Joshua’s Speech

Joshua Smith, a 14-year old Gilbert Classical Academy student in the 8th grade, gave the following public comment at the May 15, 2012 Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board meeting. According to his mother, he wrote this, without assistance from anyone, in about 5 minutes. His succinct 3-minute speech nails every problem with the 4-textbook Springboard English series.

His mother, Ms. Julie Smith, had previously gone to Ms. Barbara VeNard, the assistant superintendent, to voice her concerns about the use of the Springboard textbooks in the Gilbert Classical Academy (GCA) English course. She stated that the Springboard series was not the textbook that had been advertised to parents. Rather, classical works were identified. Also, her son Joshua had complained to his mother that the Springboard textbook used in his 8th grade class was not rigorous or demanding of critical thinking skills. He wanted to submit his own evaluation.

Ms. VeNard advised Ms. Smith in the following email that, basically, his opinion was “inappropriate.”

Hi Julie,

The feedback form you completed would not be appropriate for students to complete as it is intended for parents. While I agree with you that students are the ones who use the material and are held accountable for learning it, they are not the ones who should be evaluating the instructional appropriateness of curriculum. This type of evaluation is reserved for teachers/administrators.

Typically, when students are surveyed, it is for the purpose of measuring school climate and/or student engagement. Questions may be asked about teacher-student interactions, student-student interactions, discipline practices, homework, activities, etc. Student feedback is important to receive as we strive for continuous school improvement.

I am sorry your son is feeling frustrated. Has he shared his feelings with his teacher?

Thank you,
Barbara VeNard
Assistant Superintendent
Gilbert Public Schools

Since Ms. VeNard did not welcome Josh Smith’s opinion, he provided it to the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board on May 15. Here it is word for word.
My name is Josh Smith and I am a student at Gilbert Classical Academy. I am here today to speak about the Springboard book. The Springboard book is currently in the process of being approved or disapproved by the school board for use in the 2012-2013 school year.

I believe that the board should not accept this curriculum because, based on my experiences with it, I believe the Springboard book to be a substandard piece of curriculum. This book claims to have additional rigor. However, in my entire grade at Gilbert Classical Academy, everybody had 100% in this class until this grade was offset by our Word of the Day vocabulary tests. We rarely have homework. When we do have homework, I am easily able to complete the assignment within five to ten minutes or less.

This book does not challenge me whatsoever, and I feel that I have not learned anything this year. All of the writing/essay techniques taught in the Springboard book I learned last year from the curriculum written by my former English teacher. This is not rigor. This is especially not rigor for honors students preparing to go into AP classes.

Springboard claims to encourage students to be critical writers. However, being critical is not simply regurgitating debate points spelled out within the reading selections in the book. Springboard also works on quote on quote "arguing." I know from personal experience that argument goes nowhere and reaches no conclusions, as argument has the connotation of people shouting the same thing at each other over and over again, hoping to get somewhere, when they are really just going in circles. I like to debate and I am good at debating, but argument just gives me a headache.

Springboard also claims to no longer "teach literacy skills in isolation." I ask you: when were literacy skills ever taught in isolation? Springboard claims to open your eyes to the real world. I agree that by this point in life, maybe not at sixth grade (which is level one in the Springboard series), but in middle school, that looking at what is really happening is good. However, this gives Springboard an excuse to act as propaganda. I feel that while the Springboard book brings up some good points, most of the issues, such as environmental endangerment and social justice, are very leftist, liberal, or progressive ideas and the Springboard book provides no points against these ideas, as if there is only one solution: the liberal one. Don’t get me wrong, I would complain as well if the Springboard book was hard core conservative, because that is still propaganda.

Springboard claims to bring average students to a higher level. This book is for honors students. I don’t think that there would be any "average" students in there. Even if there were, then all of the "above average" students are not challenged and learn next to nothing. Springboard is a letdown as far as literature. Only one book is read every year, and all of the books in levels two through four I read in seventh grade, which makes me think that, especially for ninth grade, these books are not challenging enough.

Finally, Springboard instructs teachers on how to present material. I should think that teachers would feel very micromanaged be this, and I know I would be. The way that the Springboard book micromanages teachers, their skills are not being put to use. Teachers are not paid to follow a set of instructions. Anyone could do that. Teachers did not go to school and get a teaching degree to follow a curriculum blindly. However, with the Springboard book, this is what they are being forced to do.

-Joshua Smith
Gilbert Classical Academy
Eighth Grade
Member of the National Junior Honor Society

PS- I would like to add that this is not even everything that I would have liked to say, I only kept it to this so as to fall within the allotted three minutes.