Since sixth grade my daughter, Summer, has been in a Christian school. But she did not find it challenging, and grew tired of the fact that the kids would claim faith, but live a very, very different life. So this year she began going to the local high school, and she loves it. She is learning more, is more challenged, finds the kids significantly easier to talk to, and she can share her faith. She likes her teachers, the administration, and though their football team isn’t very good, she’s quite happy. She is 15, a sophomore.
A few weeks ago she told me about an assignment in her Accelerated English class. They were to write a letter to President Bush about a subject they feel strongly about. Specific instructions about its form were given (here are the instructions, and Summer’s letter), but only orally (the written instructions were given by the teacher to the principal later). They were told to “research” their subject, “use quotes” and look for “statistics” to support their view. But they were to make it a personal letter, a passionate letter, where they express their own opinion. In fact, they were to read the letter to the class and do so with passion.
I printed Summer’s letter out the night before I left for Canada (our home printer having run out of ink, like all inkjets do), but I did not, at that time, read it, as I was rushing to finish packing. When I returned on Sunday, Summer filled me in on what happened when she read her letter in class. As I have asked Summer to write up her experiences, I will be very brief. She wrote against embryonic stem cell research, and in the process, abortion as well (they are, of course, connected). My daughter can act, so speaking with passion is easy for her. She received a standing ovation from her entire class–except the instructor. While all the other students were given full credit for their letters, and allowed to insert them in envelopes and seal them for mailing to President Bush (topics included support for stem cell research and support for gay marriage), the teacher, without ever having read the letter herself, instructed Summer to not seal her envelope, and to see her after class. When Summer stayed after the teacher asked her to provide her with the resources Summer had used (which she turned in the next class, ten pages worth). When Summer asked if there was a problem, she was told “I need to make sure those were your words.” Summer was devastated. Please note, Summer was the only student asked to do this, and that before the teacher actually read the letter. The next Wednesday her letter was returned to her with no credit assigned. Reason? By relying upon “outside sources” (by word count her letter contained, including a definition of what a stem cell is and how it is stored, 17% quotation, i.e., 83% were Summer’s own words and opinions, something the teacher could not possibly know by simply hearing the letter read) she was not presenting her own opinion.
To make a long story short, after two meetings at the school, numerous phone calls and letters, Summer was offered the opportunity to redo the assignment for full credit (at first only partial credit was offered). She refused. The teacher has not been able to demonstrate that Summer did not follow directions. She did not say “only use one quote” or the like, and in essence, Summer has been told that to find her “voice” she should not seek so much substantiation of her opinion. At one point the teacher said, “She was not given credit because I didn’t tell her to do three hours of research to write the letter.” As Summer commented to me, “They want me to be more of a sophomore, I guess, and just give unsubstantiated opinions.” Summer has seen what happens to folks who give unsubstantiated opinions in my debates. She knows better.
So Summer has failed this assignment. No credit. 0. Take a moment to follow the link. Read the instructions. Read the letter. And realize that based solely upon hearing the letter read the teacher treated it differently than everyone else’s in the class, and then made the final basis of the rejection “extensive” use of quotes (including definitions, 17%, without any instructions given to the class limiting outside sources). She even dared to say the letter does not represent Summer’s opinion, Summer’s “voice.” Summer’s response, in person, in a meeting with the principal, the teacher, a secretary, and myself, was eloquent, controlled, respectful, as mature as the day is long, but very forceful. I am one very proud father, let me tell you. She has stood on principle to her own detriment, but to the honor of her convictions. And let me say I truly appreciated the principal’s efforts. He is, I understand, between the proverbial rock and the hard place, and I truly do not believe there is much he can do in his current situation.
This saga is not over. I will be meeting with the District Superintendent when I return from Dallas. I will be sending the letter and documentation to Tom Horne, the Superintendent of Public Instruction here in Arizona. I have sent the letter to President Bush (the teacher would not send it, though all the other letters were sent) via Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona. I will post Summer’s article on her experience when she finishes it as well.