by Kate Snyder, all photos courtesy of Bright Light Small City
In Minneapolis, educators and community members won a huge victory when they successfully organized to end the use of a phonics curriculum that was filled with race, gender and cultural stereotypes.
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Educator activists worked with community members, parents and organizations to move the school board to action. They developed a sign on letter which received over 900 signatures, used traditional organizing methods and created a community Facebook page.
The school board selected Reading Horizons to deliver curriculum beginning in the 2015 school year. Educators saw the curriculum for the first time in early August when the Reading Horizon’s team came to train them. Educators raised the alarm on the content as soon as they saw the curriculum and associated lesson materials. They began organizing in their schools and communities to stop the implementation.
The Reading Horizons curriculum for phonics contained lessons that featured characters like “Lazy Lucy,” an African girl who was often too lazy to clean her grass hut. They promoted only heterosexual families, showed female characters engaged in domestic duties- such as cooking all day for their husbands, depicted only white men as kings and only a white woman as a teacher. And the lessons still referenced Columbus “discovering” America.
At the school board meeting on September 8 educators and community members demanded that the district end the contract with Reading Horizons. When they did not get satisfaction, they continued to organize and engaged board members at the special session on the budget at the end of September, and by the October 13 meeting, the school board voted 7-2 to cancel the $1.2 million contract.
“Educators have a lot of power, but only if we are willing to exercise it. You have to be willing to be disruptive, change the rules and take direct action. When we weren’t heard in the first school board meeting we had to organize and force the conversation– even if it meant shutting down the budget meeting so that we could be heard,” said David Boehnke a teacher in the Minneapolis.