Alan Proffitt is a sixth-grade teacher at Park View Middle School in Yucaipa in Southern California. Since his school adopted the Impressions reading series five years ago, he has been in almost daily conflict with parents representing the religious right. (Critics claim the Impressions reader, used in schools nationally and which includes works by T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis, advocates witchcraft and teaches disrespect for adults.) Proffitt’s experience is becoming all too common.
The first time parents came to monitor my classroom, they sat at the back of the room, taking notes and whispering back and forth. Pretty soon they sat through the whole day, interrupting the lessons. They’d jump in and ask, “What do you mean by that?”
We have battles over everything. We teachers have to stop and think every day about the videos we select, the materials we bring into the classroom, even the vocabulary words we choose. In mathematics today, we divided a fraction, and got the repeating decimal .666. One child became visibly agitated because, of course, this was the sign of Satan. “I’m sorry, but you’re waaaay off base here,” I said. “This is a repeating decimal. There is nothing else to it.” I don’t want to step on a child’s religious beliefs, but in a math classroom, I’m there to teach math. I’m sure I’ll receive a call about the decimal tonight. My home number is now unlisted. Over 40 percent of the teachers here have unlisted numbers because of calls like this.
To avoid these confrontations, I do a lot of self-censoring. I don’t discuss certain issues raised in a story, such as death, for fear of offending some parent. Whenever they complain, we have to meet with the [school] board and go through the entire process. It’s definitely a wearing-down strategy. They know that after awhile it is not worth the effort for us. So we become very bland in our teaching. We just present the information. We don’t interact with students. What’s most difficult is when the kids themselves bring up intolerant views. As angry as it can make me, I have to remember that they’re just parroting their parents.
This experience really affects daily life. When I moved to Yucaipa, the community seemed very friendly, very open. Now I can’t even go to the store for milk without having some kind of confrontation with parents. It’s come to the point of name-calling–“spawn of the devil,” “Godless heathen” are real favorites.
Last October, I sold my house in Yucaipa and moved my family to a nearby town because it’s more anonymous.