A homework assignment at the Fremont Elementary school in the Jefferson County School District tells a story whereby global warming, caused by increased man-made greenhouse gas emissions, will be so catastrophic that Kansas will have oceanfront property by the year 2512. The story also predicts an outbreak of volcanoes, the transformation of the “Smokey Mountains” (sic) into the “Smokey Islands,” and ultimately, a significant decrease in the overall human population because of increased ocean levels due to man-made global warming. While the story is labeled as a science fiction exercise in reading comprehension, no part of the material, including a sheet of follow-up questions, provides any critical thinking “pushback” against the narrative provided in the exercise.
Priscilla Straughn, executive director of educational research and design at Jefferson County Public Schools, said, “We have district policy around controversial materials we expect all schools to follow.” When asked if global warming was a controversial topic for material, Straughn replied, “I think the topic of global warming would be considered controversial. That was not the intent of this assignment. This assignment was around comprehension, with the science fiction genre.”
An official with the school district said the workbook was purchased individually by the classroom teacher, and district funds were not used.
In the reading comprehension exercise, a young student from the year 2512 is assigned to create a hologram image of a student from the 21st century. When the hologram arrives, he expresses surprise that he’s seeing the oceanfront in Kansas. The “real” student from 2512 then tells the hologram that by the early 21st century, “…people knew that the massive use of fossil fuel was heating up the planet. But people didn’t stop their destructive lifestyles. They just kept using up Earth’s resources.”
CompleteColorado.com obtained the assignment after a listener to 850 KOA’s The Mike Rosen Show submitted a copy of the homework page from one of his children to the radio talk host. Rosen read the assignment on-air. After it was presented on the Rosen show, CompleteColorado.com requested a copy from the school district and also asked to review the workbook as a whole.
When reviewing the entire workbook, we noticed another item which also seemingly had an agenda against all fossil fuels. (It should be noted this workbook item was not given out as an assignment, it was only found during the research of the entire workbook.) Like the science fiction “hologram” story, this workbook section also engaged in make-believe by asking students to pretend they are giving a speech that lauds “Farmer Laura” as the farmer of the year because her organic farm eschews the use of fossil fuels.
The school district claimed the material was not controversial because it was a fantasy story under the genre of science fiction. The question then becomes whether stories that use make-believe can be political or controversial at all.
Dr. Shawn Smith is a psychologistst in Wheat Ridge, and the author of “The User’s Guide to the Human Mind.” After viewing both items from the workbook, Smith told us:
Fantasy has been a powerful vehicle for teaching morality to children since long before Aesop, but here’s the problem as I see it: Children who complete this assignment are not being asked to consider a viewpoint and make their own decisions, they are instead surreptitiously instructed to parrot that point of view. Regardless of the assignment’s intent, this is a potent form of indoctrination because humans have a well-documented drive to bring their beliefs in line with their actions.
When children, who are trusting and vulnerable, find themselves transcribing the political message at the core of these stories, they are likely to accept those ideas in order to establish consistency of behavior and belief. Add to that the fact that children routinely learn by way of fantasy, and these stories begin to look like an insidious form of coercion.
The assignments are annotated at the bottom of each page with the words, “Common Core Comprehension Grade 5.” But they are not officially sanctioned as a part of the national “Common Core” academic standards. The workbook and materials are not produced either by any federal or state government agency, or the school district itself.
The Jefferson County School District faced a similar controversy earlier in the year when CompleteColorado.com broke a story about a young group of “rappers” who presented a “What the Frack?” rap to an assembly of students. The rap demonized hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” and no alternative viewpoints were presented. The school district told TheBlaze.com:
Lynn Setzer, head of communications at Jeffco Public Schools (said) the presentation was part of the district-wide “Day Without Hate” event, started after the Virginia Tech shooting. Each school decides on their own how to mark the event, which is supposed to be about tolerance and respect, Setzer said. The event is not supposed to have anything to do with fracking.
Both workbook materials can be viewed here:
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