Freshman Seminar causes controversy

Micah Anderson, Editor

This year, a new class was added to the social studies curriculum at NPHS, and it has created quite a bit of controversy. The new class, Freshman Seminar, replaces civics class, which will now be taken senior year. In most other districts civics is taken senior year because the students are closer to 18 and voting age and the topics are more relevant. Freshman Seminar is like an introduction to civics class, structuring itself around the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution. The six units follow the six preamble goals: to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. 

Freshman Seminar gets its name because the class holds Socratic seminars, or fishbowl discussions, every Friday, in which the students sit in a circle and discuss a selected text. In these seminars, there is a focus on sparking dialogue rather than debate. In debate, the goal is to prove your argument correct, but in dialogue, there is no right answer. The goal of dialogue is to find new insight, to be curious, to ask for clarification, and to gain new understandings. These are skills the students will use in the rest of the social studies classes they take after Freshman Seminar.

Jennifer Sayler has been a social studies teacher at NPHS for 23 years and is one of the new Freshman Seminar teachers. When asked about the controversy surrounding the class, she responded, “It’s unfortunate that there was a lot of hearsay about the class. I think there was just a lot of mistrust in general, like ‘What are they trying to do, why are they making this change, and are they trying to slip weird stuff into this freshman class?’ Unfortunately, I think the timing just was bad, and maybe if we would’ve called it Introduction to Civics, that would’ve been a little less triggering. I think a lot got blown out of proportion [in the community] without a lot of chance to correct the misinformation [from within the school].” 

Sayler is not the only one teaching the class. The curriculum has been developed by a team of 5 social studies teachers: Nick Bowe, Jon Hopke, Allie Meyer, Roy Mould, and Jen Sayler. 

One reason so many are worried about the Freshman Seminar class is because of the fear that it will be used to teach Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory (or CRT) is a controversial and complex theory about racism that many parents do not want their children being taught. The topic has been discussed many times at school board meetings, and some parents are so concerned it will be taught in Freshman Seminar that they have removed their children from the class. Students who opted out of the class are taking an online civics course as an alternative. In regards to CRT, Sayler says, “It is definitely not a word that I ever even heard of until this year when it’s been hyped up by the media. I think there’s this tendency to label anything about race as CRT, and that’s not true. It’s not even a thing here.”

Sayler wishes that students and parents would give the class a chance. “I had a meeting with a couple of parents that had some questions about the class, and I loved that they reached out and were willing to have a face-to-face conversation because emails kind of get messed in translation. I think after we sat down face to face, they felt better, and I felt better. I appreciate parents that approach something they’re concerned about by asking questions instead of making assumptions or listening to the hype or the hearsay. Instead, [they got] the real information from the source — the teachers that teach [the class].”

Between the fear in today’s political climate and a lack of information about the class, many rumors have spread about Freshman Seminar. Now that the class has begun and there is more information available, hopefully, parents’ fears will subside.