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Wit & Wisdom: What's all the Fuss? (Part II)

If you haven't had a chance to read our first post on this topic, please do so and then come on back....

So to recap: WCS followed the state-mandated curriculum selection process to choose an elementary-level ELA product from the state-approved list, and Wit & Wisdom was chosen by an overwhelming percentage of the teachers on the selection committee - who are by definition professional reading specialists.

There's some hoopla about a waiver the state granted to WCS for Wit & Wisdom (W&W), which is also used in about 33 other districts in Tennessee, including Germantown and Collierville which are similarly high-performing districts, not to mention across the country. Many of these districts have had it in place for 2-3 school years without issue.

W&W is (obviously) an approved K-5 ELA curriculum program, authorized by the Tennessee Board of Education. What it doesn't have is a K-2 phonics module that meets state standards, so districts who want to use W&W have two choices: they can buy a separate phonics curriculum to supplement, or they can use one previously developed by the state for districts in need of such a module. When WCS learned that this was a viable option, W&W was included on the consideration list, and selection committee teachers were able to evaluate it alongside a few other K-5 ELA products.

A TN state representative, Scott Cepicky, who's on various state education committees, insinuated in a Williamson County Republican Party meeting last week that there was something nefarious taking place at the state level for W&W to even get on the table as an option, and for the associated waivers to be granted for its use.

"There was probably a reason behind why they chose it. There was an incentive from the state for choosing Wit & Wisdom. Money, right?" - Scott Cepicky, 5/20/21

All of this has led to some soundbites floating around raising concerns among some parents who now believe their children are being taught unapproved curriculum, or asking the district if money changed hands somehow and that's why it was selected. None of these concerns appear to be valid, and as is usually the case in social media rumor mill situations, statements and circumstances are likely being misinterpreted or misunderstood....or perhaps there are political motivations at work. Hard to say.

Here's what we do know after listening carefully to the district's response to all the hoopla: teachers are overwhelmingly saying W&W is a success and they're seeing impressive results in their students' reading growth. Many of the books that have raised some flags with content have been used by teachers in the classrooms for years and years (e.g. Hatchet) - with nary a word of protest. The district has actively acknowledged that there are modifications that can be made to address these new concerns and are bringing a plan forward in June to do so, but changing out a book is not a simple matter as it eliminates ALL associated curriculum/lesson plans for that unit which are designed to meet the required state standards.

So what's really going on here? It basically all boils down to diversity initiative backlash at the end of the day. As quoted in today's Chalkbeat article:

"Sekou Franklin, an associate professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University, said there’s a broader dynamic at play beyond curriculum concerns. The goal of Tennessee’s critical race theory bill, he said, was both to rally the Republican base for upcoming elections and anchor public education in a “white-washed” presentation of history and current events."

Some groups of community members believe Wit & Wisdom is designed to indoctrinate kids by promoting diversity in content and critical thinking, and that it makes white kids feel bad about themselves. The group being the most vocal and active around the W&W dissent is the local chapter of a newly-formed national organization called Moms for Liberty, which held a public Critical Race Theory 101 event last week. The district - ranging from Jason Golden to individual Board members, has repeatedly said that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is not being taught in Williamson County Schools.

Moms for Liberty local leaders and members are meeting with each individual Board member to share their concerns on both W&W and CRT/DEI (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) initiatives like the Fostering Healthy Solutions consulting contract. As one of their event speakers said at last week's event:

"CRT masquerades as pleasant sounding things like DEI training, antiracist initiatives, racial sensitivity, anti-bias training, etc. “ - Dr. Wenyuan Wu, 5/19/21

Moms for Liberty leaders have organized a templated email campaign to Board members and other local elected officials requesting a forum on their concerns, which Board Member Dan Cash is reportedly supporting and pushing to take place within a WCS school building.

As a side note, multiple Williamson County organizations have come out in vocal opposition to the anti-diversity activities and sentiments of Moms for Liberty, including One WillCo, Together Nolensville, Southern Christian Coalition, and Williamson Social Justice Alliance - you can find their statements here.

We'll be keeping a close watch and reporting on the various comments and positions from Board members on both the W&W curriculum and the Fostering Healthy Solutions/DEI discussions, and believe they're closely linked even if on the surface they may appear to be distinct issues.

As stated previously, our firm belief is we're seeing the newest version of the nationally-organized and coordinated playbook utilized here in 2014 citing indoctrination and pornography in curriculum to influence local School Board elections, with the ultimate goal of hand-picking like-minded superintendents. Don't believe us? Check out this new PAC that was just formed - their campaign donations and endorsements will be quite telling, just as Project 912 endorsements were in 2014.

Stay tuned! Stay informed! Stay engaged!

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