What Do You Teach?

By Kathleen Vail

School boards once made curriculum decisions simply by conferring with the administrators and content specialists in their districts. Those days, as you probably already know, are gone. Now, parents and community members increasingly want -- and expect -- a say in what and how schools are teaching their children.

Certain subjects invite more emotional participation from the community than others. The teaching of evolution has a long history of controversy that doesn’t appear to be dying down anytime soon. Sex education’s many components -- contraception, sexually transmitted disease, homosexuality, abortion, and abstinence -- make this small slice of your health curriculum a potential landmine. Social studies also can include hot-button ideological topics, churning up debate on how American history should be presented, as well as questions about how to include the individual history of racial and ethnic groups.

These are not the only subjects that elicit controversy -- remember the reading wars, and the occasional requests to ban books? But when these curriculum hot buttons come up on your board agenda, you can pretty much guarantee you’re in for crowded meetings and a rocky ride.

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