read using “gender lens” through “Gender Queer,” “Third-wave Feminism,” and “Gender Oppression.” As fate would have it, these parents were friends and their sons were in the same class. They banded together to find out what was going on in their sons’ English class.

The parents were abruptly told by school staff that their concerns were centered on an “academics issue” and they should contact the English Department Chair Ms. Burks. An email exchange began.

“Another parent and I are having concerns about our children being asked to use a “gender lens” as critical analysis on the book, Ender’s Game,” wrote one parent. “It doesn’t seem to be relevant to this novel. As an English major, I wasn’t able to make this assignment of “gender lens” work for this novel and it sets up the children to fail; my son is already floundering in the class.”

Ms. Burks responded by essentially shoving the parents off to the teacher, who was supposed to either adequately explain the assignment, or allow the students to participate in an alternate assignment.

With only two weeks of school left, the parents immediately contacted staff and a meeting with Principal Dan Serrano and the two families was arranged. Afterwards, the parents sent an email to Serrano, Burks, and the classroom teacher:

Dear Mr. Serrano:

Thank you for taking time to meet with us yesterday afternoon, regarding our concerns about the group presentation project for Ender’s Game as assigned in Ms. XXXX 5th period English class (10th grade).  As we mentioned, our concerns were not only about this particular assignment, but about an overall issue within public education in general, which is why we decided to discuss our concerns with yourself instead of approaching Ms. XXXX directly (as would be the normal process to approach a concern about the assignment “only,” as Ms. Burks and I discussed on the phone yesterday morning).

Our concerns go beyond a simple concern for the project at hand but in a larger sense, the adult themes Ms. XXXX has pushed on the young minds of our minor children. Upon further research, it seems Ms. XXXX has been teaching this same unit with the same strategy to minor children for many years unchecked. We consider our children to be victims of Ms. XXXX’s personal and political agenda and harm has been caused to their psyche. https://www.azleg.gov/ars/15/00511.htm As of right now, we have no idea what she has been telling students in her classes and feel highly concerned about her viability as an objective educator.

Regarding the specific group assignment us parents reviewed with you in our meeting, our concerns are:

1. For the themes of the book “Ender’s Game,” three of the four assigned critical lenses (as assigned by Ms. XXXX) were easily understood by myself (as a degreed English major 🙂 as having application to the book:  archetypal, psychoanalytic, and Machiavellian. However, to apply the “gender” lens to Ender’s Game is something that even I, as a college graduate with an English major — had a difficult time understanding its application to this particular book, as I sought to understand my son’s assignment.  Ender’s Game is not on the required reading list for the district and inquire as to why she would choose this novel and writing assignments to correlate. https://www.cusd80.com/Page/45313

2. My understanding is that our sons were put into their (separate) groups for the project by Ms. XXXX.  Both groups were comprised of 4 teen boys, and both groups (according to our understanding) were given the “gender lens” as their ASSIGNED analysis by Ms. XXXX.  As we mentioned in our meeting yesterday, this project required the boys to research articles on the Internet, which led them to sources that (from our perspective) are not only non-scholarly, but are very narrative- or agenda- based, which we have major concerns with as parents.  We’d like to understand why two groups comprised entirely of teen males (out of all the groups within the class, some of which must surely have included girls) were given the “gender” lens to explore for this group project (for a work which features a male protagonist).

3. When examining the Powerpoint presentations the boys were working on, one can clearly find them struggling. Some of the themes the groups were asked to achieve a measure of success in applying the “gender lens” https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=genderqueer  by approaching the project from a “genderqueer” analysis.  Both boys’ groups wandered around lost in a narrative of “third wave feminism” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third-wave_feminism and “gender oppression” http://www.sociologyguide.com/gender/gender-oppression.php before ultimately failing to connect it to any of the themes that they understood in Ender’s Game.

Teacher/admin response: The Powerpoint in question was not prepared at Perry High School nor CUSD; it is not approved curriculum. It was pulled along with other Powerpoints from web resources to create a bank of resources for teacher to reference. The only Powerpoint created and used by the Grade 10 English team is: Critical Lens Theory.

We therefore seek to verify “where” and “why” this particular instructional presentation was created–in particular, “who” approved a sexualized, violence-themed music video as being appropriate for our underage children’s (potential) viewing during class time in high school (or at home if a student was completing the work outside of class and utilized the PowerPoint as their guide to the assignment), and “why” the feminist/Marxist lenses were promoted as among the “most common” of all the available literary critiques, and in what settings they would rank as such?–so we can make sure to provide our parental input to that entity as well. As well, why was it on the teacher’s public school website?

Teacher/admin response:  The Powerpoint in question was not prepared at Perry High School nor CUSD; it in not approved curriculum. The Powerpoint was never approved for use nor used for instruction.

As parents, our concern is that the “gender” lens is so unable to be appropriately applied to this assignment–at least by Sophomore students–that our underage children were left with only the option to either research/apply agenda-driven sexuality-based lifestyles–or to receive a poor grade on the assignment–as a result. Please provide proof from AZCCR http://www.azed.gov/standards-practices/k-12standards/english-language-arts-standards/ or CUSD Standards https://www.cusd80.com/domain/4554  which allows this type of content to be forced into the minds of minor children in a public school setting.

Teacher/admin response: Parental expectations of presenting information to students without bias is an instructional goal for all educators. Information presented in all courses should directly support state standards.

4. In trying to better understand this assignment and what Ms. XXXX was looking for from our sons academically, we reviewed portions of her teacher website, where we learned that our sons’ classes have watched music videos by Pink http://www.metrolyrics.com/try-lyrics-pink.html and Coldplay http://www.metrolyrics.com/paradise-lyrics-coldplay.html  (See attached PP).  The teacher has later denied showing them the videos in class but they were clearly used as examples on her public school website.

As we discussed yesterday, as parents of teen boys we are very aware of what our sons are exposed to each day via their technology and culture; however, we would have expected a parent notification that our sons were to be exposed to media at school which has adult, hyper-sexualized themes which could re-traumatize victims of abuse during the showing (stylized dance moves within the Pink video portray rape, physical abuse, a foot is placed on a woman’s crotch while she lays on the ground, etc).

At the very minimum, prior parent notification regarding the showing of the Pink video would seem to be the bare minimum of an appropriate process (in order for parents to be able to discuss it with our children and/or opt out of the video, if necessary).  We’d also ask for an explanation of why/how this particular video was chosen, in regards to it teaching the coursework of 10th grade English literature and why it would be used as an example on Ms. XXXX public school website.

Teacher/admin response: Curriculum is developed and agreed upon by each level within the English department.

5. In observing Ms. XXXX classroom slides on her public school website:

https://www.cusd80.com/Page/94317 we noticed that one slide states two of the four most common lenses for literature analysis, are “Feminism” and “Marxism.”  While I don’t dispute that those are two of the many lenses, and that there is an appropriate place for both of them within literary critique, as parents we feel that there are MANY lenses which had more appropriate application in this particular assignment (and that would have meet Arizona’s standards for students), and would therefore like to better understand “why” those particular lenses were being emphasized by Ms. XXXX in the discussion of Ender’s Game.

Teacher/admin response: Collaboration among teachers is a supported practice by the entire English department with the goal of offering the best curriculum to all students through the collaborative efforts of many educators.

We look forward to hearing from you regarding the “appropriateness” of this particular lens for this project as related to Arizona’s academic standards for this grade level–and its impact on our sons’ already-struggling grades in the class–and our concerns about a misandry-focused and sexualized narrative/agenda (and media material for which we’d expect to have prior parent notification) being taught in this particular class.  We would like an assurance from you, Mr. Serrano, that you have watched the Pink video and are aware of its content. We would also like to understand why Ms. XXXX direct supervisor in the English Department at Perry has never seen a reason to be concerned about a highly sexualized music video being shown in class to minor-age children.

As we discussed yesterday, our other concern as parents doesn’t relate so much to this particular assignment, as to our concerns about the overall state of public education, as well as our increasing lack of confidence in our ability to rely on teachers’ understanding and prioritization of our parental interests within the scope of their important responsibilities. This lack of concern by your classroom teacher for our children’s intellectual and emotional safety, is concerning and breaks our trust of the public school system.

As I said in our conversation, we consider our children’s teachers to be a team WITH us parents.  We’re mindful of the difficulties that teachers experience in their field, and want to support their efforts and see them succeed.  We are aware that part of our children’s education is being exposed to new or different ideas which cause our children to “stretch” and consider new applications of information.

However, when we parents are concerned about “what” exactly is being taught in school (and/or the reason “why” it’s being taught), and perceive that we have reason to spend our time monitoring for agenda-driven classroom/assignment activities (instead of being able to trust what is being presented to our children by people whom they consider to be authority figures in their lives), increasingly more of us will seek alternative methods of schooling for our children–which in turn affects our teachers AND the public school system.

We hope to work with you, our teachers, and administration to create the optimal learning environment for our children and our teachers–whom we appreciate, respect, and would like to consider as an ally in the upbringing of our children.  Thank you again for taking the time to meet with us yesterday; we look forward to hearing from you.

Teacher/admin response: The PHS English department will be working with their teams to identify appropriate resources and websites for use for research that will reduce the probability of questionable sites. Teachers will provide guided practice as students work to refine their research skills on the world wide web. 

The teacher scrubbed the material from her website later that day but we were able to preserve portions of it:

The teacher did not allow students to do a final presentation of their “Gender Lens” project, which was one of the graded requirements. The teacher never gave – or showed – a rubric for grading of projects. It seemed that she just slapped C’s on projects.

Parents are going to request a meeting with Wendy Nance, CUSD Head of Curriculum and Dr. Gilbert, CUSD Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education.

This is but a small example of the flood of concerns being discovered by parents of school-age children. We ask parents today to be ever-vigilant, ask questions, walk your children’s classrooms and scan the walls and bulletin boards. The state standards are very clear and political and personal ideologies have no place in a child’s classroom. Due to this, many Arizona families have chosen alternate education avenues for their children, causing public schools all across our open-enrollment state, to lose students and therefore dollars.

About Jennifer Leon Hill 6 Articles
Jennifer Leon Hill is an education activist in Arizona. She frequently shares her experience in education on the pages of the Arizona Daily Independent. Ms. Leon Hill is the founder of Teachers Parents Advocates United (TPAU).