Friday, April 26, 2019

Amphi District Cancels High School Course Created By the Freedom Center

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 11:54 AM

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In December, the TUSD board voted unanimously to remove the high school course, Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship, from its curriculum. The course was created by faculty at UA's Freedom Center, the local outpost of the Koch networks' nationwide web of think tanks and university centers. The effort to get the course out of TUSD was led by a local group, Kochs Off Campus.

That's the short version of a much longer story. You can read more here.

That left three local districts, Amphitheater, Vail and Sahuarita, still offering the course, as well as a small number of charter and private schools.

Now you can cross Amphi off the list as well, for the moment anyway.

After its successful efforts convincing TUSD the course didn't belong in the district curriculum, Kochs Off Campus turned its attention to Amphi. The group's members sent Freedom of Information requests to the district asking for relevant records and emails, spoke at two recent board meetings and sent a number of emails expressing specific concerns about the course.

Monday, April 22, Amphi Superintendent Todd Jaeger wrote an email to members of Kochs Off Campus saying the course will not be taught at Ironwood Ridge High School next year, the only school in the district currently offering it. The reason, he wrote, is that not enough students signed up.

"Interest in the course, quite frankly, has waned and can no longer justify its continuation based on enrollment alone." According to Jaeger, that means there is no reason to discuss the issue further. "Thus, the matter is rather moot at this point," he wrote, "without even getting to the merits of concerns raised with respect to the course or its materials."

I spoke with Victoria Woodward and Patrick Diehl, members of KOC's Media Committee, about Amphi district's decision. Though they were pleased that the course won't be offered next school year, they were unsatisfied that the course has not been removed from the district curriculum. Because Amphi hasn't gone through the formal process of having the board take a look at the course and deciding if it should be offered in the district, it can be revived at a later time.

Woodward and Diehl want the issue raised at a board meeting where the course's merits can be considered and voted on. I have heard that is still a possibility. At this time, however, it hasn't been added to the agenda of any future board meeting.

As someone who wants see an end to the Koch network's incursions into public K-12 schools, which has been an ongoing effort since the 1990s, I see this as a win-win for KOC, no matter what went into Amphi's decision not to offer the course next school year.

If Amphi students decided with their feet, or, in this case, with their enrollment choices, not to take the course, that could mean the efforts by the Freedom Center to insinuate the course into Arizona high schools will fade away of their own accord, even though it received a $2.9 million grant from the Templeton Foundation to create and disseminate the course on top of the $3.5 million it has received yearly from the state budget over the past few years.

It's also probable that pressure from Kochs Off Campus played a part in the Amphi decision. That's encouraging as well. It means local action can be successful, even in the face of the millions in the Freedom Center's coffers and the billions the Koch brothers have plowed into their university outposts over the past four decades.

KOC expended considerable energy and formidable academic resources in its successful campaign to convince TUSD to abandon the course, Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship. Other districts must feel a bit intimidated knowing they have a difficult fight on their hands if KOC decides to challenge their use of the course.

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